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Can California’s Power Grid Support New Mandate?

The entire Western U.S. faces a heatwave over the Labor Day weekend.

During the six-to-seven-day streak of extreme temperatures, California’s 40 million person population is being asked to not charge electric vehicles from 4-9pm and to set air conditioners at 78 degrees or higher. They have also been told not to use other major appliances and to turn off any “unneeded” devices.

While conservation is certainly a helpful concept, many Californians are frustrated by the ongoing capacity shortages of the power grid. Governor Newsom’s request for restriction of use follows closely upon the heels of a new California mandate stipulating that by 2035, no new gas-powered vehicles can be offered for sale.

California residents are puzzled as to how the power grid can support a bevy of new EV’s when there is insufficient power for basic household use or charging the comparatively few EV’s that are currently on the roads.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the Newsweek article, Californians Told Not To Charge Electric Cars Days After Gas Car Sales Ban, by Khaleda Rahman, August 31, 2022, and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: Radu Sebastian / Alamy

Discussion Questions:

1.  What are some of the capacity issues involved with the law that bans the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035?

Guidance: The transition to only selling EV’s has many Californians wondering how this can be possible on a variety of fronts.

First, traditional gas-powered car manufacturers would have to create entirely new production lines to build the vehicles, and it may be difficult for them to accurately forecast demand once the law passes.  The batteries must also be built, and supply chains for all needed materials must be found. The suppliers and processors of metals and/or materials must also plan to increase their capacity in a corresponding way.

In addition to the cars themselves, a huge increase in the number of public charging stations would be needed, especially by people who are living in apartments in urban areas.  Those in single-family homes could charge their batteries at home overnight, but those without access to their own station would need a public place.

Yet another issue is the capacity of the electrical power grid in California, which struggles to meet the current energy needs of the state.  This summer, PG&E customers were switched to a new plan that charges them more for any power used between the hours of 4-9pm, the time when air conditioning is most needed.  This change, perhaps, was a way to try to avoid the rolling power outages used in previous summers when the demand for electricity exceeded the supply.

Climate activists do not want nuclear power to be an option in California, and it remains to be seen where all of the power to charge all the new EV’s could come from. Decisions have been made that are far-reaching, but many questions are seemingly left unanswered.

2. What are some of the concerns California residents have about not being able to buy new gas-powered vehicles in-state?

Guidance: Unless the cost of EV’s comes down dramatically, they will be out of reach for many lower- and middle-class Californians.  In addition to the initial outlay, which could be double the price of a gas-powered vehicle, potential buyers must also factor in the expensive battery replacements and the cost to charge them.

At present, PG&E has forecast significant increases in the price of energy over the upcoming years, and that is prior to the implementation of the EV law.  Californians are wondering how they will afford the inflated costs to power not only their homes but also their cars, and that, of course, presupposes that enough electricity can be generated.

Only one nuclear plant remains in California, and it was due to be shut down in the next few years.  However, it now appears that it will be allowed to stay open till approximately 2029 or 2030.  After that, its fate appears uncertain.

3. What forecasting issues might by faced by car makers and those in charge of the power supply?

Guidance: It may be hard to know to what extent Californians will buy EV’s beginning in 2035, when their in-state options for new vehicles become restricted.  Will they go out of state to buy gas powered cars?  Will the state put excessive taxes or penalties on those who do, to discourage such purchases?  Will those in need of cars be forced to opt for used vehicles, and will used vehicles  see similar shortages and price hikes as they have in the wake of COVID?

These are some of the reasons that car makers and those in charge of the power supply may face challenges in trying to forecast the demand for EV’s.  While the state legislature may make it illegal to buy and sell new gas-powered vehicles in California, it cannot force consumers to make new outlays for EV’s instead.

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