LOS ANGELES — As California heads into a third Flex Alert in as many days Friday, the power grid operator that issues them is encouraging electric vehicle owners to charge their vehicles before 4 p.m. or after 9 p.m. On exceptionally hot days like Los Angeles is currently experiencing, when so many people are running air conditioners, conservation is critical to ensuring enough electricity is available to prevent rolling blackouts.
What You Need To Know
- As California works to meet its goal of transitioning all new passenger vehicle sales to electrics by 2035, some skeptics are raising concerns about whether the state’s power grid is up to the task
- The short answer is yes
- According to the most recent forecast from 2021, electric vehicles would draw a maximum of 4% of California’s electricity supply even during peak demand
- To date, 1.2 million electric vehicles have been sold in California
But with stretches of extreme heat expected to increase in the coming years, and as California works to meet its goal of transitioning all new passenger vehicle sales to electrics by 2035, some skeptics are raising concerns about whether the state’s power grid is up to the task.
The short answer is yes.
“Electric vehicles are expected to add only a small amount of demand onto the grid within the next decade,” a California Energy Commission spokesperson told Spectrum News 1 in a statement.
Every two years, the state’s main energy policy agency updates its ten-year forecast of electricity demand to help the state’s major power utilities plan for future needs, such as building new power plants, expanding transmission lines and increasing the distribution system to meet new demand.
According to the most recent forecast from 2021, electric vehicles would draw a maximum of 4% of California’s electricity supply even during peak demand.
The 4% electricity-use scenario presumes an aggressive EV adoption rate of 5.4 million light-duty electric vehicles and 193,000 medium- and heavy-duty electrics on the road in 2030. To date, 1.2 million electric vehicles have been sold in California.
EVs currently account for 16% of the almost 2 million new vehicles sold in the state each year, but those sales are expected to ramp up now that the California Air Resources Board has adopted specific targets for EVs. Under the plan the agency adopted last week, 35% of automakers’ sales in the state must be electric by 2026, increasing to 68% in 2030.
Presuming the state can achieve its ambitious targets, the amount of energy those EVs will use is not expected to put a dent in the grid’s ability to reliably serve the state’s 40 million residents.
“While this number of vehicles is a lot, Californians use a lot of electricity for many purposes, and load for electric vehicles is not expected to be extremely high and certainly not double the entire grid load,” the California Energy Commission spokesperson said.
In 2030, the peak hour for electricity demand is projected to be a hot summer day at around 6 p.m., but the time at which people charge their EVs is projected to be similar to what it is now: after 8 p.m. and into the early morning, when demand on the grid is lower and electricity rates are less expensive.
Even during Flex Alerts, “there’s no requirement that says you have to charge at off-peak hours, just like there’s no requirement that says you have to do your laundry in the early morning hours,” said Katherine Stainken, vice president of policy for the bipartisan EV advocacy group, the Electrification Coalition.
That’s because Flex Alerts are voluntary. What helps sway EV drivers not to charge during times of peak demand is more likely time-of-use rates, Stainken said, or when they need it, just like drivers do with gas.
All the EVs on the road don’t charge at the same time.
The best time to charge EVs is overnight, after the Flex Alert, according to a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power spokesperson. LADWP has adequate energy supply to meet EV charging demand even during a Flex Alert’s peak hours, the rep said, but charging at non-peak times helps to lessen stress on the electricity distribution grid.
In LA, customers who pay time-of-use residential rates for their electricity are charged significantly less if they shift their vehicle charging to the lowest-cost base period. At LADWP, that period is from 8 p.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday. The rate starts at 17 cents per kilowatt hour.
As utilities work to build more capacity into the grid to accommodate EVs before that capacity is actually needed, another technology is coming down the pike that will help with that goal: bidirectional chargers. In April, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a new vehicle-to-everything initiative to develop and commercialize technologies that allow vehicles to connect with infrastructure, including power utilities.
A bidirectional charger is similar to a regular EV charger, except that power can flow both ways: from the electrical grid to the batteries of the vehicle, and from the vehicle’s batteries back to the grid, bolstering its energy supply when needed.
General Motors began piloting such a program in collaboration with Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California earlier this summer, allowing some of its customers to use their vehicles to power their homes instead of drawing power from the grid. It plans to expand the pilot later this year.
Bidirectional charging capability can be built into vehicles, as it is with the Ford F-150 Lightning and upcoming Chevy Silverado electric pickup trucks. It can also be enabled through bidirectional charging infrastructure.
Such chargers are rare for the moment, but they got a big boost with the Inflation Reduction Act President Biden signed last month. The law makes bidirectional chargers eligible for a tax credit for the next 10 years.
Stainken said the adoption of electric vehicles and their impact on the electrical grid is like the adoption of air conditioners.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” she said. “As EVs grow in adoption, there is time to optimize the signals that consumers are getting about when to charge, when they’re saving money and to finalize the protocols to see which use cases are best for bidirectionality.”