Can the grid handle it?

Date posted: January 26, 2011

In coming years electric-powered vehicles are expected to greatly increase in popularity, and many people would like to see them take over a greater share of the market so we can reduce our reliance on oil and gas. But do experts foresee any problems in meeting the electricity usage that these vehicles will create? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden weighs in.

“There are two issues here: a broader macro issue and then a micro issue. The macro issue is — and I think many people forget this — if we are going to now power a significant number of our vehicles by electricity, we have got to generate more electricity. And there is a question of, ‘Where does that come from?’

“I think a lot of people think electricity is a basic fuel; it is not. It comes from another fuel. It can come from hydro power, coal, natural gas, nuclear, oil and, of course, some are trying to get wind in on this also. But the point is you have to go to a basic fuel, and the question is, Where are you going to get it? For example, in much of the Southeast, it is going to come from nuclear or coal, and some people have environmental issues with that. So that problem will have to be solved.

“And then, secondly, there is the micro issue. Experts think that hybrid and electric vehicles usage will be clustered in certain neighborhoods. That is, they won’t average across the landscape, but there will be certain neighborhoods where people will buy these and use these and that will put an extra burden on the grid in those neighborhoods. And there are some experts — electric experts — who are concerned (that) until we make adjustments, this could lead to local brown outs and a spike in electricity demand.

“So certainly people are excited about hybrid and electric vehicles — especially electric vehicles — but there are some issues there in terms of getting the power when you need it to keep those vehicles moving.”

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