General Question

Jeruba's avatar

EV Q2: What's the source of electricity for electric vehicles?

Asked by Jeruba (55824points) October 4th, 2023

Are fossil fuels involved further upstream?

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30 Answers

Lightlyseared's avatar

Depends where your electricity is generated, it could be fossil fuel but also it could be nuclear, hydro eclectic, or what ever other power stations are in the area.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

It’s exactly the same as what fuels your local energy grid. For most people in the states, 70% or more is fossil fuel based. It’s likely mostly natural gas.
While the future is electric, they’re not more eco friendly at the moment when you consider what it takes to get the resources to build and fuel them.

canidmajor's avatar

In 2015 when I bought my most recent car I was concerned about just that. I found out (through a few phone calls to local representatives and the power companies and some internet resources, it was a pain) that, at the time, the grid here was primarily powered by fossil fuel derived sources. So I bought a gas car, as I drive out-of-state rarely anymore.

elbanditoroso's avatar

In my area, power comes from nuclear (about 30%), mostly coal, and a tiny bit of solar. So mostly fossil fuel.

RocketGuy's avatar

In N Cal (PG&E) it looks like 56% non-fossil fuel, 36% natural gas (which is half as bad as coal):

gorillapaws's avatar

While fossil fuels do power the grid, EV’s are so insanely efficient relative to gas vehicles that even if your grid was supplied 100% by coal, you’re still emitting much less CO2 per mile with an EV. Obviously, as your grid improves, so does your carbon impact. Seeing as these vehicles will be around for 20+ years, it’s crazy to buy a gas car thinking you’re doing the right thing for emissions.

seawulf575's avatar

Generally it involves fossil fuels. They charge off the power grid. Whatever is used to supply power the grid where you are is what is used to charge your EV. To date, no country has managed to go 100% renewable sources. Most that have tried have ended up going back to fossil. California claimed to have gone 100% renewable, but it was a publicity stunt. They picked a time where the load was at its lowest and they managed to get full usage for about 15 minutes. Impressive, but if you suddenly make everyone drive an EV the demand will triple.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

My friends in Hilo have a solar-powered house, so their Chevy Bolt is completely emission free.

Thank you, @gorillapaws, for your information.

gorillapaws's avatar

@seawulf575 While I agree that increased EV use will increase demand on the grid, remember that grid capacity is determined by peak need, and EV’s OVERWHELMINGLY use electricity in the evenings when demand on the grid is at its lowest. In fact, it may even be possible to use the storage capacity of EV’s to reduce the need for more power plants if they charge at night and sell back excess electrons during peak demand hours.

Furthermore, with the increase in solar panels at home (See @Hawaii_Jake‘s Hilo friends) via incentives and pricing coming down as the market for them is booming, the demands on the grid will likely shift or towards storing power and discharging it at peak hours.

kritiper's avatar

Batteries are charged from the standard electrical power grid. All sources are involved.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Fossil fuels are always involved for now. Even if you personally oversee that your power is 100% renewable, the manufacture of the ‘renewable’ infrastructure is nearly 100% thanks to fossil fuels.

If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend Alex Epstein’s Fossil Future. Even though I worked in and around the electric generation industry for nearly forty years, I’ve learned a lot from this book (and I’m still only about halfway through it).

seawulf575's avatar

@gorillapaws Using the EVs in the evenings is not a good thing for the pro-EV side. Most of the electricity in California is being supplied by solar, as is @Hawaii_Jake‘s friend. But in the evening the sun goes down. Suddenly you will have more demand in the evening (more EV’s being used) when there is FAR less supply.

seawulf575's avatar

@gorillapaws As for the increase in solar panels on homes goes, I’ve looked at it twice now and it makes zero sense in my area. I have plenty of sun and I have a huge southern facing roof I could mount them on. But my electric company has input into how many panels I can have and how much power I can produce. Additionally I have to install a separate meter on my house. Every watt my panels would produce has to go out onto the grid (and the power company buys) and every watt I need for my home comes from the grid. Yes, it’s a jack-assed situation, but we can’t get the power company to budge.

Another consideration is the cost. The last time I had someone trying to sell me panels (earlier this year), even after taking off incentives, the cost of what I could get was over $50,000. Paying that off, it would be 10 years before the panels would start to pay themselves off (not a good return on investment). I’d get the panels paid off in about 20–25 years. The panels themselves are only good for 20–25 years so I would basically have to continually take loans out just to pay for them. Not a good option to me.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

Don’t delude yourself in thinking your new EV is good or even better for the environment than a fuel efficient petrochemical driven vehicle. There is a lot that goes into the sourcing of raw materials and manufacture. The best car for the environment is no car or a used one. Hang on to that old car as long as possible if you want to be good for the environment. If you want electric, get one. I want one because I think they’re cool and I want to see the technology move forward.

RocketGuy's avatar

Yes – the best car for the environment is no car or a used one. That’s because resources and fossil fuels are needed for building new ones. Still, a gas powered car will need to burn gasoline for 100% of the miles you drive. Fossil fuel needed for EV will always be less than that.

Zaku's avatar

@seawulf575 Although peak time where I am is 5pm-9pm, so you can schedule charging during daylight before 5pm and still not be on peak.

seawulf575's avatar

@Zaku With solar power, peak generation time is a very narrow band of time in the Northern hemisphere…those few minutes/hour when the sun is directly overhead. And if you work during the day, you don’t have time to run out and sit while you charge your car.

gorillapaws's avatar

@seawulf575 You can schedule your car to charge whenever you want. So it can charge from midnight to 4am when demand on the grid is at its lowest and the rates are cheapest. As for peak solar, remember that during the summer peak solar hours coincides with high demand from A/C units fighting the highest temperatures. Also remember that EV’s have huge capacities that are mostly not being used, most of the time (most days most people only use a small percent of their total battery capacity). This means it could be possible for EV’s to be used to store and release power to the grid to balance the loads if we wanted to design systems and incentives to make that happen.

seawulf575's avatar

@gorillapaws Again, you don’t help the argument for EVs. Peak solar time is when the demand is highest. So really, the extra load from EVs would cause problems. And while it sounds good to say you can plan when to charge and that you can go several days without charging, and all of that is true, it doesn’t change the fact that not everyone drives the same way, that not everyone will plan to charge it at off times, that you won’t have the extra demand from EVs during the worst possible time to supply the power.

And let’s say that everyone suddenly has an EV and they all follow your advice and plan to charge it at night. If solar is the primary source of power for your area, it is not available. Yet now you will have tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of people suddenly increasing the demand in the “off peak” times. This will stress the supply again. That will mean that to counter that, the power companies will increase the price during those times or you will have rolling power outages to make up for the demand.

gorillapaws's avatar

@seawulf575 I charge at peak hours probably less than 3% of the time. The normal pattern is to commute home from work and plug in. At midnight the car starts charging to 65% (what I set mine to for daily driving) It usually finishes charging within a couple of hours). That’s normal behavior—especially when the power company is configured to have peak and off-peak hours.

Zaku's avatar


Peak solar generation time is definitely NOT 5–9pm.

EVs charging times can be scheduled, and in many cases, changed at will via a mobile app.

There is no reason for anyone to “run out and sit while you charge your car”.

seawulf575's avatar

@Zaku I know peak solar generation time is definitely not 5–9 pm. That is part of my argument. Places that are starting to really stress renewable energy are using mainly solar for their source. So the generation capacity is the lowest. Your suggestion was to just go out during the day to charge the EVs. But many people work during the day. They are not afforded the luxury of just scheduling their EVs to be charged remotely. Their EVs are likely in the parking lot at work. If they are to charge their vehicle during the day, they will need to take time off work to get their car to a charging station so they can charge it. And you can’t just leave your car there while you go back to work. It would block if from all the other people that are leaving work just to charge their EVs. So the likely solution for all those people that work during the day is to charge at night…when the supply is the lowest…like what @gorillapaws describes. But what he is avoiding is the inevitable situation if everyone (or significantly more people) suddenly has to charge their cars at night when the production is at it’s lowest, the strain on the grid will be enormous. And those wonderful “non-peak” hours where the cost is lower will suddenly go away. It could even result in rolling brown or black outs.

RocketGuy's avatar

My work has free charging stations so I get free charging when I go in on weekdays. But I mostly WFH so I can easily plug in during the day. I even use my slow Level 1 charger because my car sits in the driveway for hours each day anyway.

gorillapaws's avatar

@seawulf575 ” But what he is avoiding is the inevitable situation if everyone (or significantly more people) suddenly has to charge their cars at night when the production is at it’s lowest, the strain on the grid will be enormous.”

No that’s my point. The surge in demand will not occur at peak, which means this isn’t new grid capacity, requiring new facilities to be built. It’s a good thing. Furthermore EV’s offer the opportunity to redistribute power to pump power back into the grid at peak which the market will do on its own via supply/demand. Eventually more capacity will be necessary, but solar and other alternatives are ideal for this in an EV world precisely because the batteries can be used in the way I mentioned.

seawulf575's avatar

@RocketGuy But you and @gorillapaws and a few others are looking at this from the wrong viewpoint. I believe you are all trying to avoid what I am saying. You have an EV. You are a single person. So is @gorillapaws. Now…consider that there are some 300M+ vehicles in this country. Most are NOT EVs. So now apply the usage to the 300M vehicles. See what that does to the grid?

seawulf575's avatar

@gorillapaws You are missing the point and at this point I believe it is on purpose. I’m not talking about charging during the day as the problem. I’m talking about charging at night.

Let’s take California as a perfect example. They are the biggest user of solar in the country. They make about 17% of the state’s power from solar. That means at night it cannot be used. You do agree that the sun doesn’t shine at night, right? So you now want to charge your car at night. What is providing the energy? Certainly not solar. In California. It looks like most of the energy comes from non-renewable sources with natural gas leading the pack by a long bit. But California is noted for the rolling brown outs and black outs too. So now take away 17% of production and what do you have? Even less available electricity for charging EVs. Yet they want everyone to be driving an EV by 2030. So the demand will far out reach the supply. So now let’s say everyone wants to charge their EVs at night while they sleep. That means the demand at night suddenly skyrockets. That means the peak usage time will now be moving to the night time hours. Do you think the power company will raise or lower power costs during this time?

RocketGuy's avatar

@seawulf575 – let’s say people’s EVs have enough storage to survive the night and make it to a charging station. Then they can charge during the day.

seawulf575's avatar

@RocketGuy again, on a one-on-one basis, you are right. But if they work during the day, charging an EV during the day may not be possible.

gorillapaws's avatar

@seawulf575 You’re the one missing the point. They don’t do rolling blackouts during the middle of the night, it’s during peak demand. If there was massive EV adoption to the point where the grid was being heavily stressed at night, that would also mean a few other things would be true. that would mean that the population of CA would have MASSIVE battery storage capacity on the roads, most of which was available at any given moment as most people only need a small amount every day.

Such a scenario means the time of charging is largely irrelevant because market forces will dictate when that charging will be most affordable, and there will be others willing to exploit pricing differences to buy low and sell high. This is a very good thing, as it means we can even out the demand across 24 hours.

seawulf575's avatar

@gorillapaws If they are having rolling brown outs and black outs now, what do you think will happen when you add more demand? California, for example, is pushing to have only EVs sold in the state by 2030. They are currently selling somewhere between 1.7M – 2M new cars every year. That is the increased load on the power grid. They are also trying to do away with fossil fuels which means the supply will be dropping.

You are trying to ignore the increase in demand and the aging power grid. Tell you what, we will watch and see. And when they move their goal of EVs or when they start dictating when you can charge or when they have continuous rolling blackouts, we will finally see what I am talking about.

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