EV enthusiasts and haters alike must have dwelled upon the question: What would happen if everyone had an electric car? Other than just being a car-fanatic-concern – this notion has also got scientists and environmentalists thinking hard.
In fact, several studies have been conducted on the subject matter to evaluate the consequences of switching to electric transportation.
For those who are new to this topic, here is a brief background to get yourself acquainted with why this is even a question.
As some of us already know, our planet is melting, and climate change has become very real with melting glaciers, constant flooding in different parts of the world, and harsh seasonal changes.
Global warming is the main culprit for climate change, and well – carbon emissions are one of the leading causes of global warming.
If you are following the chain correctly in your head, you may have figured out where fuel-driven cars and EVs come into play. In 2019, 29% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. came from gasoline cars.
Perhaps, this explains why so many environmentalists and sustainability scientists have been interested in electric vehicles. They pose the most viable solution to eliminate a huge percentage of carbon emissions on Earth.
However, despite their quiet stature and incredible emission-eliminating abilities – EVs face skepticism and criticism from the general public.
Even those who are not fans of a revving internal combustion engine are forced to question electric transport’s eco-friendly nature as they are charged by electricity. And most of the electricity produced in the world comes from the same fossil fuels that EVs do not use.
Therefore, if everyone switched to electric transportation – wouldn’t power grids produce a lot more carbon emissions to meet the increased energy demands? And more importantly, would it even be possible to meet this influx in demand for energy consumption?
To answer these questions and more – we have explored the different consequences of everyone driving an electric vehicle – even if that presently remains vastly hypothetical.
What will be the impact on the environment?
The environmental consequences are most developed nations’ first priority. Researchers have explored if the increase in carbon emissions from power plants will outweigh the reduction through electric cars.
The answer seems more favorable than bleak. With most car manufacturers aiming to stop the production of gasoline-powered cars by 2035, the future of EVs seems pretty bright.
For example, General Motors announced that it aims to stop selling gas cars and light trucks by 2035, and the Governor of California aims to phase out sales of combustion cars in only 15 years. The wind of change hasn’t only hit the U.S. – the UK government also plans to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2035. But with only EVs on the streets – what will happen to the energy consumption.
A recent study concluded that the U.S. would be using roughly more than 25% of the electricity it currently uses with such a change.
To meet this demand, utilities will need to build many more power plants. While the carbon emissions from power grids will certainly rise – they will still be less than the total emissions produced by combustion engines today.
This is mainly because power grids are and continue to become cleaner as utilities continue to leverage solar, wind, and water as renewable energy resources.
On the other hand, there is no such leeway in combustion engines. They do and always will consume petrol, diesel, gasoline, and other forms of fossil fuels. Moreover, constant technological upgradation is improving the battery manufacturing process.
Currently, a lot of carbon is used in producing an EV battery – but this process continues to improve with time. Therefore, when it comes to the environmental aspect of everyone driving an electric car – the future looks bright!
What will happen to the power plants?
The second most important concern is whether utilities will build new power plants and bring necessary network upgradation to support such a massive change? The answer is yes. Albeit it will take time.
According to Chris Nelder, leader of the vehicle-grid integration team at the Rocky Mountain Institute, ‘there is no question that utilities can do this, but it’s not going to be trivial.’
And that sounds pretty reasonable too. If a transit agency wants to buy 100 electric buses and then charges them all simultaneously, the power grid will certainly experience an immense load.
Feeding such large amounts of energy to so many vehicles will definitely require million-dollars worth of investment. This influx in investment will also mean increased utility costs.
The Americans will be paying quite more for electricity than what they pay today. But the good news is that the savings in fuel will offset this increase in cost.
According to 2018 research at The University of Texas, while it is difficult to predict exactly how much Americans will be paying for fuel, vehicles, and electricity – the widespread use of electric transportation will definitely decrease the overall cost of transportation.
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How Will Power Grids Sustain the Load?
Even if there are enough power plants to meet the increased demand of electricity production – how will they manage varying power surges at different times?
For most utilities, the real challenge will not be how much power is being used but rather when it is being used.
For example, there is a power surplus in California during the daytime as the sun shines bright and there is plenty of solar power.
However, this surplus considerably ramps down once the sun has set. However, most electric car owners come home after sunset and put their EVs to charge.
If millions of Californians begin to do that, it will put a massive strain on the power grid, and that is when the state is already suffering from blackouts recently. However, this problem is not limited to people charging their EVs all at once.
As we discussed earlier, different transport utilities and other vehicle plants may also charge all their buses or cars simultaneously. These peak charging times can affect electromagnetic waves and the performance of other electrical appliances in the vicinity. So, how are experts planning to solve this challenge?
According to experts, the best solution right now is to bring changes in charging times in a way that power surplus hours can be used to maximum advantage. Power providers across the states will have to become more creative in juggling charging times.
For example, some electricity providers are already thinking of ways to do this. The Southern California Edison offers radically cheaper rates to electric vehicle owners for charging their EVs in the morning. That is when the sun is up, and there is plenty of solar power to use.
Similarly, other utilities have been exploring ways of taking the charging upon themselves. This means that the owner can plug in their vehicle and specify when they will next need it.
For the time that the owner is away, the utility will charge the car, and it will be ready for use whenever the owner needs it! The best part is that the utility will do this when electricity is most abundant and the cheapest.
While it is true that these changes will be quite challenging and will require lots of policy and regulatory changes – they are not impossible.
The reduced cost and energy efficiency alongside the environmental impact will definitely make these changes easier to implement.
Check out, Are electric cars eco-friendly?
Where will people charge their EVs?
Finally, the last major concern is of charging stations. Currently, the lack of many charging points is one of the main challenges faced by EV owners.
If everyone was to drive electric – how many charging stations would we need, and will there be queues in front of each as charging takes quite longer than filling the gas?
Moreover, while it can be easy for single-family households to install a charger (which is costly, just by the way), it can be far more challenging for people who live in apartments to find an outlet.
Even those who rely on-street parking will face a hard time finding a station to charge their EVs.
The solution to this problem lies in utility providers trying to expand public charging stations. The government also aims to make charging points more accessible, with Joe Biden setting a goal to build 500,000 new public chargers by 2030.
However, financing this massive investment will require both the government and the public to join hands as it will be a tricky affair to generate such large amounts of money.
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The Bottom Line
Everyone switching to electric cars is still super hypothetical, given the number of combustion cars on the road today. However, it is not a fantasy as the government and car manufacturing companies continue to shift their goals in accordance with more environmentally friendly practices.
The developed nations are being urged to take actions towards an emission-free planet, and switching to electric transportation seems like the most accessible option at the time.
My name is Matthew, staying in Seattle, Washington. Electric Vehicles (Electric Cars & Electric bikes) caught my attention for the last few years and my love for electric cars and bikes is everlasting. I spend many of my weekends traveling to various places all over various cities with my electric vehicle (e-bike and electric car). Here I am sharing my expertise, experience, and invaluable information about electric cars and electric bikes. Check out more.