“Many automakers have detailed plans to electrify large portions of their fleets over the next decade, with some announcing goals for fully electrified lineups within five years,” reports Consumer Reports.
“We’re committed to putting every driver in an electric vehicle on a scale previously unseen and bringing the world to an all-electric future,” General Motors says on its web site.
But if we plug them in will they power up?
Extreme weather conditions that caused power outages and shortages in Louisiana, Texas, and California have exposed major weaknesses in the nation’s power grid. Hurricane Ida has disrupted power in south Louisiana for days – some were still without power last week. Early this year extreme cold disrupted power across Texas for days. Extreme heat and raging fires continue to disrupt power across California. Ida and winter storms disrupted power in Mississippi too. Then there are tornadoes, floods, and other weather events that shut down power in many states.
What does this portend for a future where more and more Americans will need persistent power for electric vehicles?
“Redundancy and resiliency when it comes to power is something we have long understood will be an issue,” Austin, Texas, Capitol Metro spokeswoman Jenna Maxfield told Reuters, after outages left electric buses inoperable for days. “Reliability keeps you awake,” California Energy Commission member Siva Gunda told Reuters.
Having power generation capacity is one thing. Having continuous access to power is another. As more and more extreme weather events impact communities, concerns about access are growing.
“Among 638 transmission outage events reported from 2014 to 2018, severe weather was cited as the predominant cause,” states the ACSE 2021 Infrastructure Report Card. “Additionally, distribution infrastructure struggles with reliability, with 92% of all outages occurring along these segments.”
Following hurricane damage in the McComb area, Enterprise-Journal Editor Jack Ryan wrote, “The widespread destruction of utility lines during Hurricane Ida is only the latest in decades worth of such damage…. But as the nation has become more dependent on electricity, it’s likely that the discussion of greater protection of the grid will increase.”
Replacing legacy systems with more resilient power lines, substations, and transformers, building more back-up power stations, and hardening grids and power plants would cost billions if not trillions of dollars nationwide. Then there is the growing need for physical and cyber security.
Central District Public Service Commissioner Brent Bailey wrote in his August 25 newsletter, “The big questions are can grid infrastructure keep up as it ages and what are the costs to ensure the system can adequately deliver during times of stress?” A commission-ordered comprehensive utility infrastructure review is underway.
Bloomberg projects over $1 trillion is needed to fix America’s “aging dinosaur” power grid. The pending (doomed?) infrastructure bill in Congress would provide $73 billion toward improvements. Consumers would have to bear the rest through rate increases, forcing Bailey and his colleagues to balance need versus cost in Mississippi.
Note: Blessings to all utility workers who toil so relentlessly to restore power after disruptions.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” – Philippians 4:6.
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.