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Electric vehicles will have an impact on local power grids

The heavy dependency on fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, along with the drive to limit greenhouse gases, have presented a global concern in the past few decades. Despite the best efforts of many governments to move toward renewable energy solutions, there are technological and economical considerations that affect the short-term outlook.

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With the growing efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions, the number of electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids on our streets, have been increasing steadily.

What would happen to our power grid, when tens of thousands, even millions, of electric cars users begin charging their vehicles every day, throughout the day, at work, at home or office?

Transportation and utilities experts view that in terms of energy usage, electric vehicles and hybrid cars requirements are a small part of the nation’s electricity consumption. However, local power distribution systems, at city level or even in neighborhood clusters, may be impacted when many residents plug into the grid at the same time. Most experts agree that EV charging late at night – or overnight – versus daytime peak usage, will not only be economical when power rates are the cheapest, but also the impact on the local power grid will be minimal.

In municipalities that run their own utilities, such as the City of Palo Alto in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA, electrical distribution will be affected if thousands of vehicles will be charged during the day. The city’s Utilities Advisory Commission has developed an initial report examining the potential impact and future load on the city’s electric grid. The Utilities Advisory Commission (UAC) goals are to provide advice to the Palo Alto City Council on electric, gas and water resources; joint action projects with other entities; and the environmental implications of utility projects, conservation and demand management. For more information, check UAC meeting information.

In a Utilities Advisory Commission meeting in May 2009, the Cityof Palo Alto decided to apply for grant funding to install approximately 250 electric vehicles charge stations within the City, in a joint application with other Bay Area Cities, as well as to collaborate with Project Better Place in another grant application to the Department Of Energy to regarding various elements of the EV infrastructure, with a focus on interfacing with the electric grid.

Along with Tesla Motors (CEO and Product Architect Elon Musk) move into the Stanford Research Park in Palo Alto in the near future and Better Place electric vehicles already in the city (co-founded by Shai Agassi, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur), Palo Alto has been attracting attention as a host to the world's first mass-produced electric cars and electric vehicle services.

The City of Santa Clara in Silicon Valley, California, which runs its own municipal electric utility, will face a similar challenge in the next few years. The city has a huge demand for electricity due to concentration of high tech businesses, a vast number of clean rooms, research and development facilities, manufacturing plants, mission-critical servers and networks. There are also tens of thousands of day-commute workers, who might use plug-in vehicles in the next decade.

Silicon Valley Power, the City of Santa Clara's electric utility comapny, has been serving many of these massive enterprises since their inception. We have worked hand in hand with our customers to develop the clean, reliable delivery of power they require. Our energy solutions are field-proven. Businesses large and small recognize the SVP advantage, and see us as an invaluable partner.

Silicon Valley Power (SVP) is currently building a new 147-megawatt (MW) power plant that will reduce the need for imports into the area over congested power lines. The high-efficiency and flexibility of the new combined-cycle power plant enhances the diversity of SVP's mostly renewable energy portfolio.

Overloading the current local power-grid, electrical distribution and a growing demand are definitely issues that cities have yet to plan now on how to accommodate an influx of electric vehicles in the future.