Myth 1: The electric grid won’t be able to handle EV’s
Electric companies are in the business of providing electricity, and while some are not for profit entities, or are regulated by the government, they are not in business to lose money. They want higher electricity use. This is particularly true since electricity usage has been dropping in the US over the past decade, even when generating capacity is increasing. Therefore it is safe to say that the electric industry is eyeing future consumption and will increase the output in order to satisfy that demand.
Electricity is measured in watts, which is a rate of energy, or energy per time (joules per second). 1 watt is the smallest amount of power measured. A kilowatt (kW), which is the unit you usually talk about with EVs, is equal to 1000 watts. A megawatt (MW) is 1,000,000 watts, and a gigawatt (such as the 1.21 gigawatts needed by Professor Brown in Back to the Future) is 1,000,000,000 watts. That is 1 billion watts. The numbers get truly staggering.
But let’s bring this back to something we can understand. We read our bills and charge our cars based on kilowatt hours (kWh), which is a measure of energy (like a Joule). 1 kilowatt hour is 1000 watts used in an hour. In 2022 the U.S. generated 4.243 trillion (4,243,000,000,000) kWh of electricity, compared to the 3.8 trillion kWh of electricity consumed (using 2020 numbers), leaving us with 400 billion kWh to power our EVs for the year. If each EV needs to refill its 100 kWh battery once a week, this leaves us enough energy for 80 million EVs. But what if overall electricity use increases, such as with the adoption of heat pumps and electric stoves? Does this mean transportation electrification is doomed?
Probably not, and here’s why. Looking back, we have added 12 gigawatts, or 12 billion watts, to the grid every year for the past decade, so we can definitely continue to grow our generation capacity. And, the total actual electricity that was generated in 2022 does not necessarily represent the total capacity that the grid can produce. Generally, the grid only produces enough to meet demand, which fluctuates over the course of the day. If our grid was working at maximum capacity all year, we can generate closer to 10 trillion kWh. Again, taking out the 3.8 trillion kWh that was actually consumed in 2020, we now have over 6 trillion kWh to use for our EVs – more than enough for every car to be electric.
If you think about EV charging a little deeper, like with gas refueling, it’s obvious that all EV’s won’t be charging at the same time. Yet people who spread this myth never take this into account. People all have different schedules and will be charging at different times. The majority of charging already takes place at night when the strain on the grid is at its lowest. This also coincides with when electricity is cheapest, so it works out pretty well for consumers, too.
In addition to developing infrastructure to manage the increase in electricity demand, electric and utility companies are also working on tons of managed charging programs. Managed charging is when EV drivers charge when demand and prices are lowest, and get some sort of financial perk or compensation for doing so. There are chargers and apps that control when charging starts, as well as opt-in programs with utility companies.
Energy efficiency will also be a factor going forward. Just as modern light bulbs replace incandescent bulbs, other new energy efficient ideas continue to come online. Charging stations will adapt to load capacity, homes will have more solar panels, batteries will be able to store renewable energy and power homes. Already some EV’s come equipped to supply power from the battery to the small devices plugged into the car. In time, more vehicles will be able to connect to a home and provide power.
We can already anticipate a time in the near future where a vehicle is charged by solar during the day while parked, driven home and then provides clean power to the home at night. The landscape is changing thanks to good government, and energy suppliers who understand the implications and are planning for an electric future. All indications are that the power grid will never have a problem supplying enough electricity.
Myth 2: Batteries end up in landfills
Batteries from EV’s are not dumped into landfills because both the partially depleted packs and the materials in them are far too valuable (and too large) to toss out. The cost of the battery in a new EV is approximately one third of the total manufacturing cost, and even when a battery is “too old” to use in a car, it still has around 40 - 70 kWh of capacity left. This is plenty of energy for the second-hand battery market, which uses older EV batteries to power things like data center backup, street lights, and even support the grid. I asked a vehicle salvage yard what they did with EV batteries when a crashed vehicle was brought in: “we sell them.” I asked if they sold them to recycling companies and they explained, “we don’t care who you are, we just sell them.”
California is leading the way to develop the infrastructure necessary to deal with the recycling of EV batteries. The CalEpa Lithium-ion Car Battery Recycling Advisory Group Report Lithium-ion Car Battery Recycling Advisory Group states that the end of life capacity of these batteries in EVs will be 70% to 80%, at which point they offer significant value in lower power applications. Private companies and universities are studying and developing new ways to recycle and repurpose EV batteries. There are already conferences and exhibitions to help in the development of this industry, such as EV Battery Recycling and Reuse.
Auto makers such as Ford, and Volvo are partnering with companies like Retriev Technologies, Cirba Solutions and Redwood Materials to invest in recycling and repurposing EV batteries, since they can see it will be big business as more and more EV’s are sold.
As the video below points out, battery recycling is very possible, but requires regulation, standardization, and economies of scale to flourish. In the case of lead acid batteries, which are almost 100% recycled, this comes down to regulation.
Myth 3: EV’s are heavy and will damage roads
While much has been made about the weight of an EV battery, remember that an EV does not have a transmission or an ICE motor. Let’s compare the weight of some vehicles:
The battery in an EV weighs about 1,000 lbs. depending on the size. The weight of an EV motor is about 99 lbs. Compare that to an ICE engine which weighs between 400 and 700 lbs. Add in the transmission weight of between 100 and 400 lbs., the cooling system, and in each of the vehicle classes shown above the weights are comparable. Keep in mind that ICE vehicles have been refined over decades to reach maximum efficiencies with regards to weight, while EV’s are new technology. As competition increases manufacturers will no doubt strive for efficiencies in weight, and hence mileage, to make their cars more desirable. So while some models, such as the older Chevy Bolt, are heavier than a comparable ICE counterpart, the difference is not enough to crumble our highways. The future will surely see EVs becoming lighter, not heavier.
Myth 4: EV’s will leave you stranded in a natural disaster.
Critics of EVs frequently like to ask, “How will electric cars go when there is no electricity?” Well the same could be asked of ICE cars since some newer gas pumps also don’t work without electricity, but I digress. The truth of the matter is that many natural disasters, with the exception of earthquakes, can be predicted with enough notice for EV drivers to be able to charge up their cars. Rather than having to rush to a gas station and wait in long lines to fill up, owners can charge their cars at home.
In the event of a natural disaster, restoring electricity is always a high priority for the government, and it is usually back on line before gas stations can resupply. If a road is not passable, fuel trucks cannot deliver. If a refinery is shut down, gas supply issues would not affect EV’s. Way back in 2011 when a large earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, refineries and gas stations were particularly vulnerable. While the electric infrastructure was damaged, too, the government was able to get electricity back on line faster than private companies were able to resupply gasoline. The electric vehicles, still very new in Japan, performed well and provided much needed mobility.
There is also the myth that electric cars stuck in traffic, trying to get out of a disaster area, would be stuck with no electricity. While a lack of planning could leave anyone vulnerable, when the electric motor is not running to move a car, such as in traffic, the car is not using electricity. On average, a gas vehicle uses ½ gallon of fuel an hour when idling, so a full 14 gallon tank could idle for 28 hours while using the heater or AC if necessary. An average EV will use 1.5 kW of energy per hour in the same situation. Therefore a full EV with a 65 kWh battery could ‘idle’ for about 43 hours. An electric vehicle could sit in traffic as long as any gas vehicle.
In addition to all of that, many new electric vehicles are coming equipped with bidirectional charging capabilities which, eventually, will allow your car to power your home or a generator in the event of a power failure. We already have the technology, so this future is not that far off.
While EVs are still not a perfect solution for every driver and every situation, many of the myths about their vulnerabilities are just that - myths. The collapse of the electric grid, batteries in landfills, crumbling roads, or being stuck in an emergency are simply untrue. EV’s are an entirely new industry and many people just aren’t ready for change, so they see novelty as something scary. But the truth of the matter is this: EV’s are building entire industries. They are prompting the electric grid to upgrade and clean up. They are stimulating battery repurposing and recycling. New development in material science is needed to develop lighter vehicles and higher efficiencies. The future is here and the sooner we leave the myths behind and embrace it, the better we can find solutions.