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Surprising Science

Simultaneous Car Charging Means Extra Demands on Grid

The increase in electric cars may lead to extra demands -- and costs -- on power grids during the early evening hours. Researchers are looking for ways around this dilemma that won't hobble sustainability efforts.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

Recent data collected from residents of Mueller, a sustainably-designed neighborhood in Austin, TX, shows that when people get home from work, they tend to turn everything on — and that includes the charger for their electric cars. The study examined electricity use in 10 households over two months, and found that at each home the power demand went up significantly between 3:00 and 8:00 pm. The pattern continued even on weekends and despite the presence of charging stations installed around Mueller.

What’s the Big Idea?

According to researchers, “The cars in Mueller draw about as much power as a home’s central air-conditioning unit, and the two loads dwarf that from any other appliances.” The resulting strain onthe grid could mean higher costs for power suppliers, and if they have to pass those on to customers, it could hinder the spread of electric cars. Next steps for the research consortium Pecan Street, which is conducting the study, include quizzing residents on their energy habits and looking for ways in which utilities can adapt to customer needs. One possible solution comes from California, where San Diego Gas & Electric notes a correlation between electric car and rooftop solar panel usage.

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