Utilities say grid can handle rechargeable cars
San Jose, Calif. - Which draws more juice from the electric
grid, a big-screen plasma television or recharging a plug-in
The answer is the car. But the electricity drawn by plasma
televisions is easing the minds of utility company executives
across the nation as they plan for what is likely to be a
conversion of much of the country's vehicle fleet from gasoline
to electricity in the coming years.
Rechargeable cars, industry officials say, consume about
four times the electricity as plasma TVs. But the industry
already has dealt with increased electric demand from the
millions of plasma TVs sold in recent years. Officials say
that experience will help them deal with the vehicle fleet
So as long as the changeover from internal combustion engines
to electric vehicles is somewhat gradual, they should be able
to handle it in the same way, Mark Duvall, program manager
for electric transportation, power delivery and distribution
for the Electric Power Research Institute, said Tuesday.
"We've already added to the grid the equivalent of several
years' production of plug-in hybrids," Duvall said at a conference
on electric vehicles in San Jose. "The utilities, they stuck
with it. They said, 'All right, that's what's happening. This
is where the loads are going, and we're going to do this.'"
Automakers, such as General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor
Corp., are planning to bring rechargeable vehicles to the
market as early as 2010. But speakers at the Plug-In 2008
conference say it will take much longer for them to arrive
in mass numbers, due in part to a current lack of large-battery
manufacturing capacity. Auto and battery companies still are
working on the lithium-ion battery technology needed for the
cars, and on how to link the battery packs to the vehicles.
"We see the vehicle penetration levels coming at a rate
that's manageable," said Efrain Ornelas, environmental technical
supervisor with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Francisco.
"It's not like tomorrow the flood gates are going to open
and 100,000 vehicles are going to come into San Francisco
or something like that."
Instead, the vehicles will show up by the thousands throughout
Northern California, he predicted. PG&E will be able to track
their charging patterns and plan accordingly for the future,
Utility officials say they already are coping with increased
demand, especially during peak-use periods in the afternoon
and early evening. But the rest of the day, most utilities
have excess generating capacity that could be used to recharge
But the preparation doesn't mean electric vehicles will be
accommodated without problems and good planning, the officials
Since most electric cars will likely be charged during off-peak
electric use times, utilities should have no problem generating
enough electricity. But since people with the means to buy
electric cars likely will live in the same areas, utilities
worry about stress on their distribution systems, Ornelas
That means consumers will face a lot of choices about when
and where they charge up their cars and how much they want
to pay for the electricity.
The choice for consumers will come because utilities likely
will raise rates to charge cars during peak use times, generally
from around noon to 8 p.m., and lower them for charging during
low-use hours, industry officials say.
In California, utilities already are installing meters that
track use by time of day. PG&E charges 30 cents per kilowatt
hour to charge an electric vehicle during peak hours, he said,
but charges only 5 cents from midnight to 7 p.m.
Duvall said utilities still have to be wary that high gasoline
prices could push sales of rechargeable electric vehicles
well into the millions by 2020, because that could stress
the system. Other possible problems include electric vehicles
getting larger and requiring far more electricity for recharging,
and demands from people that their vehicles be recharged quickly,
drawing more electricity during peak times.
Also, companies such as the Campbell-based Coulomb Technologies,
are starting to develop recharging stations for sale to parking
lot operators, office buildings and cities, which will draw
There's also talk of the cars storing electricity and sending
it back to the power companies during peak times, but officials
say that's a long way off.
Industry officials say they can manage the fleet changeover
as the cars and the utilities each have computers in place
to manage when the cars are recharged.
"From our perspective I think it's something that's really
manageable," said Ornelas.