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More Power, Scotty '“ Will Electric Cars Strain Power Grids?

by Jeff Bressler
April 29, 2009

Questions have been raised over how hydrogen powered cars could eventually be integrated into a viable alternative fuel plan. With no infrastructure in place to refuel a vehicle, hydrogen has been placed on the back burner and is unlikely to be mainstreamed in the near future. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, are here and now. It seems most manufacturers have an electric car on the drawing board. With an abundance of electric power available, these vehicles are ready for mass production. But is electric power as abundant as we think?

When the soon to be produced is plugged into a 240-volt outlet, it will use about 3.3 kilowatts of power. That's about the same amount of power as a dishwasher or air conditioner. We're all well aware of what happens during the dog days of summer when hundreds of thousands of air conditioners are running full force simultaneously -- brownouts and blackouts. I can just imagine a few years in the future what will happen when a large number of electric cars are on the road and everyone parks and charges at the exact same time post rush hour.

Some other aspects of a utopian world of filled with noiseless, pollution-free vehicles are also not so perfect as they may seem on the surface. Suppose you live in an urban area, reside in an apartment and have no garage or access to an immediate street-side charging system. Or suppose you're on a long trip. Will charging stations be abundant? Who will regulate the cost of electricity from charging station to charging station? Nobody knows quite yet how that will play out.

We have not paid huge attention to building up the power grid for many years. Even though projected production numbers for electric cars in the works by , , , and are to be extremely low (for now), one still has to be concerned about where this additional power is coming from (coal-fired power plants?) and what it will cost consumers and the environment.


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