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Using EVs as Grid Storage is Unrealistic

Green energy advocates are now pushing the idea of using EVs as grid storage, but the math just doesn’t work out.

By Jonathan Lesser

The push for electrification of the entire economy – electric cars and trucks, electric heat and hot water, and even electric stoves – is relentless.  Various states, including California, New Jersey, and New York, to name just three, have enacted legislation and developed all-encompassing “plans” to put everything into an electrified basket.

But electrification requires, well, electricity.  Lots of it.  And it requires that electricity to be available at all times. Greens envision most of that electricity will come from wind and solar power, along with hydrogen-burning generators that don’t yet exist and battery storage to meet the demand for power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

Recognizing that building enough battery storage facilities will be prohibitively expensive, a new push has developed: using electric vehicles as a source of back-up power storage to meet electricity demand. It’s called “vehicle-to-grid” (V2G) technology and means using the millions of electric vehicles that consumers and businesses will be forced to buy to supply electricity to the grid when wind and solar do not. Proponents claim it will make the electric grid stronger and more reliable, and provide a quick path to the “net-zero” future that supposedly will save the planet.

But like other green energy fantasies, the math doesn’t add up.

Consider New York. The state’s Climate Action Council Scoping Plan envisions there will be about 3.5 million EVs on the roads by 2050, 15 years after the state’s ban on the sale of internal combustion vehicles takes effect.  How much electricity would those vehicles provide?

According to the Electric Vehicle Database, the average EV manufactured today contains about 66 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of usable electricity.  Most Teslas provide around 95 to 100 kWh.  On the other end of the scale, the cheaper Nissan Leaf provides just 40 kWh.

Here’s the math.  Suppose that, on a cold winter’s day in 2050, all 3.5 million EVs are connected to the state’s power grid.  None are being driven and all are fully charged.  And suppose that improved battery technology means each provides an average of 100 kWh of electricity.  That’s 350 million kWh in total, or 350 gigawatt-hours (GWh).

Sounds like a lot.  According to the most recent forecast prepared by New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), which oversees operation of the state’s electric generating plants and transmission system, total electricity demand in 2050 will be just under 200,000 GWh.  That’s an average of 540 GWh per day.  So, on an average day these EVs could provide around 15 hours of electricity.

But extra electricity will be most needed on cold, windless, and cloudy winter days, which are not uncommon for New York.  According to NYISO, electricity demand on such a day will peak at almost 45 gigawatts.  If that load persisted for an entire day, it would be over 1,000 GWh of electricity.  Suppose, though, total electricity consumption on a peak day is just 50% higher than an average day, or around 800 GWh.  Then those 3.5 million EVs could supply enough back-up electricity for just 10 hours.

In reality, of course, not all of those EVs would be connected to the power grid.  Many would be in use.  And not all of them would be fully charged.  If only 50% of total EVs are available to supply electricity to the grid, they would supply just five hours of back-up.

Moreover, once those batteries were drained, they would have to be recharged.  Were a second consecutive cloudy, windless day to occur – again, not uncommon in New York – millions of EVs would sit useless in garages and parking lots.

Then there is the cost of the infrastructure needed for V2G.  Getting power from all of those parked EVs to the grid will require all sorts of new technology, which will cost billions of dollars. It will require upgrading local distribution systems – the poles and wires running down the street.

And what happens if consumers and businesses don’t want their EV batteries drained by the local electric utility? So far, few EV owners are signing up for managed charging programs that allow their local utilities to control when EVs can be charged in exchange for rate reductions. Then again, will EV owners ultimately even have a choice?

Perhaps technological leaps will make V2G practical someday. But the proclamations and studies about V2G strengthening the power grid and making EVs even more perfect ring hollow. That puts V2G in good company with the unrealistic visions of a transformed, fully electric society.

Jonathan Lesser is the president of Continental Economics and an adjunct fellow with the Manhattan Institute.

Originally published by RealClearEnergy. Republished with permission.

To read more about electric vehicles, click here, here, and here.

Jonathan Lesser
Jonathan Lesser
Jonathan Lesser is the president of Continental Economics and an adjunct fellow with the Manhattan Institute.


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