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 five U.S. states now committed 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.
- Argonne National Laboratory found that the 2.1 million EVs on U.S. roads in 2021 used less than 0.2% of the 3,930 trillion watt hours of power consumed overall that year and the Energy Department concluded “energy generation and generation capacity is expected to be available to support a growing EV fleet as it evolves over time.”
- As EV adoption is growing, so is our electricity supply: the U.S. added 13 gigawatts of wind and solar power last year alongside more than 4 gigawatts of battery storage — and plenty more in the works. This growth must be paired with investment in new transmission lines to ensure all the new energy flows to the grid.
- Electrifying the world’s vehicle fleet would account for 15-21 percent of global electricity demand in 2050, while global clean electricity supply is forecast to outpace electricity demand even when aggressive EV adoption is assumed.
- Norway, where electric vehicles are four out of five 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.
- Auto and tech companies are already working together with utilities and grid operators to turn EVs into virtual power plants that can help meet energy demand.
- Large EVs like school buses are already being used to help shore up the power grid in California and beyond.
- These 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 savings in New England alone 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 and hefty charging and V2G incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act.
- States are planning grid expansions and upgrades to accommodate growing energy demand. California, which leads the country in EV adoption, plans to more than double its capacity of clean energy by 2035.
- 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 300,000 Level 2 charging stations and nearly 8,000 fast charging stations nationwide.
- In addition to utilities and governments, private companies are also investing in EV charging infrastructure.
- 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.