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Council Hears About Electric Car
Impacts On Power System

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 21, 2008

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council reviewed research this week on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles by its staff and also listened to a presentation by Michael Kinter-Meyer, a scientist at the Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

The Council's primary interest in plug-in electric vehicles is not tailpipe emissions or fuel cost, but the impact of increasing number of electric vehicles on the region's electricity system.

Electric vehicles likely would be recharged overnight, when the demand for power and its cost are low. "Smart" plugs for vehicles could be operated remotely by electric utilities to spread the charging load around the service territory to minimize the impact on the power supply. The Council's research assumes that 25 megawatts (25 million watts) of electricity would be used to recharge electric vehicles in the Northwest by the year 2020.

Spread across all power plants in the interconnected power grid of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council area -- basically the United States west of the Rocky Mountains -- emissions from power plants that burn coal and natural gas would increase by about 1 million tons above current levels to serve the 25-megawatt load of electric vehicles in 2020. But when combined with the reduction in exhaust emissions by replacing fuel-burning vehicles with electric vehicles, there would be a net reduction of carbon dioxide from current levels of about 6 million tons in 2020, according to the Council.

A 2006 study for the federal Department of Energy concluded that if all the cars and light trucks in the nation switched from oil-based fuels to electricity, the available, overnight generating capacity of the existing electric power system could generate most of the power needed by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. This off-peak capacity is available because demand for power overnight is low, compared to the daylight hours. By using the available generation capacity more intensively, the cost of electricity to consumers can be reduced.

Kinter-Meyer told the Council that Battelle's research suggests that between 43 and 73 percent of all the cars and light trucks in the nation today could be replaced by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles without adding new power plants or transmission lines, depending on the time of day that the vehicles would be charged.

If this were to happen, America's net oil imports would be reduced by 52 percent, the nation's total emissions of carbon dioxide would be reduced by 27 percent, and the batteries in all of those vehicles would provide an important source of storage capacity that could enhance power-system stability, he said. The amount of carbon-dioxide reduction also depends on the time of day the vehicles are charged, as time of day determines whether more coal or cleaner natural gas is being used to generate electricity.

"The Council is assessing the potential impacts of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the Northwest electricity supply as part of developing our next Northwest Power Plan," Council Chair Bill Booth said. "While these vehicles pose a potentially large new source of demand for electricity, they also have the potential to store electricity that could be tapped to ensure the stability of the power supply during periods of high demand."

The Council's Northwest Power Plan directs the electricity generation and conservation acquisitions of the Bonneville Power Administration, the region's largest electricity supplier. The plan also provides guidance to electric utilities in assessing their own decision-making about how to meet future demand for power.

Council Hears About Electric Car Impacts On Power System
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 21, 2008

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