Local City Power Grids May Not Be Ready for Electric Cars

One electric vehicle's demand can be anywhere up from three quarters of a house up to three houses.

Published: 17-Feb-2012

Buried beneath the defense reductions and tax increases in the president's new $3.8 trillion budget is another initiative getting less attention: increased incentives for electric car purchases. President Obama is proposing that the tax credit for an electric car purchase be raised from $7,500 to $10,000. That, along with fears of sky-high gas prices, could drive purchases up...but some city power grids may not be able to handle a new fleet of plug-in cars.

Depending on how you parse the figures, an electric vehicle's power usage can sound either negligible or massive. The all-electric Nissan Leaf, for example, has a 3.3 kW charger, roughly equal to the usage of a clothes dryer or two hair dryers. But added up, the amount of energy that car uses can be far greater. Running a clothes dryer all night, half the time it takes to fully charge a Leaf battery on a standard home outlet, could make for a substantial increase in a household's electric bill.

According to the EPA, a Leaf consumes around 340 watt hours per mile. Charge that car enough to drive 30 miles per day, and that's more than 306 kilowatt hours per month, nearly one third of the national average home energy usage of 958 kilowatt hours, according to the Department of Energy. The addition of three new Leafs with this driving pattern, then, would be the equivalent of adding another household onto an electrical grid.

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