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Can the Electrical Grid Handle Electric Trucks?

If electric vehicles are the future of trucking, is our county's electric grid capable of handling them?

February 2018, - Feature

by Jim Park - Also by this author

Demand for electric energy is rising, fueled by a boom in battery electric vehicle sales. Does the grid have the capacity to handle it? Photo: Trekphiler via Creative Commons
Demand for electric energy is rising, fueled by a boom in battery electric vehicle sales. Does the grid have the capacity to handle it? Photo: Trekphiler via Creative Commons

Very few new power plants have been built in the U.S. in the past 10 years, yet demand for electric energy is rising, fueled by a boom in BEV sales. Does the grid have the capacity to handle it? The short answer is yes, but some adjustment may be necessary.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2016, about 4.08 trillion kilowatt/hours (kWh) of electricity were generated at utility-scale facilities in the United States. About 65% of this electricity generation was from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases), about 20% was from nuclear energy, and about 15% was from renewable energy sources. The EIA also estimates that an additional 19 billion kWh of electricity generation came from small-scale solar photovoltaic systems.

As more coal-fired plants are decommissioned (in 2016 coal accounted for about 30% of the nation’s electricity production), wind and solar are filling that gap. But since demand for electricity is not constant throughout any 24-hour period, the time of day when the energy is required has a very large impact on the grid’s ability to meet demand. The addition of a huge fleet of electric vehicles may appear to be problematic, but it could actually be a huge advantage to electricity producers.

One of the problems with our electric grid is that it has no storage capacity. Power generation and transmission must be continuously managed to match fluctuating customer load. So, if all our BEVs (and the growing fleet of commercial BEVs) were to be plugged in at once, it would be a big problem.

“Fortunately, many commercial fleets (especially final-mile delivery vehicles) are parked at night, which is the optimal time for charging and for optimizing the use of the existing grid capacity,” says Scott Perry, chief technology and procurement officer, Ryder Global Fleet Management Solutions.

Once the commercial fleet reaches a critical mass, this will allow energy producers to run their facilities at higher and more efficient output during periods of traditionally lower demand, such as overnight. But the secondary advantage now being proposed and tested is to have the BEV batteries on individual vehicles serve as a sort of surge protector for the system and as a buffer in the event of a significant disruption in transmission, such as a blown transformer or a downed high-tension power transmission line, as well as providers of capacity at times when wind or solar output may be diminished.

Writing in the New Journal of Physics, Andrej Gajdu notes that potential benefits of the Vehicle-2-Grid concept can include offering a possible backup for renewable power sources including wind and solar power, load balancing by valley-filling and peak load shaving, among others. “The V2G concept can improve grid efficiency, stability, reliability,” he says, “and can reduce utility operating costs and even potentially generate revenue for the consumer.”


  1. 1. Joao Reis Simoes [ February 20, 2018 @ 03:19AM ]

    I totally agree and that is the project we are running in Portugal.

  2. 2. Bob M. [ February 20, 2018 @ 04:27AM ]

    It would b interesting to consider how significant storm-related power outages will impact the delivery of product onboard electric trucks.

  3. 3. John Baxter [ February 20, 2018 @ 05:05AM ]

    This gets to the root of the problem, and is the kind of issue that should be included when electric vehicle makers tout their products. Congratulations, Jim for bringing this issue out into the open. If these vehicles need to be charged during the day, the picture gets much darker in terms of building capacity, however. This needs to be kept in mind, though if the electric are consistently used during the day and charged at night, the end result could be quite favorable.

  4. 4. MIchael Galorath [ February 20, 2018 @ 07:10AM ]

    This story fails to address the GRID's ability to handle the increased demand of vehicles to be charged! Great the electric companies increase production. Let's say it's 80 digress every home has on the A/C and now we have 40 thousand cars and trucks charging. We talk about companies but we fail to look at homes and the grid. Can you see an entire delivery fleet charging over night and you show up to work the next day and the power went out and your entire fleet is only 10% charged. Bottom line you can only push so much through a garden hose.

  5. 5. Bruce [ February 20, 2018 @ 09:04AM ]

    What the author fails to appreciate is that peak demand is the issue as many power plants sit idle during the night. That is why solar is so valuable as it produces peak supply during the day and at the time when there is peak demand from air conditioning. Charging truck battery packs at night is a complementary use of the output from the existing power plants and improves their utilization. Utilities have provided time of day rates for decades and so no one is going to pay a day rate for charging a truck when they can do so at night at half the cost. We have excess power supply in many areas as the state regulations have restricted profits to a percentage of revenue and capital outlays. That is why very uneconomical nuclear power plants have been built with the sole objective of adding to the utility shareholders' profits.
    When there is a power outage there is no way to pump diesel or gas fuel from the below ground tanks to the fuel tanks of the trucks. So a power outage affects ALL trucks on the road.

  6. 6. Joe Knudson [ February 20, 2018 @ 09:26AM ]

    Every new technology brings new challenges and at the same time new opportunities. When cars were first introduced there were not enough roads for them to travel on and very few places to fuel but as more cars were sold more roads and more places to fuel became available. And at the same time new technologies were introduced. The same holds true for sources of electricity. Chances are the technology that will help charge these vehicles hasn't been invented or made practical but you can be sure there are people working on it. At some point solar and wind power will be able to be captured in a way that a fleet could be producing electrical energy on site. I currently use technology in my phone that I never dreamed was possible or ever thought I would need. It won't be long and we will be thinking the same thing about sources of electricity.

  7. 7. Larry Fosgate [ February 20, 2018 @ 09:46AM ]

    The answer is for those who have electric vehicles for home use or a fleet to also employ photovoltaic or wind power to generate their own for that and other uses. Adding a storage unit to the intermittent generation source will level the load for use. Tying the system to the grid is an option that works for both parties, if there is an agreement to pay each party for the net output fairly, "net metering."

  8. 8. Tom, former utility PR gu [ February 20, 2018 @ 12:08PM ]

    I congratulate the author of the article for looking into the pros and cons of the recharging of electric vehicles. after 10 years of communicating on electric power issues for several utilities, I offer an inside perspective most consumers lack.The biggest issue not being addressed in this nation is the growing dependence upon unreliable "green energy." Wind and solar powered generators work intermittently, depending upon when the wind blows and the sun shines. Electric Customers meanwhile want dependable energy when they flip a switch, however, green energy renewables can't be scheduled to time with peak demand.
    Dependable baseload nuclear power plants have not been built because of the crazy environmental wackos who are afraid of an old-fashioned Chernobyl meltdown and don't want these power plants in their state. The latest US nuclear plant designs (but never did built due to political pressure) are light years safer than the old Soviet dinosaur plants, and not a fair comparison.

  9. 9. jimmy [ February 20, 2018 @ 06:35PM ]

    Electric vehicles ARE NOT THE ANSWER. The carbon footprint on just building the battery is extremely dirty and bad for our environment. They have rolling brownouts now because of power shortage. Now add millions of electric vehicles to the grid then what? How about 400+ pound lithium ion batteries in wrecking yards, or on personal properties after an accident? Electric vehicles are NOT the answer to going green. By creating electric vehicles and 400+ pound lithium ion batteries, we are just creating an entirely new problem to the planet.

  10. 10. R Maxwell [ February 24, 2018 @ 06:22PM ]

    For some strange reason, photovoltaics get thrown into the availability for battery re-charging capacity. However, at night when battery recharging demand is at the max, the contribution of solar generation will be a spectacular zero.

  11. 11. Ed G. [ March 08, 2018 @ 10:38AM ]

    Centralized power generation (i.e., the razing of more land and building huge facilities on that previously unused land) is not the answer. We have already razed plenty of land and have the infrastructure in place in our communities for power transmission. The answer is a virtual power plant that is built on top of the buildings and infrastructure that is already in place. Solar and wind on houses and buildings with power backup creates a distributed grid that is way more resilient than the current centralized grid, that can be taken out by a single lightening strike or drunk driver crash into a power substation. It also leverages resources that we already have in place as opposed to creating huge new facilities and putting up more transmission lines, across which that centralized power degrades measurably every single mile it travels. Last - the person who mentioned the battery issue is also at least partially correct. Our current battery technology is still terrible. It must be improved. The use of alternate power storage solutions has to be explored further, including improved flywheel technology for home energy storage and potentially even mobile energy storage if the wobble issue can be addressed.


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