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Mark Phelan: Can Michigan's electric grid handle future of electric vehicles? Yes -- to a point

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

The electric grid was built to accommodate high demand like air conditioning in high-rise offices and factories on a hot afternoon. That capacity is essentially wasted the rest of the time, but EV charging can level the peaks and valleys.

The EPA assumes off-peak charging in projections that electricity for a Mach-E will cost $650 annually, compared with $1,800 in gasoline for an Edge, the closest gasoline-powered competitor in Ford’s lineup.

Similarly, Volkswagen’s new ID4 electric SUV should use $700 worth of electricity a year, versus $1,700 in gasoline for the Tiguan, the closest internal combustion analogue from VW. Both projections assume 15,000 miles driven annually, 55% of it highway.

Some drivers worry about grid-busting peaks on holiday weekends, when huge numbers of people drive to family events or vacation getaways. However, many factories and offices close during that period, freeing up charging capacity for trips to grandma’s house or the cottage, Threlkeld said.

In addition, as solar generation becomes more common, some areas now offer bargain rates in the middle of the day, during maximum sunlight.

Armed with that information, a business fleet manager could tell her drivers to pull over and charge when prices dropped, and resume driving.


XL Fleet, a company specializing in hybrid commercial vehicles, said its customers have logged 145 million miles, charging mostly at night. XL developed plug-in hybrid versions of Ford F-series pickups and other hybrids. The company just opened an engineering center in suburban Detroit. It has about 4,000 vehicles in service.

“Things get dicey” at about 30 million EVs on U.S. roads, a study by the Department of Energy says. To that end, utilities are upgrading generating, transmission and delivery capacity now for demand in the 2030s.

DTE expects about 300,000 EVs on the road in Michigan in 2030. It assumes nearly all will have at least 200 miles range — a modest assumption, given how fast EV technology is improving. With the average daily commute around 40 miles, the utility thinks some drivers may charge just once every 2-3 days.

Upgrades to the electric grid may even allow EV owners to sell electricity back to the utility during peak use, or to use vehicle batteries to power their homes during protracted outages.


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