Talking Transportation: EVs and the Electric Grid

Jim Cameron

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There’s no doubt that EVs (electric vehicles) are our future.  The question is, are we ready for them?

There are already over 25,000 EVs in Connecticut, almost half of that number in Fairfield County with Westport drivers owning the most.  They’re not cheap to buy ($30,000+ each) but cheaper to operate (for now).

Charging up a Tesla costs about $14 and can take you maybe 300 miles.  But that’s based on current electric rates.  But they’re going up, way up.

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Eversource CEO Joe Nolan recently told investors he anticipates a 40% boost in electric rates next year, mostly due to the price of natural gas which is responsible for generating about 50% of our juice.  Nuclear generates another 30% with “renewables” (solar, trash burning, wood and wind) coming in at just 10%, but climbing.

Blame it on the Russians’ invasion of Ukraine, inflation or whatever.  Energy is going to be tighter and more expensive.  And remember:  Eversource only distributes the electricity, it doesn’t generate it, so don’t blame them.

All of this may mean a long, cold winter ahead for residential users who’ll be turning off lights, cranking down the thermostat and piling on the sweaters.  But nobody’s expecting a reduction in driving.  Just look at current traffic despite the high gasoline prices.

One of the big concerns of potential EV buyers is “range anxiety”:  can I get a charge if I’m away from my usual neighborhood?   That’s why Eversource is gearing up to install hundreds of new EV charging stations, both at home and work.

Eversource is offering incentives of up to $1000 to put in a Level 2 (220 volt) charging station in your home (which may cost you $650 – $700).  That charger will give you 12 – 80 miles of range per hour of charging… about four times faster than a standard 120 volt charger.

But that incentive comes with a catch:  the utility can throttle back your charging during hours of peak demand, say 4-6 pm on a hot summer day, to protect the grid.

Offices and retail locations can get $40K per property for Level 2 charger installations or up to $250K for Level 3, DC “Fast Chargers” (DCFC).  Those beasts can give a Tesla an 80% charge in about 40 minutes.  But they use an amazing amount of power… according to one charger company, the equivalent of five residential households for a week for a one hour charge!

While residential users will pay standard electric rates, commercial chargers at offices, stores and such can make you pay whatever they want.  You’ll probably use an app to find the nearest charger which will show its rates.  Think “Gas Buddy” for EVs.

Who pays for these new EV chargers?  The rate payers (customers), not utility company shareholders.  Blame PURA, our state’s Public Utilities regulator.

The bigger question is … with 13% of all cars in Connecticut expected to be EVs by 2031, will there be enough electricity on the grid to charge all them all, let alone all the electric trucks, buses etc.?

The short answer is yes… given that most charging of EVs is done overnight and with the expectation that we’ll all be conserving electricity at home and work.  So turning off lights will mean there’s juice for your EV.