A million EVs were added to the grid last year, this is a picture of one
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EV surge, energy plunge

How Adding a Million EVs to the Road Didn’t Break the Grid

Ashley Robinson
February 20, 2024

In 2023, the U.S. added over a million electric vehicles (EVs) to the roads, continuing a recent trend of big increases in EV sales. At first, you might assume this would mean a big increase in overall electricity consumption in the country as people switch from gas-powered to electric vehicles. But as of November 2023, our electricity consumption as a nation has actually gone down 1.1%. This is great news for the grid and for our environment, but it seems counterintuitive! So let’s get into how increased EV usage hasn’t overly stressed the grid, and how EVs can actually be a part of grid stability in the future.

Even as recently as a decade ago, electric vehicles of any kind were relatively rare. Hybrids were getting to be more popular, but full plug-in EVs were a rare sight. However, in the past few years, EV sales have skyrocketed. Last year alone, we added 1.2 million EVs to the roads. According to Kelley Blue Book, this accounted for 7.6% of vehicles sold, and they’re forecasting that 2024 will see that jump to 10%.  

There are a lot of factors in why we’re seeing this massive surge in EVs on the road. EV technology has gotten better, car manufacturers have put out more and more EV models, charging infrastructure has become more widely available, and tax incentives have helped a massive number of drivers make the switch. And generally, as gas prices have remained both high and unpredictable and climate change continues to threaten our planet, a lot of consumers are simply ready to ditch the combustion engines. But with this trend, there have been some concerns over how our power grid will keep up with all this added charging.

With this sharp increase in EVs on the road, we’re bound to see a big increase in electricity consumption, right? Turns out, not necessarily! Despite this recent massive increase in EVs, overall electricity consumption in the US is down 1.1%. And over the last five years, despite population increase, thousands of new data centers, general electrification of the home, millions of EVs, and many severe weather incidents, our nationwide electricity usage has actually been relatively stagnant.

So how is this possible? Put simply, it’s about efficiency. Across the board, we’re made massive gains in efficiency in electricity usage over the past few decades. Homes and appliances are far more efficient than they used to be, with items like refrigerators using a fraction of the energy that they used to even ten years ago. Both commercial and residential buildings are becoming more efficient as new technologies and regulations are implemented. And by switching to LED lighting, we’re looking at nationwide energy savings of 569 TWh by 2035 (which is more than the country used last year!)

Adding a whole lot of EVs to the roads did not, in fact, break our power grid, because transportation is just one part of the energy usage puzzle. And because this transition to EVs will happen over many years while overall efficiency continues to increase, it’s likely that we’ll see capacity keep up with demand.

That said, while electricity usage has been flat or even slightly decreasing recently, overall demand is certainly going to increase in the future. Populations will continue to grow, and as we move toward renewable energy and phase out fossil fuels, demand for electricity will go up. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts an annual 1% increase through 2050, some of which will come from drivers switching to EVs over gas-powered vehicles. 1.2 million EVs is certainly a lot of vehicles, but it’s still a small percentage of the overall 286 million cars on the road in the US. So we’re going to need increased electric supply and a strong grid to support vehicle electrification moving forward!

The good news is that EVs specifically have some benefits in terms of the grid that some appliances may not have. First, EVs can be charged at any time of day, then used throughout the day as needed because they are able to store their own energy.  The grid is subjected to strains based on high demand at specific times of day, but these high-demand times are predictable. Time of use matters a lot, and that’s something that EV drivers can take advantage of.

Since EVs can store energy in their batteries, they can charge at non-peak times, when other demand is down, to help spread out overall demand throughout the day. You may not be able to avoid using an air conditioner during a heat wave, but it’s easy to charge an EV at off-peak times and still be able to drive! This is where VPPs (virtual power plants) like OhmConnect will play a big role in the coming decades—smart management of demand goes a long way in making sure the grid can keep up with our energy needs.

And speaking of storing energy, EVs offer another promising benefit: they could actually help stabilize the grid by storing energy for other uses in the future. This is called bidirectional charging, which means that the battery can be charged for use in the vehicle and also discharge energy to other things, like a house or back into the grid. Not all EVs have this capacity right now, but it’s becoming more common because of the potential benefits for energy resilience. EVs with bidirectional charging can essentially act as mobile power storage, which could be used to stabilize the grid in times of extreme demand, store renewable energy to cut dependence on electricity from dirty sources, or even function as a generator for homes in a blackout.

While we will need to increase our supply of renewable energy and continue to invest in the capacity and resilience of the power grid, it’s clear that EVs alone are not going to overload our power grid. With smart management of demand and general increases in efficiency, we can continue to move towards reliable zero-emissions transportation and get more EVs on the road.

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