Reporters can’t seem to get enough of electric cars recently—some write breathlessly that they’re poised for a comeback as miraculous as a reappearance of the dodo bird.
But a couple of stories today went beyond the hype to delve into questions about where all that electricity would come from. Given our aging electricity grid, it could conceivably become a real question if electric cars were used in enough numbers. Another weekend story explores a stealthier drain on the grid—vampire appliances.
According to the Detroit Free Press, if everyone bought an electric car and tried to plug it in after work, the additional load might overwhelm our electrical infrastructure (more on that in a minute) and even cause brownouts. Here in the Northwest, the Oregonian reports, the additional evening load would most likely come from coal, a highly polluting power source.
As the Oregonian‘s informative Q&A explains, studies suggest that hybrids or electric cars charged by coal-fired electricity might still reduce greenhouse gases overall, but not by much. It also contradicts the Detroit story about electric gridlock, suggesting that power planners here don’t think it would overwhelm the system as long as most people do their charging at night.
Given that car manufacturers are only planning to produce fewer than 100,000 plug-in cars in the next few years, we don’t really have to worry much anyway. Even those sending up warning signals say it would take a decade before there are enough electric cars to cause problems with the national power grid.
But, as NPR reports in a weeklong series getting underway, there are plenty of other problems with our electrical infrastructure. Here’s what the first installment says:
The nation’s electricity grid is facing some huge challenges—it’s outdated and unprepared for increasing demand and a future that includes more renewable sources of energy…
The economic stimulus bill passed in February includes $11 billion to upgrade the country’s power grid, but that’s just a down payment on a massive undertaking. That’s because when it comes to electricity, not much has changed since Thomas Edison fired up the first commercial power grid in lower Manhattan on Sept. 4, 1882.
The task seems to call for multiple solutions. As the Los Angeles Times points out, we all have appliances—computers, cell phone chargers, televisions—in our homes that sit idle and and drain energy while we’re not using them. So here’s my question—if we could vanquish the vampire appliances, how much electricity could we free up for electric cars?