There might be a huge roadblock on the road to the future of electric cars. The power grid might not support all those electric vehicles that Elon Musk’s Tesla and other companies want to put on our highways.
Plugging in just two or three electric cars in the neighborhood could cause the local grid to go down, the MIT Technology Review reported. The reason the grid could go down is that the transformers and power lines in many residential neighborhoods are simply not built nor designed to handle the massive amounts of electricity vehicles require.
One modern electric car, such as the Tesla S series, uses as much electricity as three standard residential homes, the Technology Review noted. The Review didn’t take in the fact that the large portions of the grid are old and already prone to failure.
Some news articles indicate that the number of power outages in the U.S. has been rising over the last 10 years because the grid is simply old and constantly breaking down. Some parts of the power grid date back to the 1890s.
Do We Have Enough Electricity for Electric Cars?
Then there’s the electricity supply. Some experts claim that America’s power plants could supply the needs of 150 electric cars, yet others have been predicting power outages in the United States because of the closing of power plants due to stricter air pollution rules.
The shutdown of coal-burning power plants could lead to blackouts next year, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) warned on the Senate floor in early February. Inhofe is one of several observers who think that the U.S. doesn’t have enough electricity generation capacity.
Coal-burning power plants are not the only worry. California has come dangerously close to blackouts in recent months because the drought has shut down a number of hydroelectric plants. Only new solar power plants kept the lights on in the Golden State during the drought.
So what does this mean for all of us? Who want to tool around in a Tesla Roadster or the mysterious X series SUV Elon Musk keeps promising? It means it might not happen. Just imagine the political backlash if millions of TV and computer screens go dark because a few hundred people in town are charging electric cars.
Electric cars could be banned or their charging could end up severely regulated under the best-case scenario. Yet there might be a solution.
Will Electric Vehicle Owners have to Generate their Own Electricity?
Electric car owners might have to generate their own electricity through solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells, or natural gas powered generators. This isn’t as farfetched as you think. Many energy experts think new technology will make it cheaper and more practical for most people to generate their own electricity in the near future.
Utility NRG Energy is promising to start selling a device called the Beacon 10, a combination generator/water heater/ furnace that could generate up to 10 kilowatts of electricity from natural gas sometime next year. The generator is part of a microgrid, which will also generate five watts of electricity from solar panels.
NRG’s CEO David Crane is an outspoken critic of the present power grid, which he calls “shockingly stupid.” Crane wants diffused power generation in which the grid feeds off large numbers of small generators, rather than a few huge power plants.
Okay, that sounds like a great green solution, but it also sounds incredibly expensive. You’ll have to buy a solar electric system or a generator in order to run your electric car. It might be no coincidence that the man behind Tesla, Elon Musk, is also one of the investors behind the solar-panel company Solar City.
This also means that the fuel cell car, which doesn’t require you to have a power plant in your garage, might be the way to go. If that’s true, then Toyota, which has invested heavily in fuel cell technology, is the real car of the future. One thing is certain, we’re going to have to some major changes to the grid if we want to use electric cars.