Study finds that smart charging strategies can help U.S. prepare for surge in electric vehicle usage

(Seattle Department of Transportation Photo)

If you’ve got the dough to buy an electric vehicle, Washington state and the rest of the Western U.S. should have the juice to keep it charged — at least for another decade, and possibly longer if new charging strategies are put in place.

A new report estimated that even if people start snapping up electric cars, SUVs, vans and trucks at an aggressive rate — reaching 24 million EVs on U.S. roads by 2028 (which would make EVs 9% of total vehicles) — the West’s electrical system should be able to meet the demand for battery charging without adding power sources or upgrading electricity transmission.

At about 30 million EVs — 20 times the current number of battery-powered U.S. vehicles — the system starts maxing out.

But the electrical supplies could be stretched to power even more vehicles, perhaps twice that number, if drivers started adopting “smart charging” practices, said researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). The key change would be recharging cars during the day to take advantage of extra power being generated from solar energy.

Shifts in policy, such as utilities charging higher prices for using power at night, could encourage drivers to move to daytime recharging.

“You’re utilizing the entire [electricity] delivery system much more efficiently and accessing more of the renewable energies, in particular solar,” said Michael Kintner-Meyer, an electrical systems engineer in PNNL’s Electricity Infrastructure group and the study’s lead author. “You could boost that bottleneck from 30 million to 60 million [EVs].”

EV demand is growing and will continue rising. Washington, Oregon and California are among the states that have adopted the California Zero Emission Vehicle program, which requires automakers to reach an annual quota for delivering zero emission cars and trucks.

Online retail giant Amazon will purchase 100,000 electric delivery vans, with the first Rivian-made vehicles hitting the road next year. It expects the order to be filled by 2030. Ride-hailing company Lyft has pledged a shift all its rides to EVs over the coming decade. Municipalities are also pursuing battery-powered vehicles, including buses in the King County Metro fleet and vehicles used by the city of Seattle.

The top three states for EV sales currently are California, New York and Washington.

One of the bigger challenges, said the PNNL scientists, will be fast-charging EVs that can inhale as much power as up to 50 homes. Most current EVs use 15 to 20 amps of power drawn over 6-to-8 hours, while the fast-charging cars and trucks can chug 400 amps for up to 45 minutes.

The PNNL study, which included researchers from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office, is titled “Electric Vehicles at Scale – Phase 1 Analysis: High EV Adoption Impacts on the Western U.S. Power Grid.”

A phase two report is expected next year looking at limitations in electricity distribution over the last mile from the power substation to the charging station.

PNNL recently won Innovation of the Year at the GeekWire Awards for its VaporID technology that quickly and accurately identifies explosives, deadly chemicals and illicit drugs in extremely small amounts.

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