November 15, 2023

How electric vehicles can support the electrical grid

Woman paying to initiate a charge using Enel X Way JuicePedestal

These are exciting times for electric vehicle (EV) advocates. EV adoption has rapidly gained speed in recent years, and experts now project that EV sales will make up between 40% and 50% of all passenger vehicle sales by 2030.


As thrilling as this may be, the nation’s aging and inefficient electrical grid raises important questions about the country’s readiness for the impending rise in electrical demand. The White House reports that roughly 70% of U.S. transmission lines are more than 25 years old, making them ill equipped to facilitate efficient energy transmission.


Can a nation with such an outdated grid truly handle the influx of electricity demand that EVs will bring? In short, yes. If we embrace supporting tools like smart charging and bidirectional technology, EVs can actually help the electrical grid rather than hinder it.


Understanding the electrical grid crisis

It’s fair—even essential—to spotlight the electrical grid conundrum the U.S. faces. Many areas of the country are already dealing with power crises, even without considering the impending influx of EV charging.


According to data from Climate Central, major power outages have increased by 67% since 2000. Extreme weather has caused more outages in two-thirds of states during that same span. In 2021 alone, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that customers were without power for a total of seven hours, on average, with five of those hours occurring during major events like snowstorms and hurricanes.


Although expanded renewable power generation helps to increase supply and create alternative power sources, the nation’s fragmented electrical grid makes transmitting that renewable energy particularly inefficient. Solar and wind power, for instance, are disproportionately abundant out west and in the south, and it’s currently no small task to transmit that surplus energy to where it’s needed most.


EVs will undeniably place more demand on the grid. As one Consumer Reports study forecasts, if all of today’s passenger vehicles were fully electric, we would need an additional 950 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to power them. That would require an increase of 22% in total electricity generation over today’s numbers.


How EVs can make the electrical grid more resilient

Of course, the shift to EVs—and the associated uptick in electricity demand—won’t happen overnight. In some estimates, EV’s will increase the demand on the grid by 27% and 39% by 2035.


Expanded EV usage won’t be solely responsible for those increases, but it will certainly have an impact. However, that doesn’t mean EVs will inevitably add to the existing grid strain. In fact, with smart charging and bidirectional technology, EVs can actually relieve the pressure.


The promise of smart charging

It’s helpful to consider aggregate demand on the electrical grid, and total production capacity in a specific region. Far more relevant, however, is when that electricity demand spikes and dips throughout the day.


Blackouts and brownouts occur because demand outpaces the grid’s ability to deliver electricity at a given time. Demand already tends to spike during the day when people are home using appliances, cooking meals, and running the air conditioning. Adding EV charging to that mix could cause demand to surge further beyond capacity.


Smart charging prevents that additional surge by allowing EV drivers to schedule or automate charging during off-peak times. Charging stations like the JuiceBox® equipped with JuiceNet® Green simplify this process so that drivers can charge when demand is low or when renewable energy is more readily available. This not only reduces grid strain but also boosts EV drivers’ environmental impact and can even save them money if their utility offers lower rates during off-peak times.


The potential of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology

Most charging technology in use today is unidirectional, meaning it’s designed to deliver energy to EV batteries but can’t accept or redistribute energy from those batteries. For EVs to bolster the electrical grid, however, charging technology (and the infrastructure supporting it) is evolving to support bidirectional charging.


Bidirectional chargers come in many forms that allow the vehicle to send power back to the home, office building, or the grid (V2G) during peak demand periods.


With V2G, EVs truly become mobile batteries and create a more fluid connection with the power grid. Connected to bidirectional electric cars, the power grid’s capacity expands, allowing utility companies to draw energy (and credit their customers’ accounts) during times of high demand. When combined with solar panels, EVs can even serve as backup batteries for solar energy that then becomes available to the power grid.


The power of battery storage

EVs are more than mere battery backups for solar energy, however. In the new energy economy, they can become “power plants on wheels.”


Companies like Enel have already proven the viability of grid support through stationary storage. In partnership with companies like Gogoro, we’ve created virtual power plants (VPPs)—microgrids built on networks of stationary batteries that can draw energy, provide power to the grid, or simply pause as needed based on fluctuations in energy demand in a specific area.


EVs as batteries offer an opportunity to create even more fluid, mobile microgrids that can support dynamic energy needs. When paired with nimble bidirectional charging technology in the future, electric cars provide vital frequency regulation to control the flow of energy during demand surges. As technology improves and more cars are connected to the grid, systems can easily draw energy from the cars that have a surplus available without undermining the drivers who need the juice now.


What will it take to get there?

By some estimates, California alone will have enough EVs on the road by 2035 to power all the homes in the state for up to three days. However, to freely tap into those resources will require a collective effort.


For V2G and smart charging technology to have maximum impact on grid resiliency every stakeholder in the EV and energy supply chain must do their part. Cars and chargers must be equipped for V2G charging. Utilities must up the ante in terms of time-of-use (TOU) charging incentives. Finally, policymakers must work to modernize and upgrade the electrical grid and strategically expand the nation’s charging infrastructure to accommodate an efficient, bidirectional flow of electricity.


States like California have already recognized the importance of these efforts. The Golden State’s Senate Bill 233 would require that all electric vehicles sold in California in or after 2030 be capable of bidirectional charging. Legislative efforts like these will help create a mutually beneficial relationship between electric cars and the power grid. Likewise, partnerships like those Enel has with Gogoro or Global Partners LP’s Alltown Fresh service station in Ayer, Massachusetts can help build a more resilient electric grid going forward.


Take the first steps toward a more resilient power grid

It may take a few years to fully realize this vision, but EV drivers don’t have to wait to support the electrical grid. Smart chargers are already readily available, and you can use them to schedule charging, reduce your peak demand usage, and even save on your electricity costs.


With a JuiceBox smart charger, you can do even more. Charge up to nine times faster than you could with a standard 120-volt outlet. Plus, with WiFi connectivity and the Enel X Way App, you have complete visibility and control over the entire charging process.


Eco-friendly driving and grid capacity don’t have to be at odds. Install your JuiceBox charger today to start building a more resilient electrical grid.


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