A Battery Charging Speed Bump for Electric Cars?

Peter Fairley raises the issue of the impact electric cars will have on local power grids.

Published: 05-Jan-2010

Peter Fairley

As major automakers like Nissan, Mitsubishi, General Motors, and others prepare to roll out mass-produced plug-in hybrid electric cars in the United States late this year, electric utilities are both salivating at the business opportunity and quietly fretting over potential outages that could mar the electric-vehicle rollout. The myth that thousands of EVs will seamlessly fold into the power grid by charging at night, using otherwise idle generating plants and power grids, is breaking down. Utilities worry that EV charging could black out the neighborhoods of some early EV adopters and give the emerging technology a black eye. Policy experts worry that the change in the grid's use could unintentionally muck up their green energy plans.

The urgency was palpable in comments by Saul Zambrano, director for clean air and transportation at San Francisco–based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E), at a California Energy Commission conclave in October: "You've got to manage the runway. And from our perspective, we think the runway is getting short relative to the launch of these vehicles."

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