Originally Posted by FineTunes
Focus here seems to be on electric battery powered cars. Curious if there have been studies whether our present electric grid system is sufficient to handle the increased number of battery powered cars. We seem to be at our limit in production of electricity.
In broad terms, the electric system is running at capacity
, and in fact beyond design capacity in some cases, at least here in the US. Generally speaking, it cannot withstand any more load.
The problem isn't generation, it's distribution. Electric generation and distribution systems are engineered for peak consumption; that occurs during the day. Plenty of excess capacity exists at night, so the answer for electric vehicle advocates is "charge them at night". That conveniently assumes they'll run all day without need to recharge them, and people won't drive at night. Besides, solar power is unavailable at night.
The next thing to remember is that it takes a certain amount of energy to propel a vehicle from point A to point B, no matter how it's powered. In other words if your car weighs 1500 lb it will take so many BTUs of energy to get from here to there no matter how that energy is produced. That will never change.
The most energy efficient way to do that is use energy as directly as possible, and electric power is one of the most inefficient
uses of energy - roughly speaking, 65 to 75 percent of the energy required to generate and distribute electric power is lost before it gets delivered to the consumer (all losses are dissipated as heat).
As far as I know no one has performed a comprehensive analysis of the overall energy efficiency of electric cars. This would require determining end-to-end costs of electric generation including the fuel used to do so, the costs of distributing power including generation and distribution equipment acquisition, construction, installation, maintenance, replacement, and disposal, as well as the cost to manufacture, maintain, distribute, and dispose of all those batteries being hauled around in electric vehicles. Only once that's done it can be compared to similar costs for gas or diesel powered vehicles. All the while it still takes that same amount of BTUs to go from here to there.
Besides their ability to utilize fuel more directly, another advantage of gas and diesel powered cars is that they conveniently get lighter as you burn fuel, while batteries weigh the same all the time.
Electric car advocates like to think they're emissions-free. Nothing could be further from the truth. Generation, distribution, and maintenance costs don't go away and as I began with, electric power is the most inefficient sort.
Back to your initial question about the electric grid. It already needs significant investment thanks to the popularity of big screen TVs and computers. The added burden of electric cars won't help.
Finally, the US still derives most of its power from fuels - oil, coal, and natural gas. Not only do solar and wind power account for a few percent of all electric generation, their costs are wildly expensive compared to natural gas or even "clean coal" - about 50% higher for wind power and 300% higher for solar (PV). Despite Al Gore's challenge to migrate all energy from "renewable sources" within 10 years, 11 years later we're pretty much where we were. Even if electric cars were affordable and viable, in the end they essentially still rely upon good old oil, gas, and coal for the power they need. A Prius is thus more of a coal burner than anything else.
The US ought to be ashamed that its reliance on nuclear energy has completely stagnated while the rest of the world develops and improves upon the technology. Until the US gets over its nuclear energy phobias and
makes major investments in electric power distribution, Obama's vision of electric cars will simply require... more coal, oil, and gas.