Electric vehicles have the potential to completely disrupt the energy landscape.
Consider the following: the transportation sector (planes, trains, and automobiles) accounts for almost 29% of all energy consumed in the United States. The vast majority of that energy comes from oil-derived fuels, such as the gasoline and diesel we use in our cars. Switching to an electrified fleet of vehicles has the potential to reduce the energy required to meet our transportation needs. In fact, electric vehicles are 2—3 times more efficient than conventional gasoline cars.
However, switching fuels from gasoline to electricity could have a large impact on the electric grid.
To determine how electric vehicles might affect our power grid, researchers with the Energy Institute at UT Austin developed an analysis of future electricity requirements as a result of increasing vehicle electrification. This analysis was completed on a county-by-county basis across the country, and found that California and New England might face the largest changes to enable future electric vehicles .
To understand the implications of these results, it’s important to first understand the existing consumer behavior in the transportation sector.
In 2017, the United States consumed approximately 140 billion gallons of gasoline, allowing drivers to log over 3 trillion miles. While gasoline consumption and mobility have fueled economic growth, that consumption also means that our transportation system is now the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions of any sector of our economy.
The increased fuel efficiency of electric vehicles means we can get the same mileage for less energy. But driving all those miles on electricity can have other impacts, including changes to our electricity infrastructure.
So what would the future look like if all passenger vehicles were electrified? We can use existing gasoline and electricity consumption levels to give us an idea.
The results are interesting. If every state had 100% electric vehicle penetration, some states such as California and Maine might need 47% and 55% more electricity, respectively. On the other hand, a state like Texas might only need around 28% more electricity.
Why would states like California and Maine be disproportionally affected by future vehicle electrification while Texas is less so?
Texas already has a very robust electric grid, in great deal due to the large air conditioning loads in the summer. Compared to Texas, the residents of California and Maine don’t require as much air conditioning, however, those same people still drive many miles every year. The result is that the existing electricity infrastructure in California and Maine might come under greater stress as compared to Texas, if we switch to using electricity to power our mobility needs.
In absolute terms, an all-electric light-duty vehicle fleet in the United States would require over 1,100 TWh of electricity, equivalent to a nearly 29% increase in electricity consumption across the entire country. Satisfying that growth with low-carbon sources of electricity has the potential to simultaneously make both the electricity sector and transportation sector cleaner and more efficient. But, the financial and environmental impact of that future growth will depend on existing energy infrastructure and the choices of what to build in the coming decades.
Electricity companies across the country could reap financial benefits from high penetrations of electric vehicles. And, while it might take many decades to reach full electrification, it appears the economic opportunity of increased electricity consumption could be particularly appealing in places like California and New England, unique opportunities for companies such Pacific Gas and Electric, Edison International, and Emera.