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Electric vehicles no environmental savior, could cause power grid problems

Two men and woman looking forward, smiling.

Roy Nutter, Arvind Thiruvengadam Padmavathy, Trina Wafle (WVU Photo)

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As Ford unveils its electric F150, West Virginia University experts note the shift from gasoline-powered engines is not an environmental panacea in the short term, but instead will mean significant and costly upgrades to the nation’s infrastructure. Citing recent events, they caution the race to electric vehicles may outrun what’s needed to keep those vehicles on the road.

Quotes and comments

“The electric grid will struggle to handle the quick charging of very many Electric Vehicles at the same time. Quick Charging is generally what everyone thinks about—like going to the gas station and getting a full charge in 10-15 minutes, a tremendous instantaneous load on the local distribution system. My concern is the huge power dumps required at quick charging stations along the interstates. It sounds good, but will require a lot of new infrastructure to get the power to the charging stations, as well as building those charging stations. So, where does the power come from? Power storage will be required if we are going to also move toward fickle power sources such as solar and wind. We do not have power storage capability yet in large enough quantities to do this on a large scale. Solar does not work at night. The wind doesn't blow all the time. Also, we do not have the distribution on the streets to move fast charging into residential neighborhoods en masse.”

“Electric Vehicles are great but we have not fully considered the impact that it will have on our electric grid infrastructure. It will require a lot of expansion of our electric distribution and charging facilities. Remember, electric power comes from the "Power Company." We must consider this when considering wide scale EV adoption. Much as there is to gain from EVs, I don't believe we are ready yet as a society for a completely Electric Vehicle transportation system. With time and infrastructure development, we can be.” —Roy Nutter, professor, Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

“Electric vehicles are a welcome change in transportation to reduce GHG emissions. However, as an engineer the practicality of wide-spread EV use in the US has a long way to go. Issues such as power grid stability, distributed power generation and renewable power generation must be addressed concurrently with EV deployment.” — Arvind Thiruvengadam Padmavathy, assistant professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

“In the U.S. today, cars and truck produce the majority of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, responsible for climate change. Even though electric utilities produce the second most carbon dioxide, those emissions come from a single point source, a power plant, and can be captured more conveniently than trying to capture CO2 from the millions of vehicles on the road.” 

“EV work trucks create an opportunity for fleet owners to seriously consider adding EVs to their fleets. As EV demand picks up, not only will the recharging infrastructure need to catch up, but also the workforce to maintain EVs must be nurtured. Yet recently, most federal and OEM investment has focused on the vehicles and not on workforce training.” —Trina Wafle, Assistant Director, Energy Institute; Interim Director, National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.



CONTACT: J. Paige Nesbit
Director, Marketing and Communications
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources


Trina Wafle
Assistant Director, Energy Institute
Interim Director, National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium

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