Hybrids and the Power Grid


By Brendan Moore

03.14.07

As of last month, hybrid vehicles accounted for 1.82% of all new vehicles sold in the United States. Not much, but the numbers are increasing steadily, and it begs the question of “how many plug-in hybrids would be too many for the electrical grid?” here in the U.S. All those future hybrids need to be recharged, right?

Other people have asked that question as well, specifically the federal government and the large utility companies. In late 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy did a study (DOE website) regarding the existing power grid’s ability to handle the demands of plug-in hybrid vehicles. And according to the DOE, the surprising conclusion is that the existing grid will handle 180 million plug-in vehicles. There were some other thought-provoking assumptions in the report; for instance, the fact that if more electric power was being provided by utility companies as a result of electric vehicles being recharged, this additional power would be provided over existing infrastructure, resulting in a maximum realization of value for the utility vis-à-vis the fixed network, thereby driving down the overall cost of electricity nationwide. This effect, however, would be much more pronounced on the East Coast and the Midwest, which currently has idle capacity in current transmission infrastructure. The report also noted that carbon dioxide emissions in cities would go down by about 5%, but sulfur dioxide emissions (the cause of acid rain) would go up in rural areas as a result of more coal being burned in those areas to produce the extra electricity.

Just as an FYI, if you think environmentalists are fanatics about plug-in hybrids, you should spend some time with a utility company executive. To them, it’s all about a different kind of green power – a switch to hybrid electric vehicles by a substantial number of drivers would mean a tremendous increase in revenues and profits (green, indeed!) for utility companies nationwide. To say that their self-interests are at work in their support of plug-in vehicles is a considerable understatement of fact.

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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