GM's decision this week to phase out gasoline vehicles is the latest in a series of changes that will result in huge demand for electrical services. Here are 4 things for the electric revolution.
Major automakers are increasingly betting that millions of new cars and trucks over the next decade will be plugged into electrical outlets, not gas pumps. And this raises a question: Is the nation's electric grid ready to handle this wave of new electric vehicles?
Today, less than 1% of cars in the world are electric. But a seismic shift is underway.
General Motors said Thursday that it aims to end production of gasoline cars and light trucks by 2035 and to produce only electric vehicles. The governor of California echoes him: even for him only 15 years. The UK Premier same thingPerhaps even earlier. Carmakers like Tesla, Ford, and VW are introducing dozens of new electric vehicles in the coming years, spurred on by plummeting battery prices and climate change concerns.
The era of electric vehicles is upon us, fast as the wind.
This change will have radical implications for companies that produce and sell electricity and operate the grid. Analysts generally agree that it is entirely feasible to power many millions of electric vehicles, but careful planning will be required. Here are four big things that experts say must happen.
1 More charging stations are needed. Many, many more.
For electric vehicles to become mainstream, charging will need to be widely accessible and affordable. For now, most owners plug their electric vehicles into their homes and charge them overnight, although this may require the installation of equipment that can cost up to 2.000 euros. Many states and companies already offer incentives to help meet costs.
But there are also major challenges to be faced. While it is easy enough for anyone with a single family home and garage to install a charger, it can be much more difficult for people who live in large apartments, or who rely on street or condo parking to find a suitable outlet.
Some utilities are looking to expand public charging options and a great race has begun to complete a first 'skeleton' of electric vehicle charging networks within the next 9 years, by 2030. But financing this infrastructure is complicated. and it will require a great deal of public spending, as well as the coordination of world governments.
A recent MIT study used sophisticated mathematical models to see where it might make the most sense to build all of this infrastructure. The first valid targets are residential streets (imagine there are “parking meters” that also recharge vehicles on the curb) and high-speed charging stations along motorways.
2 More energy is needed. Much, much more energy.
If every Italian suddenly switches to driving electric vehicles, analysts estimate, the country could end up using about 25% more electricity than today. To cope with this, utilities will likely have to build several new power plants and upgrade their transmission grids.
For example, if a transport agency wants to buy 100 new electric buses and charge them overnight, it will suddenly need large amounts of power in the bus depot. This will require new substations and other equipment which could mean investments worth millions of euros. It is not something that can be done within the next week. It takes a lot of careful advanced planning. But will they succeed in this decade?
Of course, there is also good news. In 2018, researchers at the University of Texas examined what the switch to electric vehicles would mean for the power grid. We would pay more for electricity, it must be said. Utilities will have to amortize the necessary adjustments. But in the final calculation we will end up paying less, given the savings on fuel that we will no longer buy.
“While it is difficult to predict future prices for gasoline, electricity and electric vehicles,” the researchers wrote, “we believe it is likely that the widespread use of electric vehicles would reduce overall transportation costs. These savings are even greater if we take into account the environmental benefits, in particular the lower carbon emissions ”.
3 We need faster times for recharging electric vehicles. Much, much faster.
For many utilities, the biggest challenge will be not only how much electricity the new vehicles use, but when they're actually using it.
There may be countries with a surplus of solar energy during the day, but that decreases in the evening when the sun sets. If millions of people with electric vehicles came home in the evening and immediately started charging all at once, they would put a strain on the grid, causing blackouts and all sorts of disasters. A phenomenon of which I have already spoken here, and known as "duck neck".
One solution, experts say, is for utilities to become more creative in managing electric vehicle charging times, to avoid charging them all at once and overloading electrical equipment, or requiring the construction of many new and expensive power plants. .
Some electricity suppliers are already moving in this direction. In the USA, Southern California Edison offers electric vehicle owners drastically cheaper rates if they recharge during the day, when solar energy is abundant. Dozens of utilities have explored the possibility of taking control of the chargers themselves. In some programs, electric vehicle owners can plug in their car and specify when they will need to use it. The battery will then be recharged when electricity is cheaper and more abundant.
These programs are difficult to make properly and often require significant regulatory changes, but they can make a huge difference. A 2019 study concluded that utilities could reduce the cost of network updates by 70% in the next decade by optimizing refills.
4 We need a cleaner electricity grid. Much, much cleaner
Transport now represents one third of greenhouse gas emissions every year. Electric vehicles (cars and truck) are widely seen as a crucial part of the solution to climate change. But it would help if the electrical grid that powers these vehicles became much cleaner.
Today, electric vehicles usually produce fewer overall emissions than their petrol or diesel-powered counterparts, even when connected to a network based on coal or natural gas power plants. This is largely due to the fact that electric motors are much more efficient than internal combustion engines.
But there is room for improvement. Electric vehicles would be even cleaner if public services ditched coal and natural gas, relying on clean sources such as solar, wind or nuclear power.
A combination that would have huge impact: one recent study of Carnegie Mellon University found that if the grid was close to zero emissions and if about 84% of all vehicle trips were electrified, emissions from light vehicle transport would decrease by 90%. (The decline in emissions could be even faster and larger, the study notes, if policymakers take steps to reduce dependence on driving, such as expanding public transport or encouraging walking and cycling.)
If we want to completely decarbonise transport, we must do everything and do it at full speed: fewer kilometers traveled by vehicles, electrify almost the entire passenger fleet and clean up power plants.
Are we ready for this new era of electric vehicles?
Gianluca Riccio, born in 1975, is the creative director of an advertising agency, copywriter and journalist. He is affiliated with Italian Institute for the Future, World Future Society and H +, Network of Italian Transhumanists. Since 2006 he directs Futuroprossimo.it, the Italian resource of Futurology.
Futuroprossimo.it is an Italian resource of futurology opened since 2006: every day news about the near future. Scientific discoveries, medical research, prototypes, concepts and predictions about the future for free.
Gianluca Riccio, copywriter and journalist - Born in 1975, he is the creative director of an advertising agency, he is affiliated with the Italian Institute for the Future, World Future Society and H +, Network of Italian Transhumanists.