Electric Vehicles and the electric grid: Your questions answered

Thousands of electric car charging stations coming nationwide
Posted at 8:59 AM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 09:00:18-05

CLEVELAND — Electric Vehicles (EV) are becoming more coming and major auto-makers say they’re only going to be making more of them over the next few years.

When News 5 Cleveland reported on NOACA’s plan to install 48 electric charging stations in Northeast Ohio in the spring, viewers had plenty of thoughts, questions, and concerns.

The issues that kept popping up most often revolved around:

  • How/can the electrical grid support the extra demand?
  • What will the chargers be powered by?
  • Charging costs

The “Grid”

The Build Back Better Act moving through Congress right now is offering $7.5 billion to install 500,000 EV charging stations over the next decade. Local experts say Northeast Ohio would need about 10,000 to make EV’s more common in our region.

FirstEnergy tells News 5 that the current grid capacity in Ohio can handle incremental increases from additional charging stations and that annual upgrades make sure that it can keep handling that increased usage.

Major car manufacturers have already promised to convert sizable parts of their cars to electric vehicles in the coming years, joining Tesla, which only makes electric vehicles.

“We can handle any type of incremental boost in the amount of electricity that’s used because we plan for it,” said FirstEnergy Spokesperson Mark Durbin. “Our system is designed to handle a large volume of electricity going through it we make enhancements every year to make sure the system is in a good spot.”

On top of that work, FirstEnergy is also part of the National Electric Highway Coalition (NEHC), where electric companies are working together to make sure there are plenty of EV charging stations along major travel routes from coast to coast. That kind of step would reduce the anxiety drivers might have about having a low battery and not having a place to recharge.

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Apps can help EV drivers find charging stations along their route, helping them feel confident that they won't run out of charge.

“The ultimate goal is to establish that highway coast to coast that somebody can travel without fear that they’re going to run out of power somewhere along the way,” said Durbin.

Many of the chargers that would be installed along highways or interstates would be fast chargers, which would give most cars a nearly full charge in about 30 minutes.

EV charging power sources

Powering the chargers is a big focus as well since EV charging stations powered by fossil fuels at least partially defeats the purpose for some drivers to “go green.”

Durbin points out that FirstEnergy doesn’t do power generation, they just deliver it to our homes and businesses. But he says at least electric vehicles get more drivers using less gas in the short run.

Tesla's large display screen helps drivers find Tesla's network of EV chargers, especially when the charge is running low.

“Right now there’s a need for a mix of different generation sources but down the road, as the wind turbine and the solar panels and the other alternative forms of energy are more prevalent, that’s something that has to be addressed,” said Durbin.

Cost for a charge

Cost was another big topic viewers asked about and right now it largely depends on the type of EV and how low its battery is.

Estimates say a charge from a public unit might cost about the cost of a full tank of gas, maybe a little more or less depending on the EV’s range.

This charger at a church in Shaker Heights is free to use. The church has a donation box next to the plug.

Having a charger installed at home often helps cut down on the price after the initial installation costs. Charging a vehicle overnight also has the added benefit of drawing electricity from the grid at a time when demand is usually low, which helps cut down on the demand during the day.

Some public chargers are also free, installed by malls, businesses, or hotels as a perk of shopping or staying there.

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