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California advises slower EV charging as state’s electric grid struggles

As the state of California is mired in a massive heat wave, one of the major operators of the grid asking residents to avoid charging electric vehicles during peak hours of 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The California Independent System Operator also asked residents to curb energy usage during peak hours and keep thermostats at 78 degrees in order to keep the grid operational. Governor Newsom has even issued a state of emergency for California.

For many residents and EV advocates, curtailing the charging of their vehicles when the state is pushing EV adoption is inconsistent at best and poor policy at worst.

Just last week the California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved one of Governor Newsom’s key policy initiatives, an outright ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035. The new rule also requires that 35% of new car sales must be zero-emission vehicles by 2026 and that requirement rises to 68% by 2030.

Close-up of sign for electric vehicle charging station on Santana Row in the Silicon Valley, San Jose, California, January 3, 2020. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Close-up of sign for electric vehicle charging station on Santana Row in the Silicon Valley, San Jose, California, January 3, 2020. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

For Newsom and environmentalists alike, the policy is a huge move to cut carbon emissions, improve air quality, and hopefully dent the effects of global warming. California’s rule is noteworthy as the state has the most cars on the road and many other states follow California’s lead on emissions.

However, the state's strained electric grid highlights the delicate balance of striking the right policy mix given facts on the ground.

Currently, 39% of all EVs are registered in California, raising the question: How ready is the U.S. electric grid for the increased load from EVs? This comes as one recent study finds that “a doubling in the size of the grid, along with a greatly expanded role for grid services such as electricity storage” will be needed for future electricity use as the country decarbonizes through electrification.

The biggest drain on the grid from EVs comes from level 1 or level 2 charging, which usually consists of people charging their cars from their homes. This is typically done at night after people return from work, when renewable resources like solar are not actively replenishing the grid. Charging at home is also the most popular form of charging due to its convenience.

Desmond Wheatley, the CEO of EV charging infrastructure company Beam Global (BEEM), explained the grid was never meant to support the transportation network.

"We have to remember the U.S. grid... was never designed to replace petroleum products for transportation fuel," Wheatley told Yahoo Finance Live. "As a result, it doesn't have anywhere near enough capacity to provide all the fuel we'll need for [EVs] down the road."

UNITED STATES - MARCH 31: A Toyota Prius is seen connected to a electric vehicle charging station in a Washington, D.C., parking garage on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 31: A Toyota Prius is seen connected to a electric vehicle charging station in a Washington, D.C., parking garage on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Level 3 charging, also known as DC fast chargers, provides one possible way to alleviate the strain. These are usually not connected to the grid and use batteries on-site to charge cars. This means the fast chargers are not drawing from the grid, which is a huge benefit.

Of course, virtually no one has these fast chargers at their homes, meaning EV owners would have to access these chargers at work or other convenient areas. This factor has been a large part of the White House's $7.5 billion plan to build out a fast-charger network.

The White House is optimistic that states like California have more than enough time to figure out their EV transformation and that ambitious goal setting as California has done is the right policy choice.

“I think setting the goal for 2035 of all cars being electric is a good goal to have,” Amos Hochstein, the senior advisor for energy at the State Department, said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “And we need to do all the work now in order to make sure we can meet that goal. I think if you look at 2010 or 2015 and the projections of where we would be on electric vehicles, where we would be on renewable energy installations and the penetration to the market, we have exceeded a lot of those. So I'm not too worried about people getting worried.”

In the near term, other solutions involve growing the grid’s capacity and adding more renewable energy resources to it like solar, hydroelectric, and even nuclear.

For residents of California, these solutions can’t come fast enough as the 2035 gas-powered car ban approaches.

Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.

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