Keeping Things in Perspective: An Electric Car is About as Power-Hungry as an Air Conditioner
Image on left: Nissan
"EVs would come to an annual cost of between US$190 and $278 to consumers"
There's no doubt that a large number of electric vehicles would use a lot of electricity. But the important question is: Would it be a manageable amount? There's mounting evidence (see here, here and here) that our grid would be able to deal with it without too much strain, and that the coming smart grid and the switch to carbon-free sources of power would make it an even better deal. Recent numbers by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) seem to confirm this, comparing the consumption of electric cars to air conditioners.
The upcoming Chevy Volt, for instance, is expected to increase the energy draw of the average U.S. home by 13 percent. The Nissan Leaf comes in at 19 percent, according to EPRI, which didn't provide figures for the Focus.
That would come to an annual cost of between US$190 and $278 to consumers. That compares to $151 to run a refrigerator for the year or $228 to run the air conditioner, according to EPRI figures. (source)
Of course, how much an air conditioner costs someone depends on a lot of factors, but this give us a ballpark figure that is less abstract.
Since the vast majority of EVs will be charging during the night (off peak), existing power plants that would otherwise be idling or running sub-optimally can be used (this is a lot less expensive than building new plants), and because adoption of the technology will be gradual over the coming years, there won't be a big surge of demand (it'll probably be slower than the increase in demand from the switch to big flat-screen televisions). Smart meters that can communicate with EVs would make it even easier to make sure that the demand is spread out as evenly as possible and that the charging EVs can take advantage of things like a surge of wind power during the night.
An increase in the energy use of an average U.S. home by 19% is not insignificant, but most houses are far from perfect. They could be made much more efficient relatively easily, more than compensating for that increase. More insulation, better water heaters, better ventilation to reduce the need for A/C, passive solar features for the winter and natural shade for the summer, getting rid of that inefficient fridge from the 1970s in the garage, more efficient lights, using energy-saving settings on the computers, LED-backlit screens, washing clothes in cold water, etc. All things that are doable today if there's a will, and many have a good return-on-investment.
We also need to remember that gasoline refineries use a lot of electricity (one source says over 12 kWh per gallon, but it's hard to find solid data on this -- if you know where to find it, please leave a comment below). If we burn less gasoline, that frees up some electricity for other uses, including electric vehicles.
It's still better to walk, cycle, or take public transit. But if people are going to be driving, EVs would be a lot better than gasoline and diesel cars.
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