The U.S. Power Grid Is Nowhere Near Ready for Mass-Scale EV Acceptance - Not By a Long Shot

The future of automobiles is electric. Eventually, the internal combustion engine will die off. Eventually, battery technology will be so good, and range anxiety won’t exist. These are phrases that we hear from automakers and governmental agencies on a fairly regular basis as automakers continue to transition their lineups deeper into electrification, and electric car companies like Tesla and Rivian start to take their own little piece of the pie. But, there’s something that is rarely thought about – can the U.S. power grid that we largely take for granted actually handle wide-spread EV usage? As it turns out, we’re nowhere ready for the all-electric future that we hear about so often, and a new study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is the proof.

The U.S. Power Grid Is Far From Ready for Wide-Spread EV Ownership

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Ideally, the world will eventually give up its dependency on fossil fuels altogether, but we’re nowhere near being close to that. Electric cars will be a step in the right direction, but until we change the way we generate or harvest electricity, that future won’t exist. While that’s a conversation for a different time, the widespread use of EVs isn’t, and that’s why we’re here.

During a study completed by the PNNL, it was discovered that the U.S. power grid can handle as many as 24 million EVs up until 2028.

Once we hit that point, drastic improvements will be needed. The icing on the cake is that number refers only to light-duty vehicles (LDVs) – cars like the Tesla Model S or Chevy Bolt. At this point, and in addition to the 24 million LDVs, the grid can handle just 200 medium-duty vehicles like the Ford F-250 and 150,000 heavy-duty vehicles like larger semis or public transit busses. Beyond that, we aren’t prepared.

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Of course, you might want to say that I’m fear-mongering since, you know, there are only around 1.5 million EVs on U.S. roads right now. And, you’d be right about that number, but this isn’t fear-mongering. I’ll be the first to tell you that we’re fine right now, but did you know that in 2018 there were some 236.6 million vehicles registered for road use in 2018? Imagine if all of those were all-electric. Our power grid wouldn’t be able to come close to keeping up. Of course, we’re still a long way from the point at which every car in the U.S is electric, but we’re going to have to address the power grid situation long before we get there, and that’s a fact.

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For now, we’re doing pretty good, but the power grid will eventually reach its peak capacity as more and more people feel comfortable with driving an EV. PNNL actually suggested that with proper timing, the grid could handle 64 million EVs, but only if charging was done on certain schedules. Factor in promises that EV range is going to continue to increase, as will the size of batteries and the amount of power charging can draw, and things could get worse faster than we expect. So, with that said, this isn’t to scare you away from buying an EV, just to point out that, as a country, our power grid simply can’t handle a full transition to EVs right now, and it probably won’t be ready for a long time to come.

Source: PNNL

Robert Moore
Editor-in-Chief and Automotive Expert - robert@topsped.com
Robert has been an auto enthusiast his entire life. He started working cars at a young age, learning the basics from his father in the home garage on the weekends. As time went on, Robert became more and more interested in cars and convinced his father to teach him how to drive when he was just 13 years old. Robert continued working on cars in his free time and learned as much as he could about engines, transmissions, and car electrical systems, something that only fed his curiosity more and eventually led him to earn a bachelors degree in automotive technology with a primary focus on engine performance and transmission rebuilding.  Read More
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