Electric Cars – Could the Electric Companies Cope?

One of the classic objections to electric cars is that “all that extra electricity would have to come from somewhere”. In other words, there are two potential problems:

  1. Electric cars don’t reduce pollution, they simply transfer it from cars to power stations.
  2. Our existing power generation and supply network would not be up to the job of charging millions of electric cars every night.

Both of these concerns are undoubtedly valid, but both might also be exaggerated in their significance. Here’s why:

  1. It’s generally accepted that it is more feasible to make a few, more environmentally-friendly power stations than it is to make millions of lower emission cars.
  2. In the US, many power companies believe that the demand generated by charging a few million electric vehicles overnight would actually help them – by evening out the load and generating economies of scale (i.e. more electricity = cheaper electricity).

It’s certainly long been the case in the UK that electricity is cheaper at night – because it’s going spare. Anyone who has had Economy 7 in their homes will be familiar with this, as will (I suspect) large-scale industrial users.

In addition, the take up of electric vehicles is inevitably going to be gradual, so demand for recharging power will likewise increase gradually, allowing power companies to work out the best way of responding to it.

More of a practical problem might be charging points and the power supplies that would need to be wired up to them.

Where I live, parking is on-street, unallocated and on the opposite side of the road to my house – so I couldn’t possibly run a wire out to my vehicle, even on the rare occasions I manage to park close to my house. This situation is pretty common with older housing in all of our towns and cities – not to mention blocks of flats.

The biggest problem, of course, is what happens if you need to charge before you get home again?

That’s why I think cars like the GM Volt – all-electric but with an on-board petrol generator to charge batteries on the move – are the answer at the moment.

I’m afraid that you won’t catch me buying a vehicle that I can’t refuel anywhere in Europe in under 10 minutes – whatever the environmental benefits might be.

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