When the weather gets hot in the summer?and with global warming, summers are going to be hotter than ever?we’re all familiar with electrical “brown outs,” where our air conditioners and appliances don’t work as well as they used to?and sometimes even stop working, due to overload of the electrical grid. What we may not realize is that the growing number of plug-in hybrid electric cars, such as the Chevrolet “Volt” and the upcoming hybrid electric/gasoline Prius, may cause this too, depending on what time of day or night these vehicles are charged!

The assumption is that owners will charge them only at night, but researcher Stan Hadley says, “That assumption doesn’t necessarily take into account human nature. Consumers’ inclination will be to plug in when convenient, rather than when utilities would prefer. Utilities will need to create incentives to encourage people to wait. There are also technologies such as ?smart? chargers that know the price of power, the demands on the system and the time when the car will be needed next to optimize charging for both the owner and the utility that can help too.”

There is a projection of 25% market penetration of hybrid vehicles by 2020, including a mixture of sedans and sport utility vehicles. Several electricity-use scenarios have been run for each region in the US for the years 2020 and 2030 and the times of 5 p.m. or 10:00 p.m.

In the worst-case scenario?if all hybrid owners charged their vehicles at 5 p.m., at six kilowatts of power?up to 160 large power plants would be needed nationwide to supply the extra electricity, and the demand would reduce the reserve power margins for a particular region’s system.

The best-case scenario occurs when vehicles are plugged in after 10 p.m., when the electric load on the system is at a minimum and the wholesale price for energy is least expensive. Depending on the power demand per household, charging vehicles after 10 p.m. would require, at lower demand levels, no additional power generation or, in higher-demand projections, just eight additional power plants nationwide.

Higher gas prices have sent researchers scrambling to find new ways to power cars. But high prices aren’t all bad: an unanticipated benefit is that a 20% increase in gasoline prices may be associated with nearly 2,600 fewer deaths nationally from motor vehicle crashes and air pollution.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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