The more Electric Cars people drive the greater the Stress on the Electric Grid

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 16th, 2014

Week in Review

Have you ever noticed your lights dim when your air conditioner starts?  They do because when an electric motor starts there is a momentary short circuit across the windings.  Causing a great inrush of current as they start rotating.  Once they are rotating that inrush of current drops.  During that surge in current the voltage drops.  Because there is no resistance in a short circuit.  So there is no voltage across a short circuit.  And because everything in your house goes back to your electrical panel that momentary voltage drop affects everything in your house.  Including your lights.  The lower voltage reduces the lighting output.  Momentarily.  Once the air conditioning motor begins to rotate the short circuit goes away and the voltage returns to normal.

Air conditioners draw a lot of power.  And during hot summer days when everyone gets home from work they cause the occasional brownout.  As everybody turns on their air conditioners in the evening.  Stressing the electric grid.  Which is why our power bills rise in the summer months.  For this great rise in demand causes a corresponding rise in supply.  Costing the power companies more to meet that demand.  Which they pass on to us (see Electricity Price Surged to All-Time Record for March by Terence P. Jeffrey posted 4/16/2014 on cnsnews).

The average price for a kilowatthour (KWH) of electricity hit a March record of 13.5 cents, according data released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was up about 5.5 percent from 12.8 cents per KWH in March 2013.

The price of electricity in the United States tends to rise in spring, peak in summer, and decline in fall. Last year, after the price of a KWH averaged 12.8 cents in March, it rose to an all-time high of 13.7 cents in June, July, August and September.

If the prevailing trend holds, the average price of a KWH would hit a new record this summer.

All-electric cars are more popular in California than in Minnesota.  Because there is little cold and snow in California.  And batteries don’t work so well in the cold.  AAA makes a lot of money jumping dead batteries during cold winter months.  So batteries don’t hold their charge as well in the winter.  Which is when an all-electric car requires more charge.  For the days are shorter.  Meaning that at least part of your daily commute will be in the dark and require headlights.  It is colder.  Requiring electric power for heating.  Windows fog and frost up.  Requiring electric power for defogging and defrosting.  It snows.  Requiring electric power to run windshield wipers.  Slippery roads slow traffic to a crawl.  Increasing the time spent with all of these things running during your commute.  So the all-electric car is more of a warm-weather car.  Where people who don’t live in sunny California may park their all-electric car during the worst of the winter months.  And use a gasoline-powered car instead.

As those on the left want everyone to drive all-electric cars they don’t say much about the stress that will add to the electric grid.  If everyone switched to an electric car in the summer it would be like adding a second air conditioner at every house.  Especially after work.  When everyone gets home and plugs in.  Causing an inrush of current for an hour or so as those discharged batters recharge.  A discharged battery is similar to an electric motor.  As it’s the current flow that recharges the battery cells.  There’s a high current at first.  Which falls as the battery charges.  So summer evenings will have a lot of brownouts during the summer months.  As the added electric load will greatly stress the electric grid during the evenings.  A demand that the power companies will have to supply.  At the same time they’re replacing coal-fired power plants with less reliable renewable forms of power generation.  Such as solar farms.  Which will be fast running out of sunshine as these cars plug in.

If people switch from gasoline to electric power in their cars en masse the average price for a kilowatt-hour will soar.  It’s simple economics.  Supply and demand.  The greater the demand the higher the price.  And there is little economies of scale in power production.  Because more power requires more fuel.  And the kicker is that even people who don’t drive will have to pay more on their electric bills when people switch from gasoline to electric cars.  And their gas bills if gas-fired turbines provide that peak power demand.  Raising the price of natural gas.  Making everyone pay more.  Whereas only drivers of gasoline-powered cars are impacted by the high cost of gasoline.

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Even though Solar Panels and Natural Gas Home Generators allow us to Disconnect from the Grid we Shouldn’t

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 21st, 2013

Week in Review

I remember losing power for a couple of hot and humid days.  The kind where you stick to everything because you’re just covered in sweat.  Making it almost impossible to sleep.  But I was able to borrow my father’s generator.  So I would not have to suffer through that insufferable heat and humidity.  While I was able to run my refrigerator, turn the lights on and even watch television I could not start my central air conditioner.  Even when I shut everything else off.  It was large enough to run the AC.  But it was just not big enough to start it.  I tried.  But as I did that inrush of current (about 40 amps) just stalled the generator.  Which could put out only 30 amps at 240 volts.  So even though I had a 30 amp generator to start an air conditioner that was on a 20 amp circuit breaker it wasn’t big enough.  Because of that momentary inrush of current.  So I suffered through that insufferable heat and humidity until the electric utility restored power.  And I never loved my electric utility more than when they did.

Now suppose I wanted to go to solar power.  How large of a solar array would I need that would start my air conditioner?  If one square inch of solar panel provided 70 milliwatts and you do a little math that comes to approximately a 950 square-foot solar array.  Or an array approximately 20 FT X 50 FT.  Which is a lot of solar panel.  Costly to install.  And if you want to use any electricity at night you’re going to need some kind of battery system.  But you won’t be able to run your air conditioner.  For one start would probably drain down that battery system.  So it’s not feasible to disconnect from the electric grid.  For you’re going to need something else when the sun doesn’t shine.  And because there can be windless nights a windmill won’t be the answer.  Because you’re going to need at least one source of electric power you can rely on to be there for you.  Like your electric utility.  Or, perhaps, your gas utility (see Relentless And Disruptive Innovation Will Shortly Affect US Electric Utilities by Peter Kelly-Detwiler posted 4/18/2013 on Forbes).

NRG’s CEO David Crane is one of the few utility CEO’s in the US who appears to fully appreciate – and publicly articulate – the potential for this coming dynamic.  At recent Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics conference, he indicated that solar power and natural gas are coming on strong, and that some customers may soon decide they do not need the electric utility. “If you have gas into your house and say you want to be as green as possible, maybe you’re anti-fracking or something and you have solar panels on your roof, you don’t need to be connected to the grid at all.”  He predicted that within a short timeframe, we may see technologies that allow for conversion of gas into electricity at the residential level.

If you want carefree and reliable electric power you connect to the electric grid.  Have a natural gas backup generator sized to power the entire house (large enough to even start your central air conditioner).  And a whole-house uninterruptible power supply (UPS).  To provide all your power needs momentarily while you switch from your electric utility to your gas utility.  Well, all but your central air conditioner (and other heavy electrical loads).  Which would have to wait for the natural gas generator to start running.  Because if you connected these to your UPS it might drain the battery down before that generator was up and running.  No problem.  For we can all go a minute or two without air conditioning.

So this combination would work.  With solar panels and a natural gas generator you could disconnect from the electric grid.  But is this something we should really do?  Not everyone will be able to afford solar panels and natural gas generators.  They will have to rely on the electric utility.  Some may only be able to afford the solar panels.  Staying connected to the grid for their nighttime power needs.  But if our electric utilities cut their generation and take it offline permanently it could cause some serious problems.  For what happens when a day of thunderstorms blocks the sun from our solar panels and everyone is still running their air conditioners?  The solar panels can no longer provide the peak power demand that they took from the electric utility (causing the utilities to reduce their generation capacity).  But if they reduced their generation capacity how are they going to be able to take back this peak power demand?  They won’t be able to.  And if they can’t that means rolling brownouts and blackouts.  Not a problem for those with the resources to install a backup generator.  But a big problem for everyone else.

We should study any plans to mothball any baseload electric generation.  For renewable sources of energy may be green but they are not reliable.  And electric power is not just about comfort in our homes.  It’s also about national security.  Imagine the Boston Marathon bombing happening during a time of rolling blackouts.  Imagine all of the things we take for granted not being there.  Like power in our homes to charge our smartphones.  And to power the televisions we saw the two bombers identified on.  We would have been both literally and figuratively in the dark.  Making it a lot easier for the bombers to have made their escape.  There’s a reason why we’re trying to harden our electric grid from cyber attacks.  Because we are simply too dependent on electric power for both the comforts and necessities of life.  Which is why we should be building more coal-fired power plants.  Not fewer.  Because coal is reliable and we have domestic sources of coal.  Ditto for natural gas and nuclear.  The mainstay of baseload power.  Because there is nothing more reliable.  Which comes in handy for national security.

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Making Electric Cars work with Radio Frequency Monitoring and Credit Card Payments for Electricity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 12th, 2012

Week in Review

They’re working out the bugs of electric cars.  Figuring out a way to charge their drivers for their electricity.  And to monitor you.  So they can balance these new loads on the electric grid.  And figure out how to direct advertising at you.  Like the advertising you see at the gas pump.  Only without collecting information on you.  Especially if you pay with cash (see Electric car drivers left hanging in charger wars by Eric Evarts posted 5/11/2012 on Consumer Reports).

Naturally, charging networks install electric car chargers in people’s homes and in public places, such as parking lots and airports. For public chargers, they provide an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) key tag to customers to activate the charger and authenticate payment. Some charging network providers say it’s important to them to collect authentication information even if they’re providing free charging, because it helps them track where future chargers should go, what kind of electric car you have, and how to manage loads on the power grid.

Perhaps the most important reason for charging networks is to collect and aggregate payments. Unlike buying gas, when you charge up an electric car, the cost amounts to just a few dollars. Charging our Nissan Leaf test car at our test track in Connecticut, for example, cost less than $4.50. And that figure is a worst-case scenario. (Our area has among the highest electric rates in the continental United States, and that cost is based a completely drained battery, which ideally should never happen.)

At the modest energy costs for recharging, credit-card processing fees take a significant bite out of providers’ profit margins. Companies are exploring more creative approaches to ensure profitability, such as aggregating payments from different tenants in an apartment garage. This business model may evolve over time.

Charge people for plugging in?  Collecting information?  Wasn’t just simply buying gas with cash simpler?  Do we really need another place for people to hack into our private lives? 

Guess that electricity isn’t free.  Still, $4.50 a charge isn’t so bad.  It may get you about 100 miles.  Probably less if you use the heat or headlights.  If you only charge once a day seven days a week that comes to about $31.50 a week.  Of course, if you have to recharge at work to make it back home and maybe drive a little further on the weekend to a nice restaurant or too see a movie that can easily take you to two charges a day.  Taking you to $63 a week.  It adds up, doesn’t it?  And how many miles would $63 in gasoline buy you in a week?  Well, if gas is at $3.75 a gallon and your car gets about 24 miles per gallon that comes to about 57.6 miles per day for one week (63/3.75*24/7).  Which is about one hour’s driving time on the expressway going 60 miles an hour.  Without worrying about using your heat or headlights.  With one fill up during those 7 days.  A bit more convenient. 

But what about those charges away from home?  Let’s say you take your electric car on vacation.  At the end of a long day’s driving you pull into a motel.  Plug your car in.  Go into your room.  And turn the AC on to cool off.  Take a good look at that air conditioner/heater poking through the wall of your room.  Or imagine looking at one.  Your typical unit plugs into a 20 amp circuit at 240V.  If the motel installs a 30A, 240V fast charge battery charger to get your car charged up for the next leg of your trip in 4 to 5 hours (instead of the 10-12 hours of a 120V charger), that charger will draw more power than the room air conditioner.  And to provide for all of those electric cars in the future the motel will have to more than DOUBLE their electrical service to meet this additional demand.  As electric utilities will have to do everywhere if EVERYONE uses an electric car.  A burden our aging electric grids just can’t handle.  Not with a lot of rolling brownouts and blackouts.  Not without building new electric generation and distribution grids.  And the last time I looked that wasn’t cheap.  Not to mention all of those carbon emissions they’ll throw up into the atmosphere.  Because neither wind power nor solar power will be able to double our electric generation.  That will have to come from our good old reliable fossil fuels.

Of course this is a silly example.  For no one will be able to drive a long day in an electric car.  Unless there’s a fast charge station every 100 miles or so.  And people don’t mind waiting 4-6 hours for that fast charge at each of those fast charge stations.  Or subscribe to some battery leasing program that can change your battery every 100 miles or so.  As long as there is a battery changing facility every 100 miles or so.  Or you can carry a spare battery or two.  But all of that weight will reduce your driving distance.

Before we go ‘all in’ with these cars of the future we really should be looking at the big picture.  For that big picture will ultimately have a very large price tag.  For a world that won’t be as good as the one it replaced.

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