California Solar Is Ready for EV

California electricity consumption from all sources is currently running at 255 TWh per year. (For comparison, the United Kingdom is currently running at roughly 335 TWh per year). And, last year, solar provided over 27 TWh of power to California, just over 10% of the state’s total demand. About a third of that solar was sourced from smaller scale installations—domestic and commercial rooftops, and ground mounted arrays. The other two thirds came from the large, utility scale solar projects now spread across California’s interior. Using Google’s map function, most of these (100+ MW) are listed below, as are a number of planned projects of similar scale.

Based on the current project pipeline, and the continued integration of small scale solar, total solar output in California should reach approximately 34 TWh this year, 40 TWh next year, 52 TWh in 2019, and 64 TWh in 2020. Would that be enough growth to handle the first meaningful pull on electricity, as the state’s automobile fleet turns more forcefully towards electric vehicles? Indeed it would. More than enough.

If 10% of California’s current demand for gasoline were to divert to electricity, that would require—at best, and being overly conservative—about 26 TWh of new electricity supply. As it happens, that’s almost exactly as much solar power (27 TWh) as the state produced last year. California is a large producer of wind power as well. Last year, wind power pushed California’s wind and solar total to 41 TWh, more than enough to handle the first 10% cut to California’s gasoline demand. By the end of the decade, even if EV were to reach 20% of California’s light duty automobile fleet (they won’t; that adoption rate is too aggressive) growth in California wind and solar power would easily handle that next tranche of demand. If current California gasoline demand was cut by 20% in the transition to EV, that demand could be served by 50-60 new TWh of electricity from wind and solar.

Now that solar power is the cheapest new form of new electricity on the planet, there is very little risk that broad EV adoption will force energy systems to regress, to coal or natural gas. Moreover, the thermodynamic savings harvested as vehicles transition from combustion to wind and solar created electricity will produce an overall step down in primary energy demand. California solar (and wind) are more than ready for the EV.

–Gregor Macdonald

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Further Reading:

Quora: If all cars in the US suddenly become electric, how much more electricity do we need to produce (in percentage)?

Brattle Group: Electrification – Emerging Opportunities for Utility Growth (pdf)