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Hidden Costs of EVs and PHEVs – Part I

February 4, 2014

Plug-in electric and fully electric vehicles, PHEVs and EVs, aren’t selling as rapidly as people predicted, but it’s still worth looking at some of the hidden costs if PHEVs and BEVs were to become popular.

Eventually, these hidden costs will be borne by the consumer.

The first of these is the cost of building new power plants to supply the additional electricity needed for recharging batteries. Next there is the cost of new distribution and sub-station transformers.

A study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) determined that 73% of the existing cars and light trucks in the lower 48 states, or 158 million vehicles, could be BEVs before it would be necessary to build new power plants.

Because charging will take place during the day, and during peak periods, the actual number of vehicles that can be in service before new power plants need to be built is 87 million.

This would make it appear that new power generation wouldn’t have to be built for several decades, especially if the sale of PHEVs and BEVs continue to lag far behind projections.

There can still be a problem, however, if there are concentrations of PHEVs and BEVs where charging is done during the day and where demand exceeds current peaks.

Since charging car batteries will require from four to eight hours, some charging will almost certainly be done during peak periods.

The government and some organizations are promoting a strategy of building charging stations in downtown areas so that people can recharge their batteries away from home – during the day. This could create additional load during peak periods that must be handled by building new power plants.

Utilities build sufficient power plants to meet their peak loads plus an additional reserve of 10%.
The best strategy for charging vehicles would be to require recharging during off-peak hours, from 8 pm to 6 am, the opposite of what governments and organizations are proposing.

California is guilty of building charging stations for use during the day, which will exacerbate its plans for having over 30% of its electricity come from renewables.

If 240-volt charging stations, costing $2,500 each, are used to charge during the day, it is certain that charging will take place during peak periods. Even if people use rapid charging for only an hour, with charging stations that cost at least $25,000, some of the charging will occur during peak periods.

As soon as battery charging establishes a new peak encroaching on the 10% reserve, the utility must build a new power plant … or risk blackouts.

In one sense, the failure of PHEVs and BEVs to meet their original growth forecasts is a good thing, since it won’t be necessary to build new power plants as soon as would have been the case.

A sudden increase in sales could cause serious problems in California where zero emission regulations for automobiles could hasten the adoption of PHEVs and BEVs.

Building additional new power plants in California, or elsewhere, would be an expensive hidden cost that’s being ignored by those who are promoting PHEVs and BEVs.

Then there is the new load on distribution transformers that’s created by recharging batteries.

The distribution transformer is the green box sitting in the yard of a home or the blue or gray can hanging from a utility pole down the street.

Pad Mounted Transformer. Photo by D. Dears

Pad Mounted Transformer. Photo by D. Dears

When a distribution transformer becomes overloaded, it cuts the electricity to all the homes being served by the transformer.

Substation transformers supply distribution transformers and as the load on the distribution transformers increases, the load on the substation transformers increases also.

Each residential distribution transformer is usually a 25, 37 1/2 or 50 KVA unit, depending on the number of homes being served and the electrical load in those homes. Condos and apartments have somewhat larger units.

The issue that is hard to pin down, is, “How many PHEVs or BEVs can be garaged (and recharged) in homes served by a distribution transformer before the distribution transformer becomes overloaded and causes an outage?

That’s what is discussed in the next article.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Judith Lisle permalink
    February 4, 2014 8:56 am

    The scam is we aren’t being allowed to build new low cost energy plants, such as coal and nuclear, due to over regulation. The cost of a charging station and/or the batteries would keep the average person from ever owning one of these vehicles.


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