Electrifying 100% of passenger vehicles on the road by 2050 will only require about 1% per year growth in electricity generation
By Chris Harto, Consumer Reports
A question that frequently comes up when discussing electric vehicles (EVs) is: “Can the grid handle it?” The short answer is “yes.”
Getting that answer, however, takes working through a number of other key questions and doing a little bit of math.
1. How much do people drive?
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that Americans drove 2.9 trillion miles in their light duty cars and trucks in 2019, the last year for which full data is available that was not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, FHWA estimates that total miles traveled by light-duty vehicles will increase by 17% by 2049. If these estimates are correct, Americans will drive around 3.4 trillion miles in 2049.
2. How much electricity do EVs use?
To answer this question, we can consult fueleconomy.gov, which provides data from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing of all types of vehicles. The efficiency of EVs varies widely. The most efficient sedans like the Lucid Air and Tesla Model 3 get around 4 miles per kilowatt hour. On the other side of the spectrum, large, powerful electric pickups tend to get much lower efficiency, around 2 miles per kilowatt hour. Many electric crossovers and SUVs tend to fall towards the middle of the spectrum at around 3 miles per kilowatt hour. Table 1 shows the efficiency ratings of 20 popular EV models. The average efficiency of all 20 comes to 3.1 miles per kilowatt hour.
Table 1. Efficiency of Popular EVs
|Model Y AWD
|Ioniq 4 AWD
|ID4 Pro S AWD
|Lightning 4wd extended
3. How much electricity do we already generate each year?
The US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration tracks energy supply and demand from all sources. They estimate that 4.2 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity were generated in the US in 2022 at utility-scale electricity generation facilities.
4. How much more electricity would we need if all light duty cars and trucks were electric?
As noted above, Americans drive approximately 2.9 trillion miles a year, and the average efficiency of the top 20 EVs is 3.1 miles per kilowatt hour. Dividing these two numbers, we find that if we were to instantly convert every passenger vehicle in the US to a battery electric vehicle, we would need to generate an additional 950 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year. If we divide that number by the 4.2 trillion kilowatt hours that are currently generated in the US, we find that electrifying the entire fleet would require a 22% increase in total electricity generation. This sounds like a lot, but it will also take a long time to completely convert the entire fleet of cars, SUVs, and trucks to electric.
5. How long will it realistically take until most cars and trucks are electric?
A recent CR analysis found that even if EVs accounted for 100% of new vehicle sales by 2035, it would take until 2050 for almost all vehicles on the road to be electric vehicles. This is due to the fact that cars and trucks last a long time, and new vehicle sales only displace a small percentage of the overall vehicle fleet every year. Since the FHWA expects driving to increase over time, we need to recalculate the increase in electricity demand in 2050 if all vehicles were to be electric. Doing this calculation, we find that electricity demand would have to increase by 1.1 trillion kilowatt hours or 26% compared to current electricity demand. However, 2050 is 27 years into the future, so we have a long time to increase electricity production as EVs enter the fleet. On average, meeting this new electricity demand for passenger EVs will only require about 1% per year growth in electricity production. This is well below the 3.2% average annual growth rate for the electricity generation over the past 70 years.
6. What does all this mean for EPA’s proposal for emissions standards for new light-duty vehicles from model year 2027 to 2032?
In April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new greenhouse gas standards for light duty vehicles for model year 2027-2032. These standards are technology neutral, meaning that they can be met by a number of different technologies, including improved efficiency of gasoline vehicles, conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles. EPA’s analysis found that electric vehicles were likely to be the cheapest pathway for compliance with these rules, and that if automakers were to comply only through the production of electric vehicles, 67% of new vehicle sales would be electric vehicles by 2032. Modeling turnover of the actual vehicles in the fleet due to these standards, assuming that automakers comply with the rule by only building more EVs, we find that by the end of 2032, EVs will make up about 25% of all passenger vehicles in the fleet.
Using the same methodology as above, we find that in order to meet the electricity demand for 25% of the US passenger vehicle fleet to be electric at the end of 2032, we would need to increase electricity production by around 260 billion kilowatt hours, or 6% overall. A 6% increase in generation in nine years averages to less than a 1% increase per year and should pose no significant difficulties for electric utility companies.
Electrifying the entire US light-duty vehicle fleet by 2050 will require less than 1% growth per year in overall electricity generation. Furthermore, complying with the EPA’s latest GHG standards for light duty vehicles will create only a 6% increase in electricity demand by the end of 2032. So, the answer is yes—the grid can absolutely handle all those EVs.
These findings are consistent with the findings of the US Drive Partnership, a US Department of Energy facilitated research partnership between government and industry, that concluded in 2019 that “based on historical growth rates, sufficient energy generation and generation capacity is expected to be available to support a growing EV fleet as it evolves over time, even with high EV market growth.”