Electric vehicles (EVs) are rapidly gaining popularity across the United States, but the required upgrades to the electric grid to support the influx of EVs have yet to catch up.

As automakers deliver new electric trucks to fleet customers, the existing infrastructure is struggling to meet the increased demand for power, according to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal.

In January, California utility PG&E revealed to charging provider FreeWire Technologies that one of its large fleet customers would not be able to charge their trucks during peak summer afternoons when electricity consumption in the state reaches its highest point.

PG&E estimated that capacity upgrades would not be available until 2026.

“Temporary load restrictions in some cases enable us to energize a customer to meet their current needs while we work to build new infrastructure and increase capacity,” PG&E reportedly said in an email to the Journal.


This situation is not unique to PG&E, with similar issues arising across the country as logistics firms place larger orders for EV trucks.

Calvin Butler, the Chief Executive of utility Exelon, which operates in five Eastern states and Washington, D.C., emphasized the importance of communication between fleet managers and utilities.

When fleet managers reach out early in the planning process, utilities have a better chance of meeting their power demands.

California Faces Electricity Utility Issues

The challenge of upgrading the electric grid is particularly significant in California, given the state’s plan to require new drayage trucks to run on electric batteries or hydrogen fuel cells starting in 2024.

The state also plans to phase out sales of new gasoline-powered passenger cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs by 2035, and require all new medium- and heavy-duty truck sales to be zero-emissions by 2036.

This is expected to significantly reduce air emissions caused by diesel use.

In California, trucks represent only 6% of the vehicles on the roads, but they contribute to a quarter of the state’s on-road greenhouse gas emissions, according to state regulators.

To accelerate the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, California plans to spend $1.7 billion on medium- and heavy-duty vehicle infrastructure by 2026 and estimates that the state will need 157,000 chargers for its projected 180,000 medium- and heavy-duty zero-emission vehicles by 2030.

However, the current number of chargers at depots is still relatively low, with fewer than 700 available.

Installing chargers at depots is a complex process involving equipment providers, truck manufacturers, utilities, and landlords.

Moreover, the need for chargers extends beyond depots to the creation of a network of electric truck stops, which currently does not exist.

The challenge lies in the mismatch between how fleets and utilities plan. Utilities typically wait for certainty before building infrastructure, while truck fleets require additional power within a short period.

The planning process for traditional customers, such as shopping malls, takes years, whereas fleet managers often plan truck orders a year in advance, focusing on truck placement near highways, rail, or ports rather than available power.

Power Demand of Truck Fleets Could Exceed A Shopping Mall

The power demand of truck fleets can exceed that of a shopping mall, requiring upgrades to substations and power supply lines that can take several years to complete.

Some delays are beyond the control of utilities or fleets, such as yearlong waits for city permits and electrical supply equipment.

Temporary solutions for power supply include mobile substations, batteries, or generators.

Meanwhile, some fleet operators have resorted to powering their chargers using diesel generators, undermining the goal of decarbonization.

For example, Pacific Drayage Services, which has introduced six EVs into its fleet of around 300 trucks, faced issues when discussing the need for 120 heavy-duty electric trucks at their service site in Compton, California.

Instead of waiting for grid upgrades, the company decided to install chargers paired with battery storage, enabling it to provide power to trucks even during periods of grid stress.

How Power Grid Could Prepare For More EVs

While the increasing adoption of EVs will have significant implications for the power grid, proper planning and adjustments by utility companies can ensure a smooth transition without overloading the electrical infrastructure.

More specifically, there are three key strategies that utility companies can employ to prepare for the growing number of EVs on the roads, according to an analysis by EV Connect.

The first and most critical step is the expansion, upgrade, and transformation of the electrical grid.

Currently, much of the electrical infrastructure is outdated and not designed to cater to the demands of a world filled with EVs. Utility companies must update electrical feeders to handle the increased load in residential neighborhoods and business districts.

Secondly, it is essential to establish better vehicle-to-grid (V2G) integration for creating a less centralized grid.

When EVs can supply power back to the grid, utilities can leverage them as a virtual extension of the existing infrastructure.

Auto manufacturers play a crucial role in ensuring that more cars are equipped with V2G charging capabilities. However, utilities must also create buy-back programs and deploy the necessary software to efficiently draw power from EVs.

Although advancements in battery technology are anticipated to improve V2G capabilities, utilities must not delay in developing these programs.

Finally, efficient load management for EVs is perhaps the most crucial aspect of preparing for the influx of EVs.

The ability of utility companies to manage load effectively reduces the need for extensive grid overhauls. Peak demand overload is not solely attributed to the total kilowatt-hours consumed, but also to the timing of this consumption.

All in all, while the growth of EVs will undeniably impact the power grid, utility companies can adequately prepare for this transition.

Expanding and upgrading the grid, improving V2G integration, and implementing effective load management strategies could help utility companies proactively address these challenges.

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