Will the California electric grid never have capacity for its residents’ electric vehicles?

By September 1, 2022 September 8th, 2022 Environment, Technology, Transport

We came across the following post on reddit:

The post links to an article on the site Citizens News titled ‘California electric company admits it will NEVER be able to charge everybody’s electric vehicles’.

Heavily referencing as its primary source a news article from CBS News, the Citizens News article says that a decision by the California governor to phase out the sale of gas-powered (petrol-powered) vehicles by 2035 will ‘eventually kill California’s grid’ as ‘there will not be enough electric capacity to power everyone’.

The Citizens News article then goes on to speculate that the goal of the policy change may have been to ‘deprive the general population of energy so they are at the behest of the state control’.

The article makes the following key claims:

  • California’s new policy is a push to ‘completely outlaw all gas-powered vehicles’
  • The massive influx of electric vehicles caused by this policy will ‘kill California’s grid’

Dousing the Flames

We first sought to verify the details of California’s new policy on gas-powered vehicles.

According to the website of the governor of California, new regulations would mandate that ‘100 percent of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks are zero-emission by 2035’—in effect prohibiting the sales from 2035 of gas-powered vehicles.

However, the announcement also adds that the executive order ‘will not prevent Californians from owning gasoline-powered cars or selling them on the used car market’.

It is therefore false that the new policy would completely outlaw gas-powered vehicles.

The Shocking Reality

To investigate the claims about California’s electric grid, we did some further research and compared the conclusions drawn in the Citizens News article against the details in the CBS article.

It is true that California’s electric grid is under strain. Multiple news reports, including some from recent weeks, have referenced California’s power grid operator requesting that residents cut back on power usage to reduce strain during times of high load, such as during heatwaves.

To address this, the CBS article quotes Jack Brouwer, a professor at University of California, Irvine (UCI) who has been researching the required investments in grid infrastructure in order to make California’s 2035 policy target on gas-powered vehicles a success.

Brouwer states that ‘the grid does not currently have the capability to add millions of… electric vehicles today’. He adds that California must invest in both battery-electric and fuel-cell electric vehicles as ‘the grid cannot charge every single transportation application’ and that California would fail if it attempted to switch only to battery-electric vehicles.

Battery-electric vehicles are charged with electricity from the grid, while a fuel-cell electric vehicle takes an energy source—often hydrogen—and converts it into electrical energy. Fuel-celled electric vehicles therefore need to be refuelled like a conventional car rather than recharged. Hydrogen-electric cars also produce zero carbon emissions, releasing only water while in use.

Brouwer’s remarks reflect his expert opinion that relying solely on battery-electric vehicles would be excessive for California’s electric grid. However, his recommendation of investing in hydrogen-electric vehicles points to a potential solution for relieving stress on the grid and ensuring capacity.

CBS also quotes the spokesperson of Southern California Edison, a California company that provides power to 14 million people, who informs that the company is investing over $5 billion in modernising the grid in order to meet the future needs of customers. There is no indication given by the company that it would not be able to meet the needs of residents, as suggested in the reddit post.

Returning to the claims made in the Citizens News article, it is true that California’s electric grid cannot currently support all of its residents switching to electric vehicles. It may, however, be possible by 2035 if investments are made to grid infrastructure and also in hydrogen-electric vehicles

Given that the Citizens News article appeared in identical form across multiple sites that do not have any track record of credibility, the article may be a concerted effort at discrediting the California governor’s initiative and climate-friendly policies. These sites also indicate that the article was originally produced on Natural News, a far-right platform that has been found to promote conspiracy theories and disinformation.

It is therefore false that the California grid will never have capacity for its residents’ electric vehicles.

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