The idea that the electrical grid won’t be able to handle the coming influx of EVs is a perennial topic for EV skeptics. Lately, we’ve been seeing a wave of FUD that focuses on electric trucks. (Unsurprising, since Tesla just started deliveries of its semi truck, the Tesla Semi.) A charging hub for electric trucks will require as much electricity as “a small town,” or “a sports stadium,” they warn us. Yes, it will. But in fact, small towns do seem to get the power they need — at least in the rich world, brownouts and blackouts are rare except in natural disasters. And I don’t recall anyone ever objecting to building a new sports stadium because of concerns that it would “crash the grid.”
This is one more example of a favorite FUDster device: take a legitimate concern with a new technology, and amplify it into a reason to abandon the new technology — ignoring the fact that companies are busily devising ways to solve the problems (and making money in the process).
It’s true that fleets of heavy-duty EVs will require massive amounts of energy — but that’s an opportunity, not a deal-killer.
Many fleet operators, having run years-long pilots with a few electric trucks and found that they work great, now want to place larger orders — but they soon learn that they’re going to need to make large investments in charging infrastructure, and that they don’t have the expertise to set up these systems. Vehicle OEMs and startup companies are seizing this opportunity, offering “turnkey” infrastructure packages to fleet operators. The charging systems they design include several solutions designed to keep energy demands reasonable, including smart charging; load management; on-site energy generation; and battery storage.
Let’s say you have a fleet of 100 electric Class 8 trucks, each with a massive 900 kWh battery pack (the estimated battery capacity of a Tesla Semi). Does that mean that the trucks are going to draw 90,000 kW of power per hour? Well, it might if you just plugged them all directly into the grid, but no fleet operator with any sense would do so.
A savvy fleet operator is going to plug those beasts into an energy management system (which may be provided by an electric vehicle OEM such as Proterra, or by a third-party company such as AMP or The Mobility House) that’s been carefully designed to optimize energy usage while keeping the trucks or buses charged and ready for their routes. Smart charging means scheduling charging to take place at times of low demand on the grid. Load management means limiting the power level to each individual vehicle so that the overall electrical load doesn’t stress the grid connection. On-site solar panels and/or wind turbines generate part of the energy required, and massive stationary battery packs (perhaps made from second-life EV batteries) store that energy so it can be used at optimal times.
Adding up the effects of all these energy-saving technologies, we find that the current required to keep our fleet charged is a fraction of the “nameplate” energy capacity of our vehicles’ batteries. Instead of drawing 90,000 kW of power, we might only need 60,000 kW.
Moving up to the macro level, we find that the fossil fuel ecosystem also consumes a lot of electricity — one recent study estimates that, once you consider oil drilling, refining, transportation, etc., a gas or diesel truck is responsible for half as much electricity consumption as an EV (in addition to the energy it uses in the form of fossil fuel). So, every EV that replaces a diesel truck increases net electricity consumption by only a fraction of the amount that it directly consumes.
Those public-spirited individuals who “have nothing against EVs, but…” invariably assume that every electric truck or bus is going to charge from zero to 100% of its nameplate battery capacity every day, and that their owners are simply going to plug them all into the wall, heedless of the energy costs. In fact, fleet operators have every incentive to invest in technology to minimize their energy consumption, and that technology is getting more and more powerful by the day.
Another factor is that EVs deliver substantial savings on fuel costs and maintenance. Over time, this more than offsets the investment a fleet needs to make in charging infrastructure. And we haven’t even mentioned vehicle-to-grid technology, which is expected to add to the savings EVs deliver to fleets, while turning them into assets — not liabilities — for the stability of the grid.
When we consider the energy savings at the micro and macro levels together, we find that the energy consumption of a fleet of EVs is bound to be far lower than indicated by a simple-minded equation of battery capacity * number of vehicles = grid goes kablooey!
This article is one of a four-part (and growing) series about politely debunking anti-EV myths:
4) Yes, there will be plenty of power for electric trucks
And for those who don’t care about being polite: Snarky answers to stupid EV questions
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