I wrote a previous post showing how purchasing a Chevy Volt to offset gasoline prices doesn’t make financial sense based on the current Volt purchase price and gas prices less than $7.00 per gallon. I also stated that I am opposed to purchasing a Chevy Volt on principle because the US tax payers are on the hook to the tune of a $7,500 rebate for every purchase and I still stand by that assertion.
“One other issue I see is that America does not have the electrical capacity infrastructure to support tens of thousands (let alone millions) of EVs currently. Our Transmission and distribution systems are in deplorable shape and would need a significant upgrade to allow for future capacity. That’s a fact.”
The reader posed an interesting question. What would be the impact to the US power generation industry if every American drove a Chevy Volt (or similar electric vehicle-EV) for their primary vehicle (commuting to work, driving to vacations, running errands, etc.)?
Before we can answer this question we first need to understand the difference between kilowatts (KW) and kilowatt-hours (KWh) and there is a great website you can use here but if you don’t have 20 minutes to read this article, let me give you the condensed version. Power is expressed in KW and this is the capacity to produce power that can be converted into energy which is expressed in KWh. The amount of energy used is based on the power (KW) times the time (Hour), hence KWh. Power plants are usually rated in the amount of power they can produce but we are charged for the amount of energy we use so that is why your commercial and residential energy bills are expressed in KWh.
In the previous post I showed where the Chevy Volt requires 12.9 KWh to recharge its battery so we’ll use that figure in our calculations. From this website, we see that in 2010 the US had a total installed electrical generation capacity of 1,120 GW (1 Giga watt is equal to 1,000 Mega Watts or 1,000,000 Kilowatts). From this website, we see that in 2010 the US consumed 4,125,060,899 MWh (or 4,125,061 GWh).
From this website, we learn that there were over 250 million registered vehicles in the US in 2010 but just using small and large cars for our analysis (“light duty vehicle, short wheel base” and “light duty vehicle, long wheel base” as defined in the table) we see that there are 230,444,440 cars that meet that criteria. Let’s assume that 75% of these cars are actually used as primary vehicles (the rest are either idle or rarely driven) so that gives us a total of 172,833,330 cars that will theoretically be replaced with Chevy Volts or a similar EV.
Now I can perform the calculations and they are shown below:
We see that if every American drove a Chevy Volt for their primary transportation vehicle we’d use an extra 8.3% of the total installed electrical power generation capacity and we’d increase our yearly electrical energy consumption by 19.7% (round it up to 20%).
Using these theoretical calculations, we can conclude that we probably would not have to install new electrical generating facilities because we only use 42% of our installed capacity right now (4,125,060 divided by 9,811,200) but, using my engineering background as a guide, you never operate a plant at 100% of capacity due to inefficiencies so the electrical power generation industry is probably operating much closer to full capacity than the theoretical 42%. Power plants don’t continuously operate at peak power so taking the installed power capacity and multiplying it by the total number of hours in a year (as I did on the spreadsheet) is also not realistic. For these reasons, I won’t use the “% of installed energy capacity” metric but instead use the “% increase in US energy usage” metric since that is the amount of extra energy that the power plants would need to produce to satisfy all the new Volt owners.
I want to restate the results of my calculations again for effect and I’m just going to just focus on the % increased US energy usage metric.
If 75% of all passenger cars were magically converted to Chevy Volts then the annual US energy usage would increase by 20%.
You don’t have to be an engineer to realize that increasing all US electrical power generation plants by 20% would not be a trivial exercise! Attempting to raise US energy output by 20% raises many issues/questions that I’ll get to shortly but first a quick side bar for the Al Gore cult.
Here’s an interesting little wrinkle for the Green crowd – Increasing our electrical energy consumption by 20% would result in approximately 15% more Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from power generation plants because around 72% of our fuels we use to produce electricity are comprised of coal, oil and natural gas as is shown on this website.
Does this increased amount of GHG from increased electrical power production offset the GHG emissions from burning gasoline in cars? I don’t know the answer to this question but I really don’t care either because the whole Anthropogenic Global Warming argument can be thoroughly debunked here. I only mention this because much of the demand for EV’s is generated from the environmentally conscience crowd who wishes to reduce their carbon footprint. Have they performed this calculation which proves that driving an electric vehicle reduces their carbon footprint when considering that they are using GHG producing fuel to recharge their vehicle?
What I’m more concerned with are the consequences from having our electrical power generation grid production increased by 20%.
What impact will this have on US power generation plants?
How much more will each KWh cost as a result of this increased demand?
Will this new energy demand help increase the number of nuclear power plants in the US?
Is the Green cult comfortable using nuclear power plants to recharge their electrical vehicles?
What strain will this put on the coal mining industry?
Can our current power distribution network handle this increased load (transformers, substations, distribution lines, etc.)?
I would love it if we could kick OPEC to the curb and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil for our transportation needs but have we thought through the ramifications on the electrical power generation sector if we continue down this path of EV adoption? I know this transition won’t happen overnight (and if the Federal Government is in the business of leading this initiative then it’ll never happen!) but a thorough analysis needs to be performed before we move further down this path.
Are we prepared to absorb an increase in electrical energy productionof 20% or more once we switch over to EV’s?
Addendum – You can double check my calculations using my spreadsheet – chevy volt energy usage