With the explosion in Electric Vehicles use, will there be a need for more power?

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One of the arguments against Electric Vehicles (EVs) is that if too many of us buy an EV there could be a spike in demand for electricity and the lights will go out because you bought that EV and there was too much demand on the electricity grid.

It isn’t so simple. Governments around the world would fall if too many blackouts occurred. They produce detailed assessments of energy use for decades ahead and try to get the energy mix right so there is a reliable power source in your plug, day in day out, whether during the World Cup Final when kettles and fridges are at their busiest or during the night when you sleep in your warm bed.

Let’s look at the projections in some detail.

EV grid demand – EU figures

The EU is a supra-governmental organisation that does much of the work of national governments so they can cooperate. The UK imports energy from Europe so we can have our lights on – that won’t change much, no matter who’s in power and what they do.

According to the  European Environment Agency Europa website, “The growth in electric vehicle use will result in extra energy demand for the European Union (EU-28): Europe’s total energy consumption by electric vehicles will increase from approximately 0.03% in 2014 to 9.5% in 2050.” This varies according to different countries – the UK is set to be 13.57% while in tiny Luxembourg this is set to be over 25% of their grid demand.

In the eyes of the EEA, this will mean that energy policy must change: “It is clear, for example, that countries with high solar energy generation capacity, for which the preferred charging peak will be during the day, will need to apply different grid and power management strategies from countries that have only wind, or combined solar and wind electricity production.”

Imperial College London’s view

Imperial College London provides some of the best research in the world. A report published by Imperial in February suggests that oil demand could fall by 10%, knocking out some of the biggest players in the oil industry. It also reckons that in just three years time, peak oil demand will be reached and that demand will begin to fall from 2020.

The report states that battery costs are set to plummet: “Battery costs have fallen 73 percent to $268 per kilowatt hour (kWh) in the seven years to 2015 according to the US Department of Energy, and Tesla, the electric car maker, predicts they will reach $100/kWh by 2020.”

Solar energy is set to fall quickly too. “The cost of solar panels has fallen 85 percent over the last seven years and the report sees it becoming ‘materially cheaper than alternative power options globally’ with huge investment adding more than 5000 Gigawatts of supply between 2030 and 2040.”

Solar and batteries?

Solar is all well and good except people charge their cars at home during the night. This means that energy demand will rise in the evenings when people go to bed, using a lot of the capacity used as they were cooking, watching TV and socialising just before.

Batteries is  the answer. The Tesla Powerwall 2.0 has a capacity of 13.5kWH and often come as banks of batteries that will charge the car with residual energy from the solar panels. Given that Moore’s Law is being applied to battery technology, the 13.5kWH battery will be very small in a few years – expect much more power per cell in five years time for the same cost as a Powerwall 2.0.

Cars can also feed power into the grid. The battery in your car can supply the house as well as the house supplying it. The Telegraph newspaper reported last year that “According to the company, the 18,000 Nissan Leafs currently on the road have a 180 megawatt energy capacity, the equivalent of two power stations.” This will significantly increase, with 9.5% of Europe’s energy stored in batteries at any one time in 2050. Terawatts of power could be called upon from cars not being used, and with that capacity to hand, spike in demand for electricity will be met.

By Richard Shrubb

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