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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. 

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Will EV’s Break The Grid?


While the UK government has vowed to end the sale of all new conventional gasoline and diesel cars by 2040, as part of a wider plan to fight air pollution, there is talk that electricity demand will lead to a fast and dirty response to a strained power grid.

But here’s what everyone’s missing in that debate: While EV sales are going to rise and electricity demand to power them will strain the grid and lead to less-than-ideal power generation solutions, the whole plan will help clean power generation to increase its market share.

Nothing is black and white. And big transformations are never immediate. We’re not talking about an overnight elixir that will magically clean up the air; we’re talking about a step-by-step process that is gradually less dirty.

Overloading the Grid (Mind the Gap)

The UK’s National Grid anticipates peak demand from electric vehicles alone being around 5 GW, which represents an 8 percent increase from today’s peak demand.

This peak demand forecast assumes what the National Grid calls the “Two Degrees” scenario, in which most cars would be EVS, with only 6 percent of them hybrids. But by 2045, only pure EVs would be on sale.

According to Wood Mackenzie, the UK plan to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars by 2040 “will have a massive impact on the refining sector and the oil markets.”

To handle the extra peak demand, the most flexible way is to build open-cycle gas power plants.

One of the options for a “rapid response” plug-in capacity to make up for shortfalls could come from certain open-cycle gas-fired plants that are more polluting and less efficient.

So, while it’s still better than burning coal, the massive anticipated demand for energy to power up EVs on British roads may require some additional environmental triage—but, again, this is to be expected if renewables are ever to gain the market share they need to bring prices down and make it all mainstream. Related: Shale Producers Hedge At Much Lower Prices

The first step is dealing with coal-fired plants, which the UK is proposing to close by 2025. And open-cycle gas-fired plants are certainly cleaner than coal, even if they aren’t the end-all ideal.  

Coal is rapidly losing share in the UK electricity generation fuel mix, while natural gas and renewables are boosting their respective shares. Coal’s share dropped to 11.3 percent in Q1 2017 from 15.9 percent in Q1 2016, government figures show.

At the same time, natural gas boosted its share to 39.9 percent from 37 percent a year earlier, while the renewables share increased to 26.6 percent in Q1 2017, from 25.6 percent in 2016.

Open-cycle plants may be more polluting than combined-cycle gas power generation, but their flexibility could help keep the system stable while increasing the share of renewables, according to Drax Group plc which is responsible for generating 7 percent of the UK’s electricity.

Drax is developing four rapid response gas power plants to increase the flexibility, Drax Power CEO Andy Koss said earlier this month. Once the plants are given consent, they will secure Capacity Market contracts and become operational in the early 2020s.

A spokeswoman for Drax told Bloomberg that under UK environmental regulations, such plants are allowed to be operated for a maximum of three months a year, and the company doesn’t expect to operate the units for that long. 

The UK subsidiary of Germany’s utility RWE plans to submit proposals to redevelop the former site of coal-fired and biomass plants in Tilbury, Essex, into a CCGT with capacity of up to 2,500 megawatts, 100 MW of energy storage facility, and a 300-MW open-cycle gas turbines plant.

No Fighting the EV Wave

Across Europe, EVs are on the edge of a major breakout—and they have a lot of help from the government and an excited auto industry.

But it’s also getting a boost from European Union regulations, which dictate that by 2021, the average emissions of all new cars sold must be 40 percent less than today—a challenge that can only be met with EVs.

In the meantime, Norway leads the way, with almost 40 percent of all new registered passenger cars now EVs. The country also now boasts the biggest fast-charging station in the world (28 cars can be charged in 30 minutes).


The Netherlands is the No. 2 leader in EVs, and is phasing out all conventional cars by 2025.

In July, plug-in EV sales hit a record 1.50 percent market share in Germany.

This is the new era in ‘electromobility’, and 2017 is a definitive one. Though questions remain about powering up these vast new fleets of EVs, we’re not at the finish line yet. Norway, for one, isn’t concerned in the least: 98 percent of its electricity comes from hydropower, so it’s about as clean as it can be. Related: Barclays: Oil Prices To Drop This Quarter

Denmark has also come up with a creative solution … it’s using parked EVs to feed back into its grid--and even paying EV owners to do it. Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) models working under the Parker Project in Denmark, and in collaboration with Nissan, Mitsubishi and others—can both receive grid electricity and give it back, helping to solve the peak demand issue. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, owners are earning up to $1,530 per year doing this.

At the end of the day, the UK, too, will find an answer, but the EVs have to come first because the market must dictate terms.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • Bill Simpson on August 16 2017 said:
    Only natural gas powered turbines can save us. If we didn't have them, we could never keep the grid up, should electric cars really take off. But with horizontal drilling and fracturing advances, I doubt the price of oil will increase fast enough to make everyone want to go get an electric car all of a sudden.
    You would have to run a simulation on how many electric cars will be sold, how fast, and how much electric power will be needed to charge them every evening as workers return home from their daily commute, in order to know how much generation would be needed.
    Too few people realize how much power an electric car will draw. It is a lot, as evidenced by the size of the 220 volt wires going into the car batteries. Millions of those, all plugged at once, will require a major increase in electrical generation. Fortunately, we have a couple of decades to get it done.
    And of course, we can't compare America with those little European countries where everybody lives on top of each other. Here, we have a big house on a big lot, way out in suburbia, with a long commute to work. It is going to take a lot more electricity to charge our bigger batteries, than to charge those batteries in Europe. Many Europeans don't even have cars. They will skew the calculations, so we need to calculate demand for Americans charging their cars.
  • Scott on August 16 2017 said:
    Odd that you didn't reference the recent study that showed energy use growing 10% from EV
  • Henry on August 16 2017 said:
    Well in the USA we dont have that issue. We have cheap plentiful hydro power and unlimited supply of cheap nat gas. Our grid is underutilized currently so everything in the above article is mute. .
  • Jhm on August 16 2017 said:
    The best problem utilities could hope for, demand growth for a change.

    The precondition for EV fleets to grow large enough to impact the grid is that prices for batteries continue to fall. These cheap batteries will also find their way into the grid to stabilize it. Even so, EVs will prefer to charge when rates are cheap. So both grid batteries and EVs will bid for the cheapest power on the grid.

    Peak demand will only be a problem if pricing signals fail to reach consumers as in a flat rate residential plan. EV changing can and will respond to pricing signals. Utilities that reward and harness the flexibility inherent in battery charging will find it much more economic to integrate renewables and balance the grid.

    Ultimately power generation will be about maintaining a certain state of charge across all grid connected batteries. In this context, there is little need for gas peakers. Rather more efficient combined cycle gas plants will suffice to maintain state of charge.

    EVs will not break the grid.
  • Nick Wilson on August 17 2017 said:
    Most of the charging will take place overnight on off peak supplies at less than <3KW which will be better for battery life on. Not everyone will be plugging in at 5-7pm 'every Friday' to charge - it will be spread over the day and night and this will reduce strain on the grid.

    If anything this will be a boost for electricity grid networks which have seen falling demand (LED's / better efficiency etc)
  • snoopyloopy on August 17 2017 said:
    There's also another opportunity: solar canopies over parking lots. Many parking lots are nothing more than giant seas of asphalt. With a solar canopy over the lot, EV charging points can also be added to the stalls so that when everyone leaves work, their car is charged. Then, when they get home, they plug in again but the car enables the V2G feature and powers the house through the evening peak. Then later at night, the car can charge when the demand is lower. That solves the 'duck curve' and the reliability problems pretty handily and without a whole lot of new investment.
  • Steve on August 18 2017 said:
    I have to wonder if we are not, with a shift to electric vehicles, just trading one suite of negative environmental impacts with another.

    Real change will only come from far more significant shifts such as offered by degrowth philosophies.
  • RussianJew on August 21 2017 said:
    With all that government planning of economy it is getting so much like USSR it is not even funny...
  • George Kafantaris on September 10 2017 said:
    Battery cars are relatively simple vehicles, which is why a century ago their development preceded gasoline cars. Though they came a long way since then, battery cars still do need to be charged, and with raw power made elsewhere.
    Such is not the case with hydrogen cars -- or gasoline cars for that matter -- which make their power from the fuel they carry onboard. Automotive engineers took this nagging fact into account, and took into account also the finite capacity of our electric grid. They rightly concluded that there is an inherent limitation with battery cars -- one that does not go away with high capacity batteries or with fast chargers.

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