Understanding the changing power grid, and that the power comes from us

Jul 30, 2022, 8:00 AM | Updated: Aug 3, 2022, 12:59 pm
massie grid EV...
FILE: "Every single house and EV turns into a little local power plant," said a texter to KSL NewsRadio. (Hans Koepsell, Deseret News)
(Hans Koepsell, Deseret News)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

SALT LAKE CITY — Earlier this week, KSL NewsRadio’s Boyd Matheson, host of Inside Sources, joined us on Utah’s Morning News to talk about the Biden administration’s call for 50% of all car sales to be electric by the year 2030.

The question Boyd posed, based in part on an interchange between the Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, is whether the electric grid will be able to handle it if that goal is reached.

Rep. Massie is an interesting person. He is an MIT engineering graduate. He lives off the grid on solar panels and a Tesla battery. He went through the details of how much power it takes to run an electric vehicle with Secretary Buttigieg in a congressional hearing .

As the congressman explained, it takes about the same amount of electricity to power an EV as it takes to run 25 refrigerators. If you have two electric vehicles (EVs), that would be 50 refrigerators, on top of your regular electricity needs.

On the power grid, “hope is not a strategy”

As Boyd described their conversation, “Secretary Buttigieg  just kept coming back with ‘We need to,’ ‘We have to,’ ‘We want to,’ and didn’t lay out any plans in terms of ‘This is what we WILL do.'”

Their conversation during the hearing was described by others as “Thomas Massie schools Pete Buttigieg on electric vehicles.”

While we were having this conversation on KSL NewsRadio, we received a text from Cameron Laubisch, a solar engineer.

“Massie is correct that this is a problem if you keep using conventional thinking,” Laubisch said.

“Traditionally, a power plant makes power, and that power is distributed through the grid out to whoever needs it. As demand increases, we need to add more power plants, but also throw up thicker wires and bigger transformers and fuses on the poles to carry the extra power,” he explained.

“This costs a huge amount of money, and power companies are generally not willing to adopt.”

As I read Laubisch’s explanation, I felt the “but” coming.

“Every house and EV is a little local power plant”

With the new solar and EV technology, “every single house and EV turns into a little local power plant,” Laubisch said. “Let’s say I put enough solar on a roof to offset their power bill 100% (which is typical). If having an EV doubles the average household consumption, but I already dropped it to 0 with the solar, then adding an EV is a net change of 0 compared to what the house was before solar.”

“Therefore,” he continued, “not a single thing needs to be done to the grid, as long as we are installing solar at a rate that keeps up (which the solar industry is doing) and people are using EVs.”

Laubisch had even more encouraging news on this point.

“The benefits get even better when you allow houses to install more than 100% offset, and people buy EVs with V2G\V2L (vehicle to grid and vehicle to load) capabilities.”

“Now, instead of the average house being a net consumer, they can be net exporters. The grid doesn’t care which direction electricity is flowing, it just cares how much electricity is flowing.”

“In practice, every house can export 100% of their consumption, and the grid will be OK,” said Laubisch.

“We already have the technology”

So, according to Laubisch, we have the technology. The incentives for solar and EVs are already in place. The new climate change agreement between Sen. Manchin and Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer contains new incentives regarding solar and EV purchases for Americans.

My overall impression after reading the text and email messages is that nothing has to be done to “the grid” in the traditional sense.  Laubisch said he was surprised that Rep. Massie didn’t know that, since he is, in fact, a living example of exactly how this is done — living as he is on solar and EV power.

Perhaps going forward, the main thing that needs to change, in addition to our sources of power, is our antiquated way of thinking about the grid and where power comes from. It comes from all of us, to a larger and larger degree.

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Understanding the changing power grid, and that the power comes from us