Some observers see possible trouble ahead. “In a situation like New York is in right now, charging electric vehicles could add to the burden pretty significantly,” said Jack Nerad, an executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book. He said the load would be considerably less if electric cars are charged overnight, “but there’s no guarantee of that.”
Phil Gott, managing director of automotive consulting for IHS Automotive and the author of reports on E.V. adoption, said it’s likely that utilities will “see the added load coming and will add capacity where necessary.” But, he added, “If they elect not to take it seriously, then yes, we’ll have issues.”
A January 2010 report for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC estimates that New York could have tens of thousands of electric vehicles (including plug-in hybrids) by 2015. These include the electric drive Smart and the Chevrolet Volt, both of which have recently announced that New York will be among their early markets.
The PlaNYC report concludes that the expected adoption rate “should not threaten the stability of the electric grid as long as most chargers are ‘smart,” allowing charging to take place during off-peak hours.” That’s by no means assured, however, because high-tech smart grids are still embryonic in many areas.
One solution, proposed by energy companies, such as DTE Energy in southeastern Michigan, is to encourage electric car owners to charge at night. Scott Simons, a spokesman for DTE Energy, said the utility was developing an incentive to offer one-third price reduction during off-peak hours.
Branko Terzic, a former commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who is regulatory policy leader in energy and resources at Deloitte, said that such time-of-day rates can be put into effect even with “a dumb grid.” He said that some utilities had delayed making smart grid improvements because they were a capital cost with benefits in the future.
Jeff Seidel, chief strategy officer at Ener1, which supplies batteries to Think and Volvo electric cars, said that mobile electricity storage could provide a partial solution to the summer overload problem. His company is working with the utility Portland General Electric on one-megawatt battery storage units that could be moved from trouble spot to trouble spot on a tractor trailer and provide emergency power for periods of up to a few hours.