Can Californians charge electric cars during the summer heat?


As Californians grapple with the growing impacts of climate change, few things have become more daunting than summer heatwaves.

This year, the scorching temperatures came early, prompting the first energy-saving advisory of the summer on June 17 and sparking speculation on social media about the heat’s impact on electric car owners.

“California literally just told everyone not to charge their electric cars because of a power shortage,” one reads June 18 post on Facebook, which has been shared over 46,000 times.

“So California just asked everyone to stop charging electric cars due to power outages… another, posted June 21.

There is good news for electric car owners – the rumors lack context and are not entirely true.

But the posts quickly spread online and migrated from Facebook to other platforms, including Twitter.

They also sparked a discussion about whether California has the resources to continue moving towards electric vehicles in search of a greener future.

“California can’t provide enough electricity for homes and businesses, but it is forcing everyone to drive more electric cars,” one article read. Publish on Facebook. “I am continually amazed at how stupid leftists can be.”

Facebook flagged the posts as part of its efforts to tackle fake news and disinformation on its news feed, so we decided to investigate. (Read more about PolitiFact California Partnership with Facebook.)

The alert

The California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, is the nonprofit organization responsible for operating and managing much of California’s electricity grid. It regularly issues energy saving advisories when the network is faced with difficult conditions, such as intense heat or forest fires.

The notices, known as Flex Alerts, encourage Californians to shift their energy use to certain times of the day when the electricity grid is less strained.

“A flex alert is not a power outage,” said Gil Tal, director of the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis. “It’s a way to avoid blackouts. We don’t like being told not to use electricity, but it’s a much better situation than sitting in the dark if the grid is on. collapse. “

Usually, alerts ask residents to conserve electricity during the evening hours, when people are still awake and using electricity but some energy sources, such as solar power, are not available.

“On a good day, solar power in California may be half the generation,” said Severin Borenstein, professor of business and public policy at UC Berkeley and director of the Energy Institute at Haas School of Business at the university. “And so when we start to lose it, we have to have other things. One of the problems that arises on very hot days when the demand is very high is that we may not have enough of it. other resources to maintain balance in the system. “

By announcing the Flex Alert on June 17, CAISO encouraged people to voluntarily reduce their electricity use from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The ad included advice on how Californians could save energy and advised residents to perform tasks involving large amounts of energy, such as using large appliances and recharging electric vehicles, before the ‘alert to “be as comfortable as possible” during the evening hours.

The advisory never explicitly told Californians not to charge electric vehicles – just to change their charging times, if possible, to accommodate limited resources at night.

“It’s completely voluntary,” Borenstein said. “Usually there aren’t even any financial incentives. It’s just a plea and that also applies to electric vehicles.”

How electric cars charge

Today, there are just under 630,000 electric cars on Golden State roads, according to the California Energy Commission. While they come in many shapes, sizes, and designs, they all work the same way: drive, park, and plug in as needed.

How long and how often electric cars are charged depends on a variety of factors, including the distance the car has traveled, the car’s maximum range, and the type of outlet it is plugged into.

Borenstein said fully charging a vehicle can take hours.

“If you plug into a regular old 110-[volt] outlet, it can take all night just to replenish a battery that has traveled 100 miles during the day, ”he said. “Most of the houses that have a load have at least 220-[volt] take and charge about twice as fast. “

But most daily commutes won’t completely drain an electric car’s battery. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration shows that residents of the San Francisco Bay Area averaged about 20.7 miles per day in 2019. In Los Angeles, that number was 22. 5 miles a day and in Sacramento it was 22.3 miles.

So most modern electric cars don’t need to be recharged daily, Tal said.

Many are plugged in every alternate day and come with timers so homeowners can schedule their loads. While electric car drivers might initially balk at power outages and conservation notices, Tal said these events are generally “no problem.”

“A Flex Alert lasts for a few hours and there are very, very few electric car drivers who need to charge their cars during those specific few hours,” Tal said. “Most drivers today and tomorrow will be able to delay it for a few hours or days if necessary.”

Does California have the power to go green?

In 2019, renewable sources produced just over 30% of California’s electricity. In 2015, the State is committed to increasing this number 50% by 2030 and Governor Gavin Newsom issued a decree last year which requires all new cars sold in California to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

“California is really at the forefront of integrating wind and solar into generation,” Borenstein said. “California also has a much higher EV penetration than any other state, so we’re at the cutting edge of technology there as well. This gives us the opportunity to be a leader in the coordination of electric vehicles. with intermittent renewable energies. “

If everyone drove an electric vehicle, Tal said Californians would “double” their electricity use in their homes. But the change is unlikely to happen quickly, and the current grid is able to withstand short-term increases in the number of electric cars.

“We can have millions of electric cars on the grid today without a problem,” Tal said. “We have less than a million today and we can go down to three, four, five million without doing any serious upgrades.”

In the long term, California’s electricity grid will need to generate and store more electricity to reliably transition to a fully electrified fleet. But Tal said the process should go smoothly if the changes happen “together.”

Borenstein said this was not the first time the power grid had to adapt to emerging technologies, comparing the switch to electric cars to the days when air conditioning became popular in the 1950s. Over the years, the network has managed to increase its capacity to meet energy demands.

The air conditioning units tend to go off at around the same times as outdoor temperatures rise during the day and fall at night, which posed an additional challenge for the 1950s power grid. Borenstein said the cars electrics will likely have an easier fit.

“We will also have to build our capacity here,” Borenstein said. “But we’re probably not going to have to develop our capabilities so much because not everyone has to charge at the same time.”

As California shifts to electric vehicles and renewable energy sources, Borenstein said market forces would likely favor charging during times when energy is more plentiful.

“I think that’s where we’re going,” he said. “We’re not going to make it illegal to charge your car at some point, but it will be cheaper to charge it when the grid is actually more abundant in electricity and more expensive when the grid is tight.”

Our decision

Articles on social media claimed that California had told owners of electric cars to “not charge” their vehicles due to a blackout.

The messages appear to refer to a Flex Alert that was issued by the California Independent System Operator on June 17. The alert encouraged Californians to voluntarily save energy and recharge their electric vehicles before 5 p.m. to minimize possible stress on the electricity grid during the first major heatwave of the summer.

CAISO officials never said people couldn’t charge their vehicles. Instead, they asked electric vehicle owners to change their charging schedules to accommodate limited energy sources at night.

Additionally, experts say most EVs only need a few hours of charging each night and come with timers so owners can schedule charging times, allowing Californians to voluntarily comply with the charge. Flex alert.

The messages also started a debate on whether the California grid will be able to respond to efforts to move towards electric vehicles in the years to come. But experts said the transition is expected to be smooth as long as the shift to electric cars is coordinated with efforts to promote renewable energy sources and improve grid capacity.

The posts totally misinterpreted the Flex Alert and fueled largely unfounded fears about California’s move towards green energy. Therefore, we rate these claims as false.

FALSE – The statement is not correct.

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