Guest columnist Daniel Lyons: Electric vehicles and the future 

By Daniel Lyons

Published: 01-09-2023 2:31 PM

In his Dec. 31 letter, “Electric vehicles and the environment,” George Kriebel states he is confident that future grid expansion will occur to meet demand for EVs, heat pumps, etc. He does not state the basis for his confidence and today’s grid is far larger, more complicated, and technologically advanced than what existed more than a century ago.

It is also highly regulated where new infrastructure requires substantial permitting and reviews resulting in long wait times until projects are completed. Given how important and critical the grid is to all of us its condition is monitored as are forecasts of future electricity use. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation and related regional entities are charged with this task and they recently released their annual report assessing grid reliability and resilience. The new report covers the period from 2023 to 2032. A few points from the report:

■Some regions in North America are designated high risk areas because older coal, nuclear, and natural gas generation are exiting the system faster than replacement resources are coming online. A high risk area is one where “… the supply of electricity … is more likely to be insufficient in the forecast period and that more firm resources are needed.”

■New England is designated an elevated risk area because limited natural gas infrastructure enhances the potential for supply disruptions to generators. Elevated risk areas “… have sufficient energy and capacity for normal forecasted conditions, but they are at risk of shortfall in extreme conditions.”

■“[T]he on-peak capacity contribution of solar and wind will grow modestly from the current 7% [2022] to 12% [2032].” And “[b]ecause the electrical output of wind and solar … depends on weather and light conditions, on-peak capacity contributions are less than nameplate installed capacity.”

■“Government policies for the adoption of EVs and other energy transition programs have the potential to significantly influence future demand and energy needs.”

The integration of wind and solar into the grid is taking place but it is technically challenging, not without risks, and will take time. I suspect it is not taking place fast enough for many climate activists. And the adoption of EVs present additional challenges including increased forecasting variability. I agree with Mr. Kriebel that there is no free lunch but we should be clear about the trade we are being asked to make. It appears we are being asked to swap some measure of grid reliability and resilience, and perhaps even some amount of electrical output, for increased wind and solar generation and increased use of EVs.

There is also the question of whether the widespread adoption of EVs will make any material difference to global warming. Bjorn Lomberg recently opined that if International Energy Agency estimates of CO2 savings coming from adoption of worldwide EV targets were entered into the standard climate model used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change then global temperatures would only be reduced by 0.0002°F by 2100. If the impact is so small does it make sense to offer tax credits for EV purchases, to require some minimum of new vehicle sales to be EVs, and even to forbid the sale of internal combustion vehicles in the future?

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I agree that EVs have benefits and that they are technological wonders but they have drawbacks and limitations which make them unattractive to many. And unfortunately government subsidies are already spreading some of the costs to the taxpayers and we seem to be moving in the direction where consumers will not have a choice in what kind of vehicle they buy.

Daniel Lyons lives in Florence. ]]>