How electric vehicles impact the grid

2022 saw a record increase in electric vehicle (EV) sales, and experts are predicting that by 2035, many major vehicle manufacturers will only produce electric models.

A 2021 study by the Department of Energy showed that increased electrification, or replacement of direct fossil fuel use with electricity, would account for a 38 percent increase in electricity demand by 2050, and EVs will play a major role in this increased electrification.

The need for more electricity will have a major impact on the nation’s grid, which means power supply and grid infrastructure must be carefully planned to accommodate the increased demand for electricity.

EV charging presents new challenges in maintaining the electric grid. Fully charging an EV battery requires the same amount of electricity needed to power a home during peak energy use times. However, EV charging is a concentrated pull of energy over an extended period, which can add stress to the local power grid by increasing the amount of electricity a utility has to provide.

Additionally, the neighborhood transformer needs the adequate capacity to handle the increased load. EV charging can shorten the lifespan of transformers by straining and overloading their capacity if they are not matched to a neighborhood’s energy needs.

Electric co-ops are currently identifying ways to manage this new pattern of electricity use, though exact strategies will vary based on each utility’s unique needs. Analyzing energy load patterns or identifying where and when the local grid has spikes in demand can provide electric co-ops with data on where to place higher-capacity transformers.

This analysis can also provide a picture of overall energy use and patterns to help forecast energy consumption for the future. Planning system maintenance and upgrades are also part of that long-range forecasting; however, this has been recently complicated by supply-chain issues with transformers, with wait times upward of one year.

EV owners can play a role in reducing energy costs and system stress associated with charging. Charging at night is a great way to ease electricity demand in your neighborhood. Typically, electricity demand and wholesale energy rates are lower during nighttime.

Another potential change on the horizon is a new energy peak time. EV drivers that plug in to charge as soon as they return home from work would create even more electricity demand during this busy time of day. But if EV drivers use a timer to schedule charging at night, the electricity demand could be spread over a longer period to reduce stress on the grid. This would be especially beneficial for neighborhoods with multiple EV drivers.

EVs are only expected to increase in number. Electric co-ops and EV owners both have roles to play in accommodating increased demand. If you own an EV, let your electric co-op know so they can better plan energy demand for you and your neighbors.