This summer’s heat wave prompts another eruption of the perennial question: Won’t electric cars that recharge from grid power overload the nation’s electricity system?

Chevy-VoltLast week’s heat wave prompted another eruption of that perennial question: Won’t electric cars that recharge from grid power overload the nation’s electricity system?

Or put more bluntly: Will electric vehicles bring down the U.S. power grid?
The answer, equally bluntly, is: No. They won’t.

A comprehensive and wide-ranging two-volume study from 2007, Environmental Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles, looked at the impact of plug-in vehicles on the U.S. electrical grid. It also analyzed the “wells-to-wheels” carbon emissions of plug-ins versus gasoline cars.

The study is well regarded, in part because of its authors. It was a joint effort by two somewhat unlikely partners: the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), which is the utility industry’s research arm, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

It looks at the consequences of drivers charging plug-in vehicles at different times during the day. And it assumes a gradual rollout of electric vehicles into the current U.S. fleet of 300 million vehicles. GM, for example, will only sell 10,000 Chevy Volts during all of 2011.

In practice, this means electric cars will only impose marginal increases on the electric grid. The load of one plug-in recharging (about 2 kilowatts) is roughly the same as that of four or five plasma television sets. Plasma TVs hardly brought worries about grid crashes.

Auto analyst J.D. Power projects that by 2015, global production of plug-in electric vehicles–for all markets, not just the U.S.–will total 500,000 per year, half in China. If they all charged at the same time, that’s no more than the load of 2 million plasma TV sets, globally.

Even if the U.S. alone has half a million plug-ins to recharge (out of 300 million vehicles on the road, remember) within a few years, utility executives aren’t losing any sleep. In fact, they’re happy. They love the idea of selling you “fuel” for your vehicle.

They will, however, offer strong incentives to get you to charge overnight, when demand on their generating capacity plummets. They have tons of unused power capacity then, and they’d like nothing better than to sell you some of that power, even at special cheap rates.

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Source: GreenCarReports.com | The Car Connection
Photo: General Motors