California grid will require major upgrade to meet EV demands: Study

More than two-thirds of electricity distribution circuits in the Golden State will require capacity upgrades by 2045 in order to meet electric vehicle (EV) demands, a new study has found.

California must add 25 gigawatts to its capacity by that point — a shift that will cost between $6 billion and $20 billion, according to the study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The massive increase in capacity will be necessary to fulfill forthcoming state targets — such as placing 5 million EVs on the road by 2030.

“This widespread adoption of EVs in the future will lead to a large growth in electricity charging load, which will contribute to challenges in the operation and planning of the power system,” stated the authors, scientists at the University of California, Davis.

By modeling future distribution and capacity scenarios, the researchers determined that the first areas to experience overloads without an upgrade would be population-dense spots like the Bay Area. The intensity and reach of this strain would then increase with time.

Despite the multibillion-dollar price tag associated with upgrading statewide distribution circuits, the authors found that electricity prices are actually likely to decrease by $0.01-0.06 per kilowatt-hour, due to an overall rise in power consumption.

Yet the overall bills of all consumers are still expected to increase — an outcome that the authors attributed to the growth of total electricity consumption.

“The uncertainty could be even higher in actual future upgrade costs,” the authors added, stressing that they did not account for factors like “technology development or bottlenecks.”

Residential areas will require twice as much upgrading as commercial zones will need, suggesting that the state could benefit from a policy shift from home to public or workplace charging, the authors found.

Such changes could be encouraged by boosting the number of chargers available at such locations, or by differentiating charging rates at these sites, they suggested.

“Moving forward, it is crucial to enact regulatory measures to accommodate and mitigate this expected infrastructure strain in the distribution network,” the authors concluded.

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