Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The I-95 Traffic Jam and Electric Cars

As I'm sure you've noticed, this week's news has featured a traffic mess outside DC on I-95 where people were stuck for up to almost 24 hours in snow and cold.  People survived by running their engine intermittently to keep the vehicles warm.  People who are in the habit of keeping some blankets in their cars along with water and maybe food were better set to survive and there are stories of some of them sharing their supplies.

An article headline on Watts Up With That got me thinking about how Brandon's Build Back Better Bill has as a policy goal to get Internal Combustion Engines off the road.  If everyone had been driving a battery-powered Electric Vehicle, would this have been a mass casualty event?  Everyone knows that battery electric cars get a double whammy when it’s cold.  The heater runs on the batteries, which reduces the range, and the batteries lose capacity when it’s below freezing, further reducing the charge life.  Anyone in that traffic mess would have had to run the heat intermittently.  

Something that has been a mental irritant has been the thought of how all those electric cars could be charged, but I’ve never seen numbers.  The energy to charge the batteries has to come from somewhere.  I just know I’ve read of both Elon Musk of Tesla and Akio Toyoda of Toyota Motors have said the power grid wouldn't support an all electric car fleet without serious upgrades.  A comment to that article had numbers I could use.  They said there are 289 Million cars on the roads in America and 1% are EVs, 2.89 million.  Let's put some numbers on this.  We need to know how big the battery is to determine how much it takes to charge it, and every car is different.  Time for some search engine research. 

I found a spreadsheet of EVs and the median battery is 69 kWh (kilowatt*hrs).  There are other such spreadsheets, but I didn't find all the data that first linked spreadsheet had.  Because there are so many different sized batteries, exactly how big an impact on the grid there would be is “guesses all the way down” - rather than turtles.

Let’s start with 300 million total vehicles.  How often do they need to charge?  Depends on range.  That spreadsheet included range on a charge, and the median value is 259 miles.  That says the typical driver won’t recharge every day.  Some people will put that on in a week, some in a couple of days, some in more than a week.  For convenience, I’ll guess once every five days and say 300 million/5 days says 60 million cars will need charging every day.  60 million times 69 kWh is a 4,140 gigawatt increase (4.14 terawatts) on the grid.  How much is the grid delivering now?

The US Energy Information Agency says the 2020 US power grid produced a little less than that 4.14 terawatts; they say 4 terawatts, but there’s enough uncertainty in everything that goes into my calculation that it’s safe to say we would need to double the size of the power grid if every car was electric. 

But wait, it’s worse.  That number inherently assumes (1) the batteries really are good for the kWh they’re rated, and (2) the charging is 100% of that number; that is, a battery rated for 100kWh really requires 100kWh to charge it - which implies there’s no inefficiency anywhere.  I think having both of those is impossible.  “In the old days,” a NiCd, NiMH or Lead-Acid battery was often charged at 1/10 of its capacity (10 hour discharge rate) for 16 hours – that’s 160% of its rating.  The spreadsheet I found has a column for the “promised” max power to charge the battery and another for the measured max power used.  There are batteries where the measured max power is less than the battery’s ratings which implies the battery doesn’t meet its ratings.  It’s trivial to find what percentage the max measured charging power is of the rated power. 

The median measured max power is 1.80 times the rated kWh.  Multiplying that 69 kWh above by 1.8 says the power grid would need to deliver 7.452 terawatts.  Using the US EIA numbers again, that essentially says the generation capacity of the US power grid would have to be tripled.

Again, this is playing guessing games with spreadsheets and calculators.  I've got zero growth in the number of cars on the road, and that's probably ridiculous.  It might grow and I can imagine scenarios where it shrinks, but staying the same for years and years doesn't sound possible.  If more EVs are on the road, the power grid could go beyond needing to be tripled and need to be quadrupled.  

While sanity checking my answers, I found an article on Reuters that talked about having 2/3 of the cars on the road being fully electric by 2050, a much lower bar than having no IC engine cars by then.  Their calculations said that the power grid would need to be doubled.  They provided a link to this graphic - I added the numbers in red.

Their number for the total capacity for the grid starts much lower than the US Energy Information Agency's number, but for two thirds of the percentage of cars I calculate, they get a doubling instead of a tripling.  That sounds like it more or less agrees with my numbers.

So tell me: have you heard anyone saying they want to triple the power generation capabilities of the US?  Triple the power generation in Europe or the developed world?  Anywhere? 


  1. The grid isn't even keeping up with current peak demand in some areas now (Texas last winter, California quite often). I guess we need more unicorn farts on order to make up the difference (/sarc).

    I have a retired friend who was an engineer with a major contractor. He literally designed and built power plants all around the world. You should hear some of his comments on these idiots who think wind and solar is going to save us. Beside the generating capacity you have to build lots of transmission lines and other support equipment to get the power where it needs to go. Guess where much of that equipment comes from these days? It sure isn't the United States. It's China.

  2. But Comrade....why do you need to drive every day? Use our glorious mass transit system to commute within the hive. No need to worry, we'll take care of everything!
    /snark off/

  3. Ah, a correction. kWh is a measure of energy, not power. So the fleet might need to draw 4.2 GWh every day (staying with your first calculation) but it doesn't all have to be delivered in one hour at 4.2 GW. It could be 10 hours at 420 MW for the same total energy.

    The error persists through the post, I'm afraid.

    Don't get me wrong, the conclusion is still that the grid would be seriously inadequate. But it isn't quite as bad as you make it sound.

    1. D'oh! kWh is a measure of energy, not power, Specifically, it's a measure called specific energy, and I do that all the time. And thanks for pointing it out.

      I thought about the problem that the energy doesn't have to be delivered in a single one hour period and figuring the impact is another one of the guesses I'd have to make. There are fast chargers and slow chargers, and that's a part of the puzzle, too.

      My gut feeling is that it changes things but not as much as my guesses on charging once every five days, or using a median battery pack rather than a mean, or the other uncertainties in there.

    2. SiGB, I think you are measuring the wrong numbers. It doesn't matter how big the gas tanks are, it matters how often they are used.
      I ran the numbers and I got 467 billion kwhr per year extra load due to EVs.
      US passenger cars drive 1.4 trillion miles/year, a surprisingly stable number over the decade. (
      EVs average 3.75 miles/kwhr. (
      If every passenger car was and EV the would use 374 billion kwh in a year. My ev draws 15% more power than it adds to the battery, so throw in a additional 25% for that and transmission losses it comes up to 467 billion kwhr/year.
      I will note that the graph you have includes commercial transport and increases in electric heating and industrial use. There is an interesting chart later in the article that shows about that Electricity consumption was 3,803 billion KWhr in 2020 with 200 billion KWhr excess production. So to cover the 467 billion kwh for all EVs we'd need to increase the grid by 10-15%.

    3. Very interesting perspective, as well as the most optimistic I've seen. I've never seen anyone addressing this saying we only need about a 10% expansion to handle a 100% electric fleet.

      I hope you're right.

      Basing everything on the miles driven instead of "how big the gas tanks are" certainly makes sense, so I can't fault that. As you say, that 1.4t miles/year has been stable for the last decade, and I can't fault that source, either.

      The reason I went down this rabbit hole is seeing people saying essentially what I ended up deriving, except never seeing any numbers.

    4. The cynic in me says that you've seen a lot of flailing and very little numbers because the two types who write these kind of articles are electrical suppliers with their hands out for federal grants, and anti EV people trying to justify keeping ICE cars around. And neither of them are totally wrong. We do need to expand the grid, and EVs are not the answer to everyone's driving needs.
      I just saw the numbers and thought that looks odd, because I did 2/3rds of my house hold driving miles with EVs and did not see a 2/3rds increase in my electric usage. Its the smallest sample size, but my usage increase was 15% and I drive more than average.
      The other thing about grid capacity is every EV owner I know charges overnight as much as possible, because the electricity is 10 to 40% cheaper depending on the night. It's cheaper because the grid is being used less then so there is excess capacity. I've been paid to charge my car a couple of nights when there was so much excess capacity they were giving it away.

      My perfect world would be building nuke plants and smart chargers that talk to the net to charge when they are over producing as the solution to all this.

  4. Part of the problem with the fires in California a few years ago is that the power infrastructure in California is way behind in being repaired and upgraded. PG&E reached peak transmission a while ago, and without constant repair and upgrading, the stress on the system will cause failure. (Didn't help that the vegetation wasn't managed very well, like not at all.)

    And this, the Grid not being up to electric vehicles, is nothing new. The industry magazines were screaming about it 15 years ago, were screaming about it when GM's electric abortion was about the only thing potentially on the market. The industry was screaming about it before Tesla started the mega-push for EVs.

    EVs suck. They suck in handling distance, extreme weather, bad road conditions, heavy use (like loading the car to past the max like so many of us do during holidays and vacations, and, yes, I am very guilty of that,) and they definitely suck in any evacuation situation. They may be great in relatively stable environments like California, but in oh-so-humid Florida where AC is required except for the 30 days where the Heater is required in the morning and AC is required in the afternoon, EVs just suck.

    Yes, electric motors are in a lot of ways vastly superior than IC engines, especially hub motors vs a complicated drive train and transmission, but a complete EV is nothing more than a nice short-range vehicle. Hybrids, on the other hand, do have a place in the world, far superior than pure electrics for handling all the conditions pure electrics bite the weinie over, like, well, evacuations, changing weather conditions, humidity, so forth and so on.

    So what has the car industry been focusing on thanks to stupid government crap? Totally electric vehicles. Stupid, so very stupid.

  5. I imagine the total power numbers you're looking for might be more easily findable for gas and diesel vehicles. Then convert petroleum energy into electric energy by assuming similar horsepower requirements for similar car performance, and similar total system efficiency.


    "Colonial [gasoline/diesel/jet fuel/heating oil pipeline] transports nearly half of the East Coast's fuel supply"

    "Colonial operates the largest refined products pipeline in the U.S., transporting 100 million gallons or 2.5 million barrels per day"

    "one [liter] Gasoline is equal to 34200 Kilojoules"

    "The main lines are 40 inches and 36 inches in (inner) diameter"

    You have: 100 million gallons
    You want: liters
    * 3.7854118e+08

    You have: 34200 kilojoules
    You want: watt*hour
    * 9500

    > 3.7854118e+08 * 9500
    [1] 3.596141e+12 (Watt*hours)/day transported as gasoline

    3,596 (gigawatt*hours)/day transported in a couple pipes three feet in diameter, not up on towers

    times 4 because that's half the East coast

    invest now in electrical transmission line construction companies

    It's EV-il!

    1. Excellent! One that stuck in my mind from a piece I read in '17 is battery makers are desperately trying to reach a specific energy of 450 Wh/kg (Watt-hours per kilogram), gasoline already offers 12,000 Wh/kg. 26.7 times higher. 1HP is 746W. Batteries get 0.603 HP*hrs/kg while gasoline gets 16.1 HP*Hrs/kg.

      How can batteries possibly compete?

    2. What is the source of these new terawatts of energy? Nuclear is being decommissioned, hydro is maxed out and declining, oil production is declining, and coal mines and plants are being shut down.While solar and wind require spinning reserves and are small in size....We likely won't be able to maintain current production of electricity..

  6. Don't be silly.
    They want you to drive less, and use less energy.
    If that means you're now unemployed, then starving, then freezing, and then dead, so be it.
    Just the cost of doing business.
    It's to save the planet.

    1. Just like their health policies aren't about improving health care, their energy policies aren't about producing energy.

    2. The fact that they haven't talked about expanding the power grid is proof of the fact that they want to kill off civilization.

      Remember, the good guys want to kill off 95% of the human race. The others want to kill off virtually all humans.

    3. Remember, the good guys want to kill off 95% of the human race. The others want to kill off virtually all humans.

      While humans come by their great ape troop political instincts honestly via genetics, they still produce a death cult. In the near future, the only neighbors it will be safe to have are libertarians. It appears only 1 in 100 humans are born the freethinkers who become libertarians. I wonder how strong the defense will need to be to halt the attack of the non-libertarians.

    4. There's nothing wrong with killing off 95% of the human race.
      As long as it's the right 95%. - Inspector Calahan, SFPD

  7. The last time I saw somebody do the math, the result was that in order to go all electric for passenger vehicles (not trucks), the USA would need to build a nuclear power plant every week for the next 30+ years. And we needed to have started 10 years ago. Assuming no population growth.

  8. By far, the EV is the absolute best way to get around (of golf in).

  9. Would the world not be better off if that HAD happened to many of those in that traffic jam???

  10. Remember that there is the expectation that distributed power (i.e., home solar systems) will provide a large fraction of the power. As more of these are installed, less of the grid is required. For a process that is intended (or should be intended) to take a couple of decades, I can buy that there might be a reasonable expectation that it will work out.

    "Smart grid" includes local generation and doesn't actually require the grid itself to accommodate, unless your system is connected to it (mine is not).

    1. Smart Grid is not about us, it's about making life easier for the utilities. It's for them to turn off your air conditioner (or heater, or water heater, or oven...) when the demand is too high.

      I'm all for solar, if you're in the (roughly) third of the country were it's viable and, of course, the backup batteries for when the sun doesn't shine. Maybe I missed it, but I haven't seen the greens clamoring for distributed power or getting everyone to be off the grid and pushing for these sorts of solutions.

    2. As usual, I was taking the 30,000-foot view: in my opinion, a smart power supply system includes distributed generation. Sorry, I wasn't clear that I wasn't using the favored buzzword definition!

      Some "greenies" are talking about distributed power, not all. Probably that is because most of them cannot differentiate between kimchi and camel droppings.

  11. I think that for EVs to be feasible each one will require a small, sealed (indestructible­čĄú) ├č-voltaic "battery" employing a material similar to Ni-63 (½-life ~100yrs) to provide the power directly

    1. That would be nice, but good luck generating 50KWh of energy every day.

    2. At one time, I advocated for neighborhood nuclear power plants, based on the reactors the Navy has a standard Federal stock number for, an A4W or A1B reactor. I think there are two big advantages the Navy has: first, they're in a freaking ocean so they have unlimited cooling water and second, they have no practical limits on how many guys can be working on it or supervising it at any given time. It sounds like a minimal (to zero) crew to man a meltdown-proof design, like some of the thorium reactors they talk about, would be a better alternative.

    3. Heat conversion fluids can/may be very difficult to control in a personal vehicle and is liable to major problems in collisions; I'm trying to determine if the use of direct ├č-emitter (electron) differential is feasible.

    4. I also advocated for community nuclear power. Unfortunately, human nature makes even the safest system too risky. It's easy enough to make dirty bombs out of them.

  12. Wouldn't it be nice for actual real life Tesla owner who has driven 100k miles comment on how bad electric car's are? My father just bought a model 3 long range. So I drive it on occasion. I am 61yo. You have to drive one to believe what it is capable of. It's 475 silent horse power. Fastest car I've ever driven by a long shot. Not much maintenance. No gas stations. 350mi range. What's the catch? 62k$ purchase price. Sky high insurance, 300$ month. No repair shops anywhere near by. Required 40amp 240v circuit for charging.
    You'd be a fool to only depend on a tesla as a single car family.
    EV's are for rich people who want to drive a status symbol and that they do well.
    Guess I'll have to stick with my 7.3 powerstroke. At least I added a veggie oil secondary fuel system, so it's a little bit green. haha

    1. I would never say electric vehicles don't have a place, or should be banned, or anything like that. I just don't think that should be every place by federal mandate. People should choose the best answers for their situation.

      From what I've heard about Teslas, they've always sounded like fun, but impractical for some of the reasons you outline. For me, the 350 mile range is probably impractical, because I suspect that would require a charge time greater than the 5 minutes it takes to refill my gas tank. I've read some car companies are saying not to recharge the car in your garage because of the fire risk. That would be impractical, too.

      Most of the time, my car needs could be met by an electric golf cart. The other 49% of the time is longer than a 3 mile round trip, or requires carrying something bigger that a grocery sack. People tend to buy cars for every likely use, even if it's a once a year vacation trip.

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    3. As of this summer, this is my electric vehicle. It will suffice for 90% of my driving (we can drive these on anything but US highways here).

      (forgot to include link on last post)


    4. Nice. One of the strong points for EVs is the low-end torque they talk about. Electric trucks make more sense than some other uses because of that.

    5. Non-long-haul fleet delivery trucks are the perfect application.

      The transition will happen. Those who anticipate what different challenges it will pose are the ones who will get rich. Bobcat just introduced an electric version of their ubiquitous little tracked loader. Likely it will be the first widely-used EV construction equipment. You can buy an electric compact tractor loader/backhoe, but its made in India with all the baggage that implies.

  13. Making every neighborhood postal delivery vehicle an EV makes perfect sense, because they're only used locally, for <8 hrs/day, and can recharge all night every night.

    Trying to convert the semis that hail that mail town to town (or the family wagon) is asinine, for the same reasons.

    Currently, my daily commute the three days/wk I work is under 40 miles, and i work nights and sleep days, so an EV would be ideal if I owned the roof for a solar recharging panel station to fuel it.

    But when I decide to drive to Santa Barbara, Vegas, or anything else, it's beyond jackassical.

    Federal one-size solutions are to chop off everyones' legs to make us all 4' tall.

  14. To support a complete change to EVs would require the power grid to be at least two to three times it's current size and capacity. That is not going to happen. We have trouble powering the current grid under peak demand. The push to end use of ICE vehicles and move to Electric has nothing to do with the environment. Once gas/diesel is gone everyone who can afford one will have an electric vehicle that they CANNOT CHARGE. Thus they CANNOT TRAVEL. That is the true goal of all this insanity. A society that can come an go when and where they want cannot be controlled. A society totally dependent on public transit is a slave society. That is what the criminals in power are working on. EVERYTHING the commie left is doing is based on ONE GOAL. Destroying freedom, enslaving us and culling our numbers.

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  16. What are the odds? I was watching this video as I was clicking around to my fav blogs. Coincidence that I find this post at the same time? Or falseflag? Hmmm...

    Sharing for your info. I don't have an e-horse in this race.

    1. In the comments to the article on WUWT, someone had mentioned that the heaters in electric cars weren't that bad and the whole idea of a winter "mass casualty event" was overblown. It just served as the poke to get me to calculate something I've been meaning to put numbers on for a long time.

      In the video, the thing that struck me was the system design. The one with the more efficient heater had a smaller battery while the model with the less efficient heater had a bigger battery. I'm sure that must enter into their system design calculations and tradeoffs.

      IC Engine cars are apparently designed for a typical range between fill-ups, maybe 250 miles for smaller ones to 350 or more for bigger ones. There's no reason to think electric vehicles wouldn't be designed the same way. That's a perfect example.

  17. I have long been skeptical about electric vehicles. They are less efficient than internal combustion engine vehicles because of the multiple energy conversion cycles to operate them. Fuel must be burned to produce electricity, losses in the step up transformers for transmission, I^2R losses in transmission lines, losses in step down transformers, I^2R losses in transmission lines, AC/DC conversion losses, and battery inefficiencies. Lithium mining is a pretty dirty process as well. Once the battery pack is dead, you have an expensive piece of scrap metal to recycle. A better alternative is running vehicles on natural gas. Gasoline and diesel engines can be made to run on CNG and many are currently in use. In Southern CA, CNG, which has equivalent energy content by weight as gasoline, is less than half the cost of gasoline. That is why I have used CNG fueled full size pickup trucks as a commute vehicle for the last 16 years. The only drawback with CNG is the fuel tanks are bulky and there are not enough fueling stations outside of urban areas to make cross country trips viable. For that purpose, I have a couple of 7.3L diesel vehicles.

  18. The second mention of "transmission" should be "distribution"

  19. Electric cars in Alaska...ha ha ha ha ha. Right now it's -6...hahaha ha, and I'm in the banana belt. Hahaha haha.

    BTW, we plug in our vehicles already...block heaters. Just those put a strain on our grid at night.

  20. Green Energy is another BIG VISION meant to suck money into the equity markets. Smart people know green won't work.

  21. Switching to wood heat again this winter.
    Contemplating a wood burner for my work truck. Lots of work and redneck engineering...

  22. Over here on the tropical island electric is 20 cents US per kwh and the only electric vehicles are some golf cart like trikes that have hot swap battery packs at the terminals. Meanwhile, Indonesia has just banned coal export and in Metro Manila we have a 60 day coal supply from Indonesia to run the power plants. Hard times coming indeed.