California’s electricity crisis poses a serious question for the future of electric vehicles

No state has pushed the auto and trucking industry harder toward EV adoption than California, but as the state recently found itself in the grip of a blazing summer heatwave, its power grid to the max may have shocked the trucking industry. in its march towards electricity as the primary fuel.

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s office issued a “flexible alert” warning to state power producers on September 6 urging residents “to reduce their electricity use between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.” to save money. energy and reduce the risk of breakdowns.

“Avoid using major appliances,” the state told residents, including trucking companies, it’s being pushed toward electric vehicles with big incentives/subsidies. The full text of the flex alerts found on the website of the California Independent System Operator, which includes most power producers in the state, also said that charging electric vehicles should be avoided during these times.

The flexible alert was continued until September 9 and extended from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

If power generators can’t handle a heat wave, how could they accommodate hundreds of thousands of electric trucks requiring megawatts of electricity once or more a day? Not only does this pose a question for electric trucking, but also for everyday life as California moves to phase out gas stoves and small gasoline engines.

California Answers Tough Questions About Electric Vehicles

A graph from California’s ISO shows a sharp reduction in energy use around the time Newsom announced the flexible alert.California ISO

Governor Newsom had no shortage of heat for his political opponents’ flexible warning statements, but perhaps the only thing more shocking than the statement itself is that it worked. Within five minutes of the tweet from Newsom’s office, power consumption fell off a cliff and remained at acceptable levels. The dreaded breakdowns never came.

But what if the state succeeded in switching diesel fleets to electric fleets? After all, the state is set to ban up to 76,000 trucks with pre-2010 emissions spec engines from operating in the state by 2023. Meanwhile, California is offering also up to $120,000 in incentives for trucks like Freightliner’s Battery Electric eCascadia.

Chris Shimoda, senior vice president of government affairs for the California Trucking Association, said the state “has a tremendous amount of work to do to meet its electrification goals,” and pointed to recent flexible alerts and the decision to extend the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. life as proof that “we are already behind the eight ball in the preparation of the grid.”

Shimoda, like many industry experts, pointed out that currently battery electric trucks only make sense for smaller vehicles and lighter duty cycles, and that the infrastructure charging “is almost non-existent. … CARB’s own estimates indicate that we need to put in more than 300 chargers per week by 2035 to support their regulatory proposal, including nearly 10 MW of public charging each week” , or about one or two large outlets.

“The California grid cannot support truck charging without upgrades,” which could take 1.5 to 10 years, Shimoda said.

PG&E, California’s largest electric utility, responded to the flex alerts by saying the utility “still encourages EV drivers to take service at hourly rates, which provide a price signal encouraging drivers to charging at night when energy tends to be cheap, or in the middle of the day when cheap renewables are plentiful.” These time-of-use rates mean that electricity in California costs differently late at night and early in the morning than during afternoon peak hours. Port of Oakland small feet owner Bill Aboudi, who runs two electric yard hustlers and has applied for grants to buy more electric vehicles, says he works out to something like 32 cents per kilowatt hour during off-hours. peaks, but drops to around 12 cents per kWh at night. Overall, he said, his small EV app can charge comfortably during off-peak hours because the trucks are just driving trailers on flat ground with no slope.

Colin Murphy, deputy director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy, said Aboudi’s experience would match the vast majority of fleets switching to electric vehicles, and if your utility provider doesn’t you haven’t already on a time-of-use plan, “they’ll probably do it in five or ten years.”

Murphy asked for some perspective on the flex alerts and California’s struggling grid, saying those few days during an intense heat wave represented the “worst five or six hours of the year” for electricity demand, and that most of the time – and in the vast majority of use cases – electric vehicle charging, whether passenger or commercial, should not overload the infrastructure.

Think drayage, school buses, garbage trucks, beverage transportation: all of these industries could transition to electric vehicles with relative ease and comfortably charge during off-peak hours.

Between EVs programmed with a smart timer for charging and “half a dozen different technology options,” both in-vehicle and off-the-shelf, Murphy said there are plenty of options for maintaining electric vehicles charged outside peak hours. Many passenger electric vehicles can already wait until off-peak hours to charge, and “most people don’t drive more than 40 or 50 miles a day”, while passenger EV batteries can comfortably travel 200 to 300 miles a day, Murphy said.

But Murphy admitted that in the wide world of trucking, there will likely be use cases where an EV will absolutely need to be charged during peak hours, and even during a heat wave. What to do in these cases? Go ahead and plug it in. The flexible alerts California has seen are requests from the network operator to reduce consumption where possible, not the law. Murphy estimated that even with the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, electric appliances and electric worksite equipment, these devices would still not move the needle so much in terms of overall energy consumption for at least a year. decade. Elsewhere, experts have estimated that California may need to increase energy production by up to 50% to meet future needs, but Murphy said the change came in part thanks to funding from the Reduction Act. inflation and the investments that California has made in its network over the past few decades.

Importantly, “the load growth we expect is partially offset by the fact that existing uses of electricity were consuming less due to these efficiency investments, so any additional load does not have to not be matched by new supply,” he said. “Most modeling, for California at least, indicates that total demand on the grid is fully manageable with expected levels of supply growth, even if we stop building new fossil fuel power plants.”

On this point, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) – the largest utility provider in the United States – agrees and has encouraged fleets to take advantage of its EV Fleet program, which “builds the electric infrastructure for medium to medium-sized customers”. heavy-duty electric vehicles from the utility pole (power service) to the customer’s meter or charger, depending on the ownership option chosen by the customer. »

The utility encouraged fleets considering electrification to get in touch before building. This wisdom also extends beyond California. At the CCJ symposium in August 2021, Cedric Daniels, electric transportation manager at the Alabama Power Company, said the major successes he’s seen in fleet electric vehicle infrastructure come from “the days where people engage as many people as possible in what they could envision”. .”

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