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JLeslie's avatar

With the extreme weather and blackouts, does it make sense to push electric cars?

Asked by JLeslie (65082points) July 22nd, 2022 from iPhone

I know this is sort of a Republican schtick to question electric cars, but let’s set that aside.

Do hybrid cars make more practical sense than all-electric with the climate problems and strain on the power grid?

I’m all for more solar and wind power, but it doesn’t seem like we are up to the demand in some parts of the country (I’m in the US). I’d like for houses to have their own solar, but of course one problem is when you charge your car is usually when it’s dark out for most people at least part of the year, so you have to have back up batteries for the electricity to make that work.

What are your thoughts?

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20 Answers

HP's avatar

The epidode of 6–8 dollar a gallon gasoline prophesises the answer to that one. No one need “push” anything. My friend the Lyft driver turned her Prius in for a Tesla last month.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

Like @HP said I can see why people are going that way,but I think your right it can and will be a huge strain on the grid, and cause problems that way.

Zaku's avatar

Surely there are logistical issues with shifting the technology of vehicles.

But I don’t think extreme weather or blackouts are reasons not to shift toward electric vehicles.

(To the specific point you mentioned, I don’t think very many people rely on real-time solar power to charge their cars. They charge them from main grid power.)

gorillapaws's avatar

When we’re talking about blackouts, generally we’re talking about peak demand on the grid. The grid is like looking at the tides, there are times of the day when a lot of energy is being used and then it drops significantly. Blackouts occur when demand at those peak times exceeds the ability to produce the power.

EV’s are actually a major benefit to this challenge. Because they can be scheduled to suck juice from the grid when it’s being used the least (and even dump electricity back into the grid at the peaks—at least theoretically) it can flatten out the demand curve shifts across the day.

The other major benefit of course is shifting away from fossil fuel, enriching foreign powers with dubious if not outright heinous behavior, and continuing to accelerate climate change (which results in the grid problems we’ve discussed).

I love EV’s but they’re far from a panacea solution to climate change. We need to be making generational scale investments in green energy production (just like the Hoover Dam and the Interstates). I’d like to see us decentralize the grid and try to get solar panels and battery storage on every home where it makes sense from an energy production standpoint.

I’m fine to see the free market duke it out. We could have national prizes awarded for certain design breakthroughs, and generous subsidies to make them broadly available.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I have 2 gasoline powered generators, one in my barn and one in my garage, in case I lose power. They need to be maintained and tested regularly to make sure they work and the fuel does not gunk up inside. One is 1100 watts, the other is 4400 watts.
A hybrid or electric vehicle that could power my home in an emergency would be a major plus for me. It would be cleaner, quieter and more reliable than the 2 units I have now that sit idle 99.9% of the time.
A fleet of EVs could eventually be used to backfeed the power the grid in times of stress.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

At this point it does not really matter what you drive, gas or electric. It’s fossil fuel powered. Hybrids make the most environmental sense at the moment. If/Once people come to their senses and embrace nuclear then electric cars will make the most sense provided we can source enough materials to supply the demand for batteries. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where you are able to have solar on your home go for it. Wind turbines and solar panels are not going to solve the overall picture though. It’ll take nuclear, at least as a bridge technology. “Peak demand” is more than a few hours of the day in July and August and this continues to get worse as temperatures rise. Solar and wind farms won’t cut it unfortunately and in some situations they make the precarious position our grid is in much worse when you consider stability.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

Also, at this point electric cars are not generally setup to feed back to the grid. That’s a pretty big missed opportunity but it is what it is. In Texas they’re begging people not to charge their Teslas right now. Their grid is strained to the breaking point and IMO we will see it break in a year or two if trends continue. It’s not much different in parts of the midwest and southwest. Even Hoover is operating at a greatly reduced capacity and will likely stop generating completely in a year or two when lake mead hits generation deadpool. It’s honestly not looking good, 6 months out of the year anyway. Generac makes some really good propane powered generators

rebbel's avatar

I think it is, in essence, a very good idea.
But I’m very doubtful if you’d find enough people that are willing to push said vehicles.
Definitely not for free.
It’s very tiring.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Let’s be clear on the electrical problems in Texas – they are self-made by Texas, because they chose not to cooperate with the rest of the country for power sharing. They did this to themselves because of their arrogance.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Blackwater_Park “At this point it does not really matter what you drive, gas or electric. It’s fossil fuel powered.”

Yes, Electric Cars Are Cleaner, Even When The Power Comes From Coal. That article breaks it down. You have to remember that internal combustion engines in vehicles are extremely inefficient at converting potential watts of energy in the gasoline into actual miles traveled. It’s such a low bar, that even EVs being charged with electricity generated by burning coal (in power plants designed for efficiency at scale) is still a net win.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

@gorillapaws The power grid is only about 30% efficient. That’s on par with gas autos. They’re around 30% also. That equation may favor electric if the generation mix has quite a bit of nuclear. I’m still going with hybrids right now though.

kritiper's avatar

No difference, IMO. If one wants an electric car and wants a reliable power/recharging source, they should invest in a generator.

seawulf575's avatar

Yes, putting more demand on the electric power grids that are often antiquated and overloaded is a really bad idea. What a really GOOD idea would be is to actually improve the efficiency of solar and wind power so that it can be used effectively, instead of pushing current technology as the solution to everything.

Example: California is currently using about 25,750 MW of electricity. A typical solar panel only puts out 300 W of power. That means that to supply all of the electricity that CA is currently using, you need approximately 85,833,333 solar panels. Each panel is approximately 66” tall x 40” wide. 2640 square inches. Approximately 6.27e6 square inches in an acre. That makes 2376 panels per acre. That means you need 36,125 acres just for the physical space of the panels that would be needed to supply the current power demand. Now double that because you will not have the panels touching, you will need space between rows of panels and you will need space set aside for other equipment involved with electrical production. That is now up to 72,250 acres. And double it again because the existing capacity is closer to 50,000 MW. 144,500 acres would be needed to make a solar plant big enough to supply California’s needs. That’s roughly 225 square miles. And that doesn’t account for battery storage that would be necessary to store energy for use after the sun goes down or on cloudy days. You could probably double the size of land needed again.

The efficiency of the panels needs to be improved. The storage needs to be improved. Wind turbines are even worse. Until effort is put into developing the technology, you can frequently expect blackouts and it will be made worse if you put more demand for electricity out there.

gorillapaws's avatar

@seawulf575 “What a really GOOD idea would be is to actually improve the efficiency of solar and wind power so that it can be used effectively…”

I completely agree. We should be making these investments as a matter of national security.

”...instead of pushing current technology as the solution to everything.”

It’s obviously not, but we’re never going to fully realize the potential of solar, if there’s no market for the current tech. In other words demanding solar and wind being near perfect before widespread adoption is a way of never doing anything. We need to produce this stuff en masse before we can learn how to produce it even more efficiently en masse. Prices and performance of solar panels have been improving significantly over the past couple of decades.

@seawulf575 “144,500 acres would be needed to make a solar plant big enough to supply California’s needs. That’s roughly 225 square miles.”

Luckily California has a lot of roofs. This article from 2021 says:

“Today, there are approximately 1.2 million rooftop solar installations that amount to 9 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy capacity—about 11 percent of California’s total electricity production capacity (80 GW).”

seawulf575's avatar

@gorillapaws Unfortunately household production brings its own issues. It doesn’t affect everyone and if there is a problem on a line that DOES impact everyone, it is harder to clear that line to work on it with so many individual inputs of electricity.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting doing away with current technology until it can be perfected…not at all. What I am suggesting is that pushing everyone to use them is an incredibly unrealistic and dangerous thing to do.

gorillapaws's avatar

@seawulf575 “Unfortunately household production brings its own issues.”

Of course it does. I think these are easier and cheaper to solve than trying to sequester the extra CO2 we generate every year. You’d still need a grid with widespread rooftop solar generation, and you’re right that there would need to be good systems in place for linemen to operate safely in such circumstances. There are currently switches that detect the grid going down and then automatically disconnects a home’s solar output from the grid (the same way generators do this in storms). Perhaps there could be mechanisms whereby a power company can send out a secure wireless signal to all homes on the stretch of line that would compel the same action and they could reply back to confirm they’re off-grid. The lines could then be tested to confirm they’re safe before work begins.

All I’m saying is that these kinds of problems aren’t that big of a challenge and could probably be solved reasonably easily with current technology.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it can all be solved with good planning if there is the will, but of course politics get in the way.

I think it was last year that one of our California jellies was living with scheduled blackouts. I’m going to send the Q to that jelly, hopefully I remember correctly who it was.

Texas I agree could have taken care of itself better, but as far as not being a part of the grid in other states, Texas is HUGE and has oil and sun and wind, and if they wanted to be energy independent it is like a country having its own system and doesn’t sound unreasonable to me, except that they were horrible and irresponsible and probably thieves in there too.

Northern states that are not accustomed to sustained very hot weather have major strains on the grid also when they have a heatwave. More efforts seem to be being made to get people air conditioners than 20+ years ago, and so I anticipate that strain on the system will go up if they do not stay ahead of the increasing demand.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

@JLeslie The Texas islanded grid was about avoiding FERC oversight. This allowed them to run their grid without a lot of the safety and reliability requirements the rest of the country is required to follow. It certainly shows.

JLeslie's avatar

Aren’t there plug in hybrids? Does that mean you can rely on gas or plugging in? You have a choice?

@Blackwater_Park Yes, they didn’t want to think about worst case scenarios and fail safes. I think that’s how they had “cheap” energy maybe? Wasn’t that the thing? Electricity was cheap? When it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

As a few have eluded to here, one of the biggest advantages that EVs will have in the very near future is the creation of a massive storage grid where power can be given back to the grid when needed in times of high demand.
Ford just released their F150 Lightning, which has the ability to power your home during a blackout, which is called V2H, or vehicle to home, and there is also something called V2G, which is vehicle to grid.
What I see happening in the next few years, especially as more electric buses, especially school buses, come online, is a major increase in V2G. School buses typically drive for short distances and then sit throughout much of the day. Being able to use these and eventually all vehicles for demand response as needed is going to make the ROI much better for EVs as they become a grid stabilization tool.
This can also work with regular EVs as many now get 300–400 miles of range and the average person drives only 40 miles per day.
One of the business models of Tesla that seems to be flying under the radar but will become very big in the next few years is called Autobidder and will allow people and businesses who have installed battery storage, and likely spill into EVs as well, to use software to bid a specific amount of power at a specific price and allow the grid to use that power as needed.

I would also like to see a major uptick in a more decentralized grid structure using microgrids, combining renewables, EVs, and storage, as well as some more traditional types of energy in the mix as well.

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