National laboratories, utilities, and pilot projects have all found that electric vehicles (EVs) can be integrated into power grids in ways that benefit communities and vehicle owners while improving grid reliability and resilience.
With over a dozen U.S. states committing to only sell electric cars by 2035, the transition from gas- to electric-powered transportation is set to further accelerate, but this shift will still happen with sufficient lead time for utilities and grid operators to prepare the grid to balance the coming increase in demand. When paired with an upgraded “smart grid,” EVs could deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in annual grid benefits by reducing peak demand, lowering utility operational costs, and stabilizing the power system by balancing supply and demand on short notice.
Regulators and utilities understand what’s at stake, and are transforming U.S. power grids to use electric cars and trucks as a two-way power resource. In tandem, the grid must also expand transmission while transitioning to carbon-free electricity in order to ensure that there is enough capacity for a full national fleet of EVs to comfortably charge up on clean power.
Today, the impact of electric cars and trucks on electricity grids is small and there is enough excess capacity to handle rapid growth of plug-in vehicles.
- EVs currently have a negligible impact on the grid. Based on the average amount of electricity that EVs use, the full fleet of roughly 2.5 million EVs in the U.S. uses less than half a percent of the total energy the U.S. produced in 2021.
- Energy experts affirm that the shift to electric cars and trucks will not disrupt the U.S. power grid. As EV adoption is growing, so is our electricity supply: nearly 30 gigawatts of new clean electricity generation capacity are expected to come online in 2022. This growth must be paired with investment in new transmission lines to ensure all the new energy flows to the grid.
- Globally, electrifying the world’s vehicle fleet would add just 25 percent to global electricity demand in 2050, while global electricity supply is forecast to grow more than 60 percent from 2020 levels by 2026.
- California is a national leader in electric vehicle adoption with over 1 million plug-in cars on the road and a grid that can currently support up to 5 million electric vehicles.
- Norway, where electric vehicles are two-thirds of new car sales, has handled hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles with little to no adverse grid impacts. While electricity use has grown with electric vehicle adoption, Norway continues to be a net exporter of clean energy.
Electric cars and trucks can be integrated into power grids in ways that benefit communities, vehicle owners, and utility shareholders.
- Many electric vehicle owners charge their cars at home overnight, and EVs can act as a rolling battery while they are not in use, storing excess energy generated during off-peak periods like overnight or in the middle of the day and returning it when demand spikes.
- Electricity demand can also be managed via smart charging. If a commuter’s car is plugged in throughout the evening, smart charging can ensure it only draws power when demand is lower, reducing strain on the grid.
- These sorts of grid services will lower electricity bills by as much as 13 percent, help grid operators handle unexpected drops in electricity generation, and pay EV owners for turning their vehicles into a distributed energy resource.
- Smart EVs paired with a smart grid could help extend EV battery life, and can deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in annual grid benefits by reducing peak demand, lowering operational costs, and providing “ancillary services” that help stabilize the power system by balancing supply and demand on short notice.
Regulators and utilities understand what’s at stake, and are transforming U.S. power grids to use electric vehicles as a two-way power resource. This is an opportunity to accelerate the transition to renewable energy that’s already underway.
- Major utilities are seeking to get ahead of the expected growth of the electric car and truck market by joining forces to build a national EV charging network, supported by $7.5 billion in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
- As of 2022, investor-owned utilities have invested over $3.5 billion in transportation electrification efforts like charging infrastructure, EV education, and more. State and local governments have also invested an additional $2.7 billion. Overall, utilities are investing in more than 664,000 Level 2 charging stations and 12,000 fast charging stations nationwide.
- The Department of Homeland Security is helping upgrade the grid to safeguard against cyberattacks and prepare utilities for the growth in renewable energy and electric cars and trucks.
- To rapidly reduce emissions on the timeline experts recommend, it will be essential to transition the grid to carbon-free electricity in tandem with the ramping up of electric cars and trucks. In the 2035 Report, UC Berkeley and GridLab found that the U.S. can get to 90 percent clean electricity by 2035, using existing technology at cost parity, with no reliability issues.
The notion that the power grid cannot handle electric cars and trucks is largely driven by fossil-funded interests.
- Oil and gas industry front groups (like the Manhattan Institute and Heritage Foundation) and industry-affiliated energy analysts (like Daniel Yergin, who serves on the industry-backed National Petroleum Council) have been key vectors for the spread of false concerns about EV grid impacts.
- The oil and gas industry has been at the forefront of anti-EV policy battles, forging new alliances with competitors and other sectors like agriculture to stifle EV adoption. Even when testifying before Congress, fossil fuel lobbyists have refused to end their anti-EV efforts, arguing paradoxically that EVs “limit Americans’ transportation choice.”
- The extractive industries have waged state-by-state, multimillion-dollar battles to stop utilities from building charging stations across the country, and have opposed electric car and truck legislation in Illinois, California, Iowa, Massachusetts, and elsewhere.