“Just plug it in overnight” is a concept that most people in 2022 with any interest in electric vehicles are probably familiar with. With battery technology where it’s currently at, the logic is obvious. As prices on everything keep rising, the fact that many electric companies offer lower rates overnight only makes the idea look even better.
That’s not sustainable as more people adopt EVs, according to a new study from a group of Stanford researchers. Titled Charging Infrastructure Access and Operation to Reduce the Grid Impacts of Deep Electric Vehicle Adoption, the study was published in the journal Nature Energy on September 22, 2022.
The study created a model for charging demand across the 11 Western states of the U.S., extrapolating from existing charging habits of early adopter behaviors in 2019. By 2035, the study found that peak electricity demand could increase by as much as 25 percent—assuming that EV users continue along the same charging patterns predominantly exhibited so far.
As more people—primarily drivers, but also riders—adopt EVs, the problem with this charging pattern may only grow. Add this to the climate-related electricity grid challenges we’ve seen dominate the news from California in 2022, and the problem is even more glaring.
That’s why this study offers a suite of recommendations, primarily for policymakers—and the good news is, they could also solve another major problem with regard to EV adoption. Since EVs take longer to charge up than the typical gas station visits we’ve become accustomed to over the decades, home is the logical place to charge them.
However, that proposition assumes that you have the kind of home situation that allows it, which is often a single-family home, where you can pull into your own garage and plug in. A lot of people don’t live in this situation—which is why increasing publicly-available EV charging has long been a serious infrastructure concern.
Building more publicly-accessible charging infrastructure would go a long way toward smoothing out future energy grid concerns, according to the Stanford study. In particular, it advises greater availability of charging opportunities during the daytime—because that’s when the current power grid has an excess of energy thanks to renewable solar and wind sources.
That means more charging of EVs while people are at work or school is ideal—which could, in turn, help to make EVs more accessible to a broader cross-section of people, who may not have living situations conducive to overnight charging in the first place. That’s something a lot of EV advocates have been pushing for anyway—and this study only supports that notion.
Other benefits from reconsidering how and when we collectively charge EVs include lowering emissions even further, because of greater reliance on renewable energy sources as compared to more polluting forms. Also, switching our collective peak charging times to hours when excess energy is available means less need for energy companies to create additional energy storage—another more efficient, less polluting strategy.
One thing I’ve noticed about a lot of other coverage of this issue is a tendency to make it primarily about individuals, and personal responsibility—when really, it’s a question of infrastructure. If charging accessibility was more readily available in public places—maybe while you’re at work, or school, or the grocery store, or the gym, or parked at a commuter rail station—I don’t think that most people, at an individual level, would have a problem adapting.
The study also suggests that energy companies consider offering more attractive rates to customers in the middle of the day, when renewable energy is at its peak, in order to spur such a shift. If that were to happen, and the infrastructure was also there for regular people to just plug in wherever—it's hard to believe that anyone would have a problem adjusting. Those are a whole lot of “ifs,” though.