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GENERAL PROCLAMATIONS about the world’s coming adoption of electric vehicles have set ambitious goals. For example, governments around the world plan to ban gasoline and diesel vehicles within decades. However, micro tales are often as telling as macro views.
The editorial “EVs Lack a Robust Charging Grid” is in the October 2017 issue of Automotive Engineering, one of SAE International’s magazines. It’s written by Editor-in-Chief Lindsay Brooke, a guy whose opinions I have long respected, who gives an interesting near-term micro view of long-term macro EV scenerios.
Lindsay’s lead: “The flames lit up the sky when the electric-power substation in my town blew up one night last August…. A transformer at the DTE Energy site had exploded, immediately knocking out power for over 4000 homes and businesses. More than 9000 residents dug out flashlights, lit candles, and sweated the summer heat.”
DTE Energy is the holding company formed in 1996 which evolved from Detroit Edison dating from the early 1900s.
Lindsay notes that “Two days after the fire, the town’s lights were back on and my beer was cold again.“ This was thanks to a convoy of flatbed trailers with five DTE emergency diesel-electric generators.
“But as I write this seven weeks later,” Lindsay observes, “the emergency generators are still powering the town. And the utility still doesn’t know for certain the cause of the explosion.”
“Did a squirrel gnaw through a cable?” Lindsay asks. “We never know in southeastern Michigan, where the electric grid is as dodgy as the proverbial Lucas light switch on old British cars. The switch with three settings—Dim, Flicker, and Off.”
His comment reminds me of other Lucas humor: Electricity is transmitted by smoke in a wire and ceases when the smoke leaks out. And, Brits like warm beer because they have Lucas refrigerators.
But back to southeastern Michigan’s dodgy electric grid. Lindsay asked on-site utility engineers what would occur if EV sales rapidly increased.
Lindsay reports: “ ‘Let me put it this way,’ the senior engineers began, ‘if you buy a Chevy Bolt or a Tesla today, and you’re the only one on your block who’s charging an EV, the local grid can handle it. But if two or three of your neighbors buy EVs, and that’s multiplied across thousands of blocks in dozens of towns, the local grid would be pushed to the brink of collapse. No way are we prepared for electric cars.’ ”
Lindsay says, “Where less than 5 percent of vehicles sold in 2016 in the U.S. were equipped with electrified powerplants, the industry aspires to have over 50 percent of all new models so equipped…. … the specter of transformers erupting becomes real.”
He continues, “That threat is not just in the U.S. Friends in Germany and the U.K. assert that their local electric grids are inadequate to support a rapid rise in EV charging. Will they be ready by 2040—the year chosen (perhaps by tossing darts at dates on a wall)?”
A Bosch engineer at September’s Frankfurt Auto Show talked with Lindsay about readiness: “Not unless we commit to massive re-engineering of our network for power generation and electricity distribution. It will cost billions and take decades.”
Noting how quickly automakers are developing electrified products, Lindsay concludes, “Now it’s time for the electric power utilities to deliver their half of the equation, if the EV dream is to be realized.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017