Electric Vehicles (EVs) are frequently discussed as an exciting new technology that will be able to dramatically lower transportation emissions in the region, while lowering costs to consumers. As battery costs continue to decline and technology improves, this promise looks closer than ever. The widespread adoption of EVs has another potential game-changing benefit – it could radically change the way we operate our electric system for the better.
The electric grid is built to ensure that the lights stay on during the times when electric usage is at its highest – generally summer afternoons during heat waves in this region. The rest of the time much of the infrastructure is being lightly used. Distributed Energy Resources (DER), sources of energy or energy conservation that are widely dispersed, offer the potential to change the way the grid is used and optimize the current physical infrastructure without needing to build more. Electric vehicles with 2-way connections to the grid could become a significant new DER. They could store energy when the grid is lightly taxed and feed it back onto the grid when it is most needed and could play a key role in offsetting the need to build large centralized power plants and transmission lines.
Acadia Center conducted an analysis to examine the potential impacts that EVs could have on the grid. We looked at the aggregate capabilities of switching every car in the New York / New England region to a Nissan Leaf. The Leaf is an all-electric vehicle, but its battery is relatively small compared to larger cars with greater range, which means this analysis did not look at the upper limits of potential. The Tesla Model S, for example, has a battery that has approximately three times more storage capacity than a Leaf. Switching all 10.5 million passenger cars in the New York and New England to 10.5 million Leafs would result in electric storage capacity of over 250 GWh. This is the equivalent of more than 30% of all electricity consumed in the region on an average day. The Leaf batteries would also have 850 GW of peak capacity, about 12 times more than all of the power plants in the region and 14 times more than the peak demand in the region during the highest-use hour on the hottest summer day of the year. Just tapping into a small portion of this battery capacity could dramatically reduce the need for new infrastructure in the region and could help smooth out the more variable production of renewable sources.
Jamie Howland leads Acadia’s Climate & Energy Analysis Center (CLEAN), and Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Initiative. His work as a policy analyst focuses on data management on energy markets and emissions trends, buildings and land use issues.