California Will Ban New Gasoline Cars By 2035. The Grid Will Handle It

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California’s governor Gavin Newsom declared last week that the sale of new gasoline/diesel powered cars will be forbidden starting in 2035. This follows similar initiatives in Germany and several other countries, but is a first for the USA. Is it practical to go all electric in just 15 years?

Gasoline cars will still exist after 2035, of course. Used cars will be around for decades, and people will be able to buy new cars outside the state and bring them in, though that may get curtailed with time. Even before 2035, many people feel you would be crazy to want one, though. Electric cars are already considerably superior in performance for those who demand zoom-zoom. They are much cheaper to run and maintain. They currently cost more to buy, and people who don’t own them imagine there is a problem with the range and recharging.

Last week, Elon Musk promised that Tesla will sell a nice EV for $25,000 in just 3 years. While he might not keep that exact promise, it’s clear that by 2035, it will actually be even better than that. Possibly much better — minimalist EVs already sell for only $5,000 in China. (I’m an investor in a company developing a specialized EV aimed at a $6,500 price without subsidy.) In addition, by 2035 there will be a whole generation of used EVs on the market at very attractive price points. Collectors of old-style gasoline cars will still want those, but they won’t be banned.

As I noted above, people who don’t own them imagine range is a problem. People who do own them learn that with the modern cars with 200 miles of range or more, range is not the problem they imagined before they bought. Today, one caveat must be placed on this — you need to have charging at home, where you park your car, or at work. Today, EV use is not nearly so convenient for those who can’t do either of those, such as those who live in rental property or park on the street. That’s today, though. In 15 years, there is plenty of time to fix that problem with a variety of solutions, including getting charging in rental units and commuter parking lots, and even in some cases on the street.

The key to charging that makes it not a problem is to always charge when you’re doing something else. The ideal “something else” is sleeping or working, and those are the best places to put charging, but there are other options as well. Charging while you sleep or work takes zero time out of your day, and zero is even better than the time filling up at a gas pump takes.

This leaves the question of the grid. Where do we get all that power? It’s not that unreasonable. The California grid right now produces 200 TWH (200 billion kwh) per year. We also all know that sometimes it’s not enough, and they do “rolling blackouts” when the grid gets overloaded.

With a back-of-envelope suggestion that Californians drive 200B miles per year in cars, a typical EV efficiency that’s 55 more TWH needed. Of course, in 2035 there will still be all the gasoline cars sold before then, so we probably need less than half that, though over time we come to need all of it. In addition, trucks will also electrify — possibly even sooner, and want another 20TWH. So it’s a lot, but probably less than a 20% increase (over and above increases due to other things.

Solar power to the rescue

A revolution has happened in solar power. It’s gotten vastly cheaper. So much cheaper that today, it is the cheapest form of new power plant to install in a place like California. If you are going to build a new power plant, it is cheaper to make a solar one than a coal or gas one. (It’s still just a little bit cheaper to burn gas if you already have an efficient gas plant, which is one reason we do that, but we’re talking about new power needs.) The other reason we aren’t all solar is that solar has one big flaw — it goes off at night. We need power all day, so solar power can’t meet our industrial and residential needs without adding storage so you can store all that sunny-time power and get it back out at night or on rainy days.

To solve this, a whole industry is working on new storage techniques. But electric cars all come with storage. They are the dream of the renewables industry because they can and will take power when there is a surplus, and they rarely need it when there is a shortage. Just price it so that surplus power is cheap, and shortage power is very expensive, and owners will program their cars to recharge accordingly. Only those who truly need it will try to charge when the power isn’t at a good price.

If you have a 250 mile range car, as I do, you do some surprising math. The average car is driven 12,000 miles a year or only 33 miles/day. That means that 250 mile car can go a week between charges during average driving. Of course, real driving has periods of more and less driving, so the habit of most owners is just to charge every night while they sleep or every day while they work. That way they are ready even if they have to take very long drives multiple days in a row. In a pinch, they visit a “fast” charging station, which isn’t fast compared to gasoline, but does the job, and if you do it while stopping to eat or shop or anything else, still takes “zero” time.

As such, it would be a very rare situation to find an EV driver worried that they can’t charge during a power shortage or rolling blackout. In reality, those happen only every few years, and they always happen in the late afternoon of blistering days, when the air conditioners are going non-stop, with plenty of warning in advance.

Charging at night?

Today, most people charge at night for two reasons. The first is, they are asleep and parked at night. The other is that power is currently cheapest at night due to low demand. The rise of solar power will change the second, but not the first. As solar grows, power will become cheapest during the day, especially from 6am to 3pm, when there is tons of solar, but the peak of demand has not arisen. Solar power generated then will be stored for use later, and a great way to do that will be to put it into electric cars. (It will also go into a new generation of air conditioners that make ice when power is cheap and temperatures are lower, and use the ice to cool buildings when it’s expensive.)

This doesn’t mesh with charging at night. This means people will want to focus more on charging at work — or at home during the day if they don’t commute. They’ll still charge any time power is cheap, including at night when that happens, and when the sun rises but before they leave for work.

The cars of 2035 will have another important feature — self-driving abilities. That means they will have the ability to drive themselves to charging stations when power is cheap and they know they aren’t needed. This means people won’t necessarily have to install charging in every home or office parking lot, though low speed charging in office parking lots and homes can handle most of the need, with the cars scooting off to faster remote charging those times that is needed.

There is, sadly, a mismatch for the robotaxi. Robotaxis will find peak usage at rush hour (6-9am and 3-7pm) as well as a minor peak at lunch. 3-7pm has the most expensive power. Noon and 6am will have the highest solar surpluses — 6am because demand is low, and noon because solar is at its peak then. (Some solar plants point slightly west to have their peak later in the day when prices are highest.) That means they will all want to charge 9am-11:30am and 1:30pm-3pm, which is not an ideal charging pattern. However, some will charge in those other periods where power might be particularly cheap, as the whole fleet is rarely in use. Unlike a consumer car averaging 33 miles/day, a robotaxi would perhaps average 200-300 miles/day, depending on whether it serves longer highway rides. And yes, if needed they would charge at night using power from nuclear, geothermal, hydro, biomass and other clean sources at night, and even low cost energy storage as that is built. In particular, those hydro plants will be pumping water back into their reservoirs during any period of cheap power that the cars can’t use it, like morning rush hour.

So yes, we can handle this — in fact we could handle it today, and definitely will with the technology of 2035. What we can’t handle is the continued burning of all that gasoline, not just for the CO2 emitted, but all the other pollutants as well, including the deadly PM2.5 particles that kill thousands and clog the air, and the wars over the petroleum that is imported.

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