Authored by: Richard Fowler, CEO
First of all, I like the idea of an electric car. I like “all-electric”. I’ve got an electric power washer, an electric weed eater, an electric riding lawnmower, an electric robot lawnmower, an electric toothbrush, and electric air pump just to name a few. I’ve driven an electric car, and it was fun to drive. Now they’ve got the range up to 250 miles, for an extra $9,000 you can get the range up to 300 miles. If you use your car to commute to work you can charge it between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., which is ideal for Howard Electric’s off peak rates. At our current off peak rates you could travel 250 miles for under $2.50.
Believe me, I and most other cooperative managers in the country would love to see an abundance of electric cars. If every member of our cooperative were to go out and buy an electric car tomorrow, slow charge their cars on our off peak hours, we could probably lower our electric rates 15%. Why is that? Because we wouldn’t have to upgrade our power lines. Those power lines have been designed and engineered for peak times (in Howard’s case 6 to 8 a.m. & 4 to 8 p.m.) and by charging your car in off peak hours you would be using those power lines during non-peak times. We would not have to upgrade your transformer because it too was engineered for your peak usage. The same is true for your substation, your transmission lines, and the coal and gas power plants – all designed for your “peak” usage. So using power during off peak times should be the cheapest power there is, and with our demand time of day rates, it is.
So yes, I want electric cars to be successful. But sometimes what we want, requires a reality check. So whether it’s electric cars, which I want, or a carbonless world, which those espousing the green new deal wants, both groups need a reality check. I will write about a reality check for the green new deal later, but today….let’s talk about a reality check for electric cars. I don’t believe, for the most part, that electric cars will be more than commuter cars. Here’s why.
We’ve tried hard to educate you on a KW charge vs. a kWh charge and you now have both on your bills. A car charger that’s a slow trickle charge overnight doesn’t present a problem, but when you’re traveling you’re not going to want to wait 8 hours to get your car charged. You’re going to want a fast charger. Well the fastest char- ger so far is a 500 KW charger and it will charge a car in 10 minutes. Tesla is working on a 550 KW charger. When you trickle charge an electric car the batteries should last about 10 years, but if you fast charge an electric car the battery life goes down significantly, and at $6,500 a pop, these batteries aren’t cheap.
Imagine a charging station, instead of a gas station, that has eight of these 500 KW chargers. That’s a four megawatt load, which is more than all our large power accounts added together. You’re going to need a substation for this charging station which will cost $1,000,000 not counting the upgrading of the transmission lines to feed the substation. That too will cost hundreds of thousands and this extra load is the equivalent of a new power plant which costs millions – and no – solar and wind for the most part do not provide reliable peak power, they provide unreliable intermittent power.
And it’s even worse for electric 18-wheelers. An ongoing study in California, Oregon, and Washington has projected a 10 MW charging station for electric 18-wheelers. How many gas stations exist across our country now for 18-wheelers? Well convert sixty of those to electric 10 MW loads and you’ve got the equivalent of our biggest coal fired power plant, and this will require more million dollar substations, more transmission line upgrades which will be very, very expensive. Now, on the positive side these 18-wheelers will go 500 miles on a battery pack, but these battery packs do weigh 5 tons which, along with their normal loads could test the highway legal “heavy haul” limits in several states. I really do hope they aresuccessful, but the electric infrastructure to make this happen is a very big hill to climb and will likely require more carbon based coal or natural gas power plants (unless we’re willing to go nuclear).
Some have theoretically argued that by reversing the electricity flow from tens of thousands of cars to the grid at peak times, you could levelize the grid and avoid adding more peak power plants. In other words, the grid would use the charge from the car batteries, leaving the owner needing to recharge before driving. The problem with that theory is people probably aren’t going to spend $40,000 - $80,000 on an electric car so they can levelize the grid. If they spend that kind of money, it will be to drive the car.
System peaks are on the hottest and coldest days of the year. If on those days you’re using your car to drive and using your heater or air conditioner, how much excess battery energy do you expect to have to charge the grid? It is these hottest and coldest days that determine how many power plants we need. I don’t believe reverse flow is a reasonable solution to avoid those higher peaks that will be caused by cross country cars and trucks who will be fast charging their vehicles during peak times.
Unless somebody (either our members or taxpayers) has money to allocate to these fast chargers, substations, transmission upgrades and power plants they’re not likely to become a reality.
So, for discussion sake for cars, let’s tone down the chargers from a 500 KW charger to a more reasonable 50 KW charger (which is 8 times the peak of the average house). These are the fastest chargers Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L) is installing in Kansas City.
These 50 KW chargers will charge a car in 93 minutes. So you pull into this charging station and there’s three people ahead of you, each taking 93 minutes. That’s a 4 ½ hour wait plus 1 ½ hours to charge your car. Many of KCP&L’s chargers are level 2 chargers. Those take four hours to add 200 miles of drive time. Not a bad wait if you’re on the golf course.
So how far can I go on a charge? Like I said earlier, these newer electric cars can now go up to 250 miles on a charge…….unless you turn on the heater. Heaven forbid you turn on your heater. The miles go down 25% if you need heat. Northern states may struggle with this issue. Slow charging workplace charging stations could make longer commutes more reliable and would work with existing infrastructure, but if you are going to rely on a slow charger to get home, it would need to be dedicated to you.
Electric cars are estimated to cost six to ten thousand more than a gas car. These cars need 70% less parts than gas engines and need 30% fewer workers to put them together, so lost jobs and a more expensive car. On the positive side, the cost to charge an electric car at home is much cheaper than gas….if….you don’t use a fast charger. Most of the cobalt in lithium batteries comes from the Congo. The Congo continues to raise the price of cobalt and the Congo is considered an unstable country.
In 2012, the CAFÉ standards required cars to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. President Trump has reduced that requirement to 37 miles per gallon. Apparently General Motors and other car manufacturers believe that either by 2020 or by 2024 politics will return that standard to 54.5 miles per gallon, so they are moving forward with that target. The only way to achieve that goal is to blend in a significant amount of electric cars. General Motors expects that 20% of their car sales by 2023 will be electric.
The Green New Deal would make all vehicles electric by 2030 and the proposed “OFF Act” would make all vehicles electric by 2035.
If that happens, traveling across the country could be a circus. An electric car makes sense for a commuter car, but for traveling across country, if you don’t want the long charging wait, you’re going to want a gas vehicle, if you can find one.