Power crises such as the one in Texas last month and last year's blackouts in California raise questions about the fragility of power grids — and about how big an impact electric vehicles could potentially have on them.
But while EVs undoubtedly increase the load on the power infrastructure, they can also help bolster it through vehicle-to-grid technology. And their impact on the grid can be reduced through smarter charging.
A rare winter storm brought subfreezing temperatures to Texas last month, increasing energy demand statewide. The demand strained the grid's capacity, caused widespread outages and left millions of residents without power and heat for several days. California, which operates on a different grid, experienced extreme heat that similarly upped demand and exposed vulnerabilities in its grid's capacity last August.
The magnitude of the states' power failures demonstrates the need for better grid preparedness. It also shows the importance of optimizing the grid's capacity for the upcoming influx of EVs on the roads — and points to the role that EVs could have in mitigating similar outages in the future.
EVs "are either going to be a very bad thing during a crisis or a very good thing," said David Slutzky, CEO of Fermata Energy, a company that supplies bidirectional charging equipment that can transfer energy stored in an EV battery back to the power grid.
"If the government and the auto industry continue to pursue electrification of vehicles and we have many, many more EVs on the roads of Texas and everywhere else, and we have an event like happened in Texas, then the vehicles could be a disaster for the grid," said Slutzky. "That's the worst thing that you can do: Add lots of load and then have these events that happen."
But finding ways to reduce load at peak energy-usage times and transfer energy back to the grid could be a saving grace.
"If instead of just adding load, you add a combination of some load and lots of storage from the parked cars, now you're adding stability, more cost-effectively," he said.
"As America electrifies its fleet, which clearly, we're committed to doing — the government is committed to it, the industry is committed to it, and consumers are now getting the idea that it actually is a better mousetrap — it's a question of, how do we do it?"