Climate Compass Blog

Plug-In Electric Vehicles Could Help the Grid: The Capacity Question

This is the first post in a three-part series that explores some potential impacts of electric vehicles on the electrical grid. Part 2 and Part 3.

One of the main concerns over the electrification of vehicles is their impact on the electrical grid. Will they lead to power outages due to the increased demand in certain areas? Will a marked increase in electricity demand raise prices for consumers who don’t own a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) or an all-electric vehicle (EV)? In a series of blog posts, we’ll take a look at a claim from some utilities that vehicle electrification could actually help improve the stability of the grid while keeping costs low through a process called frequency regulation.

In this post, we’ll try to answer the capacity question. In order to determine whether the grid has the capacity to handle the influx of Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs or PHEVs/EVs), utilities must estimate at what time of day these vehicles will demand power from the grid and how many of them the grid can charge at a time without causing power disruptions.

Start Your Energy Diet

Earth Day – it’s the perfect day to start your energy diet. It’s great to hug a tree, (in fact, that’s how you measure the carbon it sequesters) but for most of us, it’s even better to wrap our arms around that tangle of charger cords and pull the plug.  Reducing your energy consumption is the very best way to honor Mother Earth – and save money – this year and every year.

Since I am perpetually on a diet, let me share some of the best strategies for getting started:

Business-NGO Group Calls on Obama for Greater Consumer Access to Energy Data

A group of nearly 50 companies and organizations, including the Center, sent President Obama a letter this month asking the Administration to lead the way to providing all consumers access to their energy information.  The April 5 letter calls for giving consumers access to this information via devices such as computers and phones; making it easier for them to monitor and manage their energy use.

With timely and actionable information on energy consumption, households and businesses can avoid inefficiencies that drive up consumer costs and greenhouse gas emissions.  Through its Make an Impact program, we also works to weave sustainability and energy efficiency into the fabric of its partners’ corporate culture. The program provides accessible information to employees and their communities on ways to reduce energy use, lower their carbon footprint, and save money. These savings can be significant: If every U.S. household saved 15% on its energy use by 2020, GHG savings would be equivalent to taking 35 million cars off the road and would   save consumers $46 billion on their energy bills each year. 

Regulating Petroleum

We recently released a report that describes the petroleum sector from production to consumption and examines options for including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from petroleum use under climate policy (e.g., GHG cap and trade). Currently, policymakers are considering multiple approaches for coverage of petroleum under comprehensive climate and energy legislation. In deciding how to address a sector of the economy or a particular fuel, policymakers must balance the goals of ensuring maximum coverage of emissions, minimizing administrative complexity and burden, avoiding creating perverse incentives or market distortions, and promoting emission reductions.

While the details of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate and energy proposal in the Senate are yet to be released, press reports indicate that the trio is likely to adopt a new approach to covering transportation fuels—the so-called “linked fee.” Unlike other proposals in the House or Senate, the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman approach would reportedly levy a “carbon fee” on transportation fuels with the fee amount linked to the carbon price from a GHG cap-and-trade program covering at least electric utilities. The forthcoming details of how the “carbon fee” is linked to the cap-and-trade market will determine whether such an approach can lead to significant emissions reductions from transportation and whether such an approach can yield the economy-wide emissions reductions needed to protect the climate.

Our new report includes information relevant to the linked-fee approach. For example, the report calculates that about 80 percent of combustion emissions from petroleum use are attributable to transportation fuels that are already subject to federal fuel excise taxes. Untaxed transportation fuels and large and small stationary combustion sources account for the remainder of emissions from petroleum use. This means that a linked fee could be implemented at least in part by covering the same entities that currently pay the fuel tax. 

Another Senate proposal, the Cantwell-Collins Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal (CLEAR) Act, creates an economy-wide cap-and-trade program—in this case just covering CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use. The CLEAR Act adopts an entirely “upstream” point of regulation that would make “first sellers” (i.e., coal mine and natural gas and oil well owners) responsible for surrendering cap-and-trade allowances for end-use emissions from the fossil fuels they sell. As the new Pew Center report explains, there are about a half million oil wells in the United States. Of the nearly 14,000 domestic well operators tracked by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the 10 largest (e.g., BP, Chevron) account for about half of total production, and the 670 largest account for about 90 percent of production.

The House-passed comprehensive climate and energy bill (H.R. 2454, the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009) also included an economy-wide GHG cap-and-trade program. Waxman-Markey, however, would require petroleum refiners and importers to surrender cap-and-trade allowances equal to the GHG emissions from the final end use of their products (e.g., tailpipe emissions from vehicles). This point of regulation for petroleum would achieve complete coverage of combustion emissions and regulate a small number of entities and facilities (about 150 refiners with 67 different owners and a larger number of importers and points of entry). Of note, Waxman-Markey adopted different points of regulation for different emission sources--including large sources (e.g., coal and natural gas power plants and industrial sources) and local natural gas distribution companies (residential, commercial, and small industrial natural gas users).

With different proposals in play, our new report can inform policymakers and others considering options for reducing GHG emissions from petroleum use and help advance approaches that balance the goals of emissions coverage, administrative ease, and cost-effective and significant emission reductions.

Steve Caldwell is a Technology and Policy Fellow

Key Roles for States and EPA

This post first appeared today in the National Journal Energy & Environment Experts blog.

As with many aspects of climate policy, there is some truth to the arguments on both sides of the debate over how federal legislation should treat state action and EPA Clean Air Act (CAA) authority. The answer is less about who is right or wrong and more about appropriately balancing the strengths and weaknesses brought to the table by states and the federal government. Both have important roles to play in a strong federal climate and clean energy program.