Do Electric Vehicles Contribute to Power Outages?
Updated: Jan 10
The recent blackouts and power outages across California have raised understandable concerns about the viability of electric vehicles. The state's electrical grid has been strained due to a prolonged heat wave, and in early September the California Independent System Operator (ISO) asked residents to conserve their energy use in the later afternoon and evening amid extreme electric demand on the grid.
This dire situation has prompted many to call out electric vehicles as a source of extreme energy consumption. What electric naysayers may not know is that during recent outages, EVs actually helped keep the power on. The California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA) reported that during the rolling blackouts, California had more than 80,000 customer-sited batteries connected to the electric grid capable of providing 900 MW of solar power.
An estimated 76% of batteries were set to discharge during the peak hours of 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. on September 6, which as a fleet, were capable of providing up to 684 MW of power at any given moment. CALSSA estimates that 50% of these batteries’ aggregate power was put into use during peak hours, providing approximately 340 MW of power. To put this into perspective, 340 MW is more than a mid-sized power plant.
When California suffered rolling blackouts in August 2020, California had 30,000 distributed batteries with the potential to discharge 500 MW of power. 50,000 consumers added 400 MW of clean sun-charged battery power in just two years. The current 900 MW of distributed batteries in California is nearly the size of Diablo Canyon’s Unit 1.
“The biggest battery in the world is located in garages around California and they are helping keep the lights on for everyone,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, CALSSA executive director. “While it goes largely unrecognized by utilities and grid operators, these consumer investments in clean energy played a crucial role during this week’s heat wave helping keep the lights on not just for the homeowners and businesses who made the investment but for everyone.”
Consumer batteries charged by onsite solar panels can be pre-programmed to discharge at set times and on set days. The most common setting is for the battery to charge up in the morning, as soon as the solar panels being to generate electricity, and then discharge starting at 4 pm, 5 pm, or 6 pm, depending on local utility rates and consumer settings. Once discharging, the batteries cover onsite load, helping relieve strain on the grid, or in the case of a net metered battery, can export power to a neighbor.
Because of unprecedented drops over the last decade in the costs of both solar panels and lithium batteries, dispatchable solar-plus-storage now beats new fossil fuel plants on the cost of electricity. California began investing in solar power more than 20 years ago and passed Assembly Bill 2514, the nation’s first legislative grid energy storage mandate, in 2010.
Evoke's founder, Jason, states: “With EV batteries large enough to keep the average home powered for a few days, I see the expansion of electric vehicles as part of the solution to supporting our growing power needs. Just imagine, millions of EVs creating a virtual power plant that captures and stores its energy during off-peak times, to then be able to help keep up power demand during peak times. Contrary to the belief of the naysayers, instead of being the reason the power grid fails, EVs are more likely to be the reason that it doesn’t.”
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