As the national trade association representing America’s independent power producers, the Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA) supports holistic efforts to electrify our nation’s transportation sector. When done responsibly, Americans can have the opportunity to own an electric vehicle and conveniently and affordably charge that vehicle without compromising the reliability of the electric grid. EPSA’s members are eager to play a constructive and substantive role in the transition to a future where the economy leans even more heavily on the electric grid and stand ready to provide reliable and cost-effective generation to meet increased demand.
Earlier this week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new proposed tailpipe emissions standards with a net effect of driving significant new demand for electric vehicles (EVs). A variety of voices within the auto industry highlighted a litany of concerns about the proposed regulations and the rate at which the EPA is targeting the transition to electric vehicles. Some of these concerns include insufficient EV charging infrastructure, lack of access to critical minerals needed to manufacture EVs (or general supply chain difficulties for needed materials), and the higher cost of EVs (making them difficult to purchase – or totally out of reach – for many Americans).
However, any list of infrastructure investments needed to responsibly make this transition must include significant new electric generation and transmission. In a 2021 study, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that electrifying the economy could increase electric demand by as much as 81% in 2050 from 2018 levels. It is a fair question to ask, “How will the additional demand on the electric grid stemming from vehicle electrification be met?”
Supporters of the EPA initiative highlight Congressional efforts in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act as building the foundation for this transition. However, investments in the electric grid on the scale called for in such a rapid transition to electric vehicles will require even more substantial resources than have been proposed.
For instance, the California ISO recently released its 10-year transmission plan, noting that it estimates the need for $9.3 billion in electric transmission investments to meet reliability and policy goals (up from its original estimate of $3 billion). And local concern for building infrastructure remains a significant hurdle, with respondents to a recent poll from the Energy Policy Institute at the University Chicago expressing meaningful opposition to building new power lines in their neighborhood.
To their credit, many grid operators (including ISO/RTOs) are trying to get a handle on the impact of electrification in their territories. When stitched together to estimate the investment needed nationwide to accommodate electrification policies, the magnitude of investment in the electric grid will be extraordinary.
Electrification policy must be done holistically – it must include an understanding and strategy for meeting the additional demand for electricity at all times of the year. For instance, imagine millions of Americans leaving their offices at 5:30 p.m. on a cold January day. The first thing they do when they pull into their garage is charge their car. Perhaps their smart thermostat is set to activate their electric heat pump around the same time. And the push to transition away from natural gas in kitchens is going to add a third point of demand on the grid – electric appliances. So, within a span of just a few minutes, car charging, heat pumps, and electric appliances will send demand for electricity soaring. And that cold January late afternoon isn’t conducive to generation from solar facilities, as most of the United States is covered in darkness.
As our nation’s electric grid continues to evolve, natural gas generation will remain vital to meet electricity demand. While competitive power suppliers continue to build renewable generation and battery storage, natural gas will continue to be needed over the next few decades, even under deep decarbonization scenarios. But current policies and market constructs are jeopardizing the ability of power generators to stay in operation. PJM Interconnection, the nation’s largest grid operator, recently raised the alarm that electric generation resources needed to meet reliability needs are retiring at a faster rate than they are being replaced with new dispatchable power resources.
So, we ask again – How will the additional demand for electricity be met?
Electrification policy can’t be done in a haphazard manner, or with a narrow and restricted focus on the shiny new toys. Responsible electrification policy demands a broad understanding and mitigation of unintended consequences of electrification. EPSA is ready and willing to support the nation’s transition to electric vehicles. But it must be done by addressing all aspects of the transition – including preparing the electric grid to be reliable, affordable, and sustainable.