Myth buster: Electric vehicles will overload the power grid

4 min read
Oct 6, 2020 8:00:00 AM

Will a mass transition to electric vehicles (EVs) cause the electric power grid to collapse? Some argue that EVs will make the grid unstable, which could mean hefty investments to upgrade existing infrastructures in order to withstand the electricity uptake.

Vehicle electrification

As the EU aims to ban the sale of fossil-fuel vehicles by 2030, this means new car buyers will have three options: plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Globally, more than four million PHEVs and BEVs have been sold so far – and that is predicted to increase to 125 million by 2030.

Currently, EVs only account for 2.6% of global car sales and about 1% of the global car stock in 2019. Until 15% of the vehicles on the road go electric, there won’t be any real impact on the grid. That level of uptake isn’t predicted to happen until 2035, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report


Electric vehicle grid impact

Fact: If 80% of all passenger cars become electric, this would lead to a total increase of 10-15% in electricity consumption. 

So far, the market entry of EVs has been very predictable and the electric grid is constantly being developed in parallel. Current EV market trends show low to moderate energy uptake rates.

The projected growth in e-mobility will not drive an immediate or substantial increase in total electrical-grid power demand, according to a study by McKinsey & Company. This means EV’s aren’t likely to cause any abrupt surprises or disruptions in our power supply and there is no need for new electricity-generation capacity in the near future.

If we take Germany as an example, EV growth won’t cause any large increases in power demand through 2030. On the contrary, EVs could add 1% to the total and require about five extra gigawatts (GW) of generation capacity. That amount could grow to roughly 4% by 2050, which would only require an additional capacity of about 20 GW. Moreover, this new-build capacity will likely involve renewables, including wind and solar power, with some gas-powered generation.

At the same time, electric vehicles are 5 to 6 times more energy-efficient than the best internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicle. In passenger cars, EVs consume 25% the amount of energy in comparison to ICE vehicles. E-trucks consume about 50% of their diesel equivalents’ own energy consumption. 

This means that when a majority of the vehicles on our streets are electric, the total amount of energy consumed in transport is significantly less than what it is now. And electric vehicles only continue to get more efficient and green.


Electric cars as a power source

Presently our electricity system is undergoing an unprecedented change as the electricity production structure is rapidly becoming carbon-neutral and simultaneously more variable according to the weather. 

In the EU, 58% of electricity generation is already carbon neutral. And the situation continues to exponentially improve. By 2030, EVs should reduce CO2 emissions by four-fold as a result of the EU grid relying more heavily on renewables.

Consequently, renewable energy-based electricity production causes volatility to the system and requires flexibility, as well as demand response elements to keep the system stable, reliable, and reasonably priced.

To combat this instability, electric vehicles can provide a vital source of flexibility in the energy system. Instead of being a threat to grid stability or capacity, EVs can connect sustainable transportation and energy into an embedded ecosystem.

To put it simply, EVs act as big batteries on wheels. They make it possible for energy to be stored and used at a later time. In the next few years, we will have a pool of EV chargers utilised as aggregated reserves with peak power equal to a nuclear reactor. By the 2040s, electric vehicles will add up to over 30 TWh of installed battery storage capacity. To put that into perspective, Finland consumed 86 TWh of electricity in 2019.


EV smart charging and vehicle to grid (V2G)

When it comes to managing the peak electricity demand and low-voltage grid, smart charging can solve most of the challenges at the local level and in residential areas.

Smart charging, also known as V1G charging, refers to a system where an EV and a charging device share a data connection so that you can intelligently manage how your EV charges by connecting it to the grid. Smart charging makes optimal use of the energy that is available during a certain period of time.

An EV battery can be used to store renewable energy during the day when production is typically high. In the evening, when consumption peaks, the energy can be discharged to relieve pressure on the market. 

For utilities, this means that EVs offer cheap energy storage, with no capital cost and relatively low operating costs. Not only can EV batteries be used to help stabilise the grid but EV owners will have the opportunity to earn money for this service. 

To take smart charging a step further, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology is also now available. In addition to controlling the charging power, V2G enables the charged power to be momentarily pushed back from the car batteries to the grid, in order to balance variations in energy production and consumption.

To learn more about this technology, check out our guide to V2G. 


More electric vehicle charging myths

While the electrification of mobility is definitely accelerating, a massive power-demand crisis due to electric vehicles simply won’t happen overnight. This is an evolution that spans over decades, not a sudden revolution. This gives utility companies plenty of time to plan ahead. 

However, the situation is country-specific. For example, in northern Europe, the evolution is more effortless because of the strong power grids and electric heating already in place. In other areas of Europe, the evolution is a bit more difficult due to the one-phase energy systems and older structures. The local grids may require more investments and development.

But, one thing is certain: regardless of the country, the investments must be targeted to updating infrastructures for the future.

This was just one of many myths about electric vehicles. Stay tuned as we debunk more EV charging myths.  This is the second in our myth-busting blog series, where we set the record straight and address some of the most common misconceptions. 

If you’d like to learn more facts about electric vehicles and EV charging, take a look at the comprehensive guide below.

EV Market Overview 2020 Guide