Could It Be Lights Out For PHEV’s?

electric grid issues phevsThe subject of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) is becoming something we hear more and more about. When will we get one? When will we have plug-in stations instead of gas stations? How will we support a grid that charges millions of cars each night? The answers to these questions are hard to come by – it seems as if every group has done their own study and has their own story to tell. Some say plug-ins will be less than a blip on the radar screen of America’s electricity usage while others say a neighborhood full of green-minded folks driving PHEVs will cause frequent power surges and power loss.

Zapping our energy
This MarketWatch article shares the findings of a study done by Oak Ridge National Labs that calculated that if all PHEV drivers in the year 2030 were plugging in at 5:00 p.m., there would need to be an additional 160 large power plants in the country. You can download that whole study here, it’s a pretty fascinating look at a model of the southeastern U.S. in 2018, assuming there are 1 million PHEVs being driven in that region.

The study and others similar to it maintain that while the grid may be capable of handling a large amount of plug-in hybrids in ideal conditions (off-peak charging); it is still up to consumers to choose the time they charge. Most will probably charge when it is most convenient for them, thereby taxing the existing grid.

Shine on
That same MarketWatch article also does a good job explaining the side of those whose studies have found that the existing grid system will be fine as plug-ins become more available and popular. The Electric Power Research Company maintains that charging PHEVs will look no different to a utility company than leaving a computer monitor on all day. In fact, Mike Duvall of the EPR goes so far as to also say that charging PHEVs will allow power plants to use more than the 60% capacity that they currently use and will thereby drive electricity power down.

Either way, auto makers seem to have decided the electric dream is here to stay. GM has fast-tracked the Chevy Volt and hopes to have it on dealer lots by late 2010. Whether GM is still in business, and assuming they are - how buyers will power them is what remains to be seen.

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