How much electricity does an electric vehicle need?
In September 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order requiring sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035 and all medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to be 100 percent zero-emission by 2045. The measure aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions and oxides of nitrogen emissions from cars statewide, by 35% and 80% respectively. This blog spotlights some of the practical implications of this mandate for the electricity and infrastructure landscape of California.
How much extra generating capacity will be required?
- Average car battery: 55 kWh charged 4 times a month, 300 miles range per charge
- Charger loss: 10%
- Capacity margin: 15% (customary margin over installed generating capacity)
- Average renewable generating capacity: 26% (the 2020 average in California for solar and wind)
- Average conventional generating capacity: 80% (average nuclear and combined cycle plant)
- Renewable curtailment: 1,500,000 MWh-year for California. This solar capacity is presently curtailed in California and assumed to be absorbed by the additional EVs.
Given these assumptions, California will need approximately 1.50 GW of renewable generating capacity per million vehicles, or 45 GW of installed renewable capacity for 30 million vehicles. In comparison, the present California peak demand is around 45 GW. We suggest, then, that California’s peak electricity demand could double by 2045—and this figure does not even include the replacement of the present nuclear and fossil-fuel generating capacity. Of course, the actual required additional capacity will depend on the implementation of certain solutions. Let’s look at some of these.
Using EVs to store energy
An increase in the number of electric vehicles means there will be more opportunities to use their batteries to store excess renewable energy. They will then be able to supply it to the grid when renewable generation is not available, for example, after the sun goes down. The challenge here is managing the appropriate charge and discharge times and locations. We will need the right software and applications to manage the charging process as well as any financial transactions that might be involved. We also foresee that we will need infrastructure investments to ensure a safe and reliable charge and discharge. An important question to consider is whether we will need battery stations instead of gas stations. It’s ultimately a matter of supply-and-demand. It stands to reason that as more EVs come on the road, the storage capacity will increase, renewal curtailment will decrease, and the building of new generating capacity will optimize. By striking the right balance between storage capacity from the extra EVs, you will not need to build excess capacity that you will then need to curtail.
Developing new energy storage technology
Most battery storage currently relies on lithium-ion technology. These batteries are already cost-competitive for transportation use. However, for effective electric grid use, the cost needs to drop significantly, at least 1,000 %, from its current value. This reduction could occur through the benefits of economy of scale. But while reducing the cost of lithium-ion technology will go a long way toward creating more energy storage capacity, certain challenges—like the current 4-hour storage limitation and lithium price volatility due to increasing demand—would remain. Increasing storage capacity from 4 to 8-12 hours would provide more flexibility to manage demand peaks and alleviate the need for new generating capacity.
Modernizing the electrical grid
While we have already mentioned that EVs can store additional energy and help to create a smart grid, electric vehicles will power other changes too. Achieving the mandated vehicle electrification will require a significant investment in infrastructure. The new generating capacity will more than likely be built away from large population centers, requiring new transmission and distribution lines. We believe that solar PVs in residential or commercial roofs will be part of the new power system as well. The resulting increased two-way flow of electricity will demand modifications to the existing electrical distribution infrastructure.
Embracing nuclear energy
California’s lone remaining nuclear plant, the 2.24 GW Diablo Canyon, will shut down in 2025. A recent report indicates that delaying the closure to 2045 would reduce California’s carbon emissions from power plants by more than 10% from 2017 levels, reduce dependency on natural gas, save up to $21 billion in power system costs, and spare 90,000 acres of land from use for energy production. Furthermore, it’s worthwhile to note that the construction of a new nuclear plant is a long and costly process, as the cancellation of the SCANA V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina and the numerous delays and cost overruns by the Plant Vogtle in Georgia show.
In the last few years, small modular reactor (SMR) technology has emerged as an alternative to the large construction of typical nuclear power plants. SMRs speed up construction through a modular design; they are manufactured at a plant and then transported to a site for installation. Modular reactors promise to reduce construction costs, increase containment efficiency, and enhance safety. There are many SMR designs under consideration, and the wide adoption of SMRs for commercial use will need to shift the current regulatory regimes created for conventional reactor designs.
Importing renewable energy
California is already the largest net importer of electricity in the US, with 28-32% of total electricity consumption coming from neighboring states and Mexico. The California ISO created the Western Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) to transfer power not only inside California but also across the western United States. This real-time wholesale energy market increases renewable penetration by using the lowest-cost energy resources, which often are renewable. However, as states implement more renewable energy requirements and their energy demand grows, there will be less available carbon-free electricity for California to import.
AVEVA’s role in this energy transition
Hopefully, this blog has offered an overview of some of the issues for the power industry and other stakeholders to consider while solving the energy transition challenge. We have used the state of California as an example, but this discussion can also apply to other regions. The best approaches will require a mixture of solutions tailored to the specific applications, geography, and business conditions.
The energy transition may need new hardware, new software, or a combination of both. We also know that the energy transition away from fossil fuels will require the collection, assessment, and visualization of data. The rise of renewable energy, two-way power flows, and distributed resources continue to increase the need for clearer actionable data.