While Tesla Motors is focusing on growing as quickly as possible, there is one important issue Tesla and all EV manufacturers should consider. The U.S. power grid wasn’t built with the idea of drivers plugging their cars into it, so some major infrastructure spending will have to happen in order to support electric car charging.
Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov and associate Carlos Newall did some interesting calculations and estimates on just how many electric vehicles the U.S. grid may be able to handle without some major upgrades. As it turns out, utility companies have plenty of time before they have to worry about increased demand from electric vehicles.
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EVs still a niche market
The good thing for the grid as of now is that the EV market is still a very small niche. The Raymond James team said penetration fell short of their 1% projection last year, and sales growth decelerated to 23% last year. Included in their definition of EVs are plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt and all-electric vehicles like the Tesla Model S.
Barriers to EV adoption include the higher price tag, which means it takes a long time to recover the extra money spent up front by not purchasing gas, even though government subsidies are supposed to help with this. As a result, adoption has been slower than expected, and Raymond James has cut its EV sales estimate for this year to 167,000.
The firm put together these graphs to showcase U.S. EV and hybrid sales. Graphs are courtesy Raymond James.
Keeping a Tesla and other EVs charged up
Most electric vehicles can be adequately charged with a Level 1 home charging system, which takes 10 hours to deliver a full charge. For a Tesla Model S, however, a Level 1 charging station takes about 48 hours to deliver a full 265-mile charge, according to the Raymond James team.
Since most EVs get less than 100 miles to a full charge, they’re good for commuting only, and in cold climates, they are not adequate even for commuting. Because of the cold weather drain on EV batteries, it is unsurprising that public charging stations are concentrated in a handful of states.
Of the roughly 9,000 charging stations that were in operation as of February, about 2,000 of them (or 22%) are in California.
The public charging stations have a collective 22,510 units, and Raymond James analysts emphasize that right now they’re not worried about long lines of drivers trying to charge at the stations. Instead, the issue is the lack of coverage for most states.
Of course Tesla’s cars use a proprietary charger, so the company is building out its own supercharger network for drivers of its vehicles.
How EV charging will affect the power grid
But what will happen when the number of EVs on the roads does hit 1 million, as Raymond James analysts believe will happen in 2017? They estimate that the implied electricity usage would be 5,400 gigawatt-hours. That compares to the 2014 total U.S. electricity sales of 3.735 gigawatt-hours, so it’s barely a blip on the radar. In other words, the analysts say it would take approximately 7 million electric vehicles to increase electricity demand by only 1%.
Because of how slowly EV adoption is happening, the analysts say there is plenty of time for utility companies to prepare for future demands that could be placed on the power grid by adding more electric vehicles.