What happens to the power grid when your whole neighborhood drives EVs?

The doom-and-gloom crowd brings this one up every now and then, so we’re glad to be able to say, “No, the growing popularity of electric vehicles will not jeopardize the power grid.”

While utility companies are doing some complicated modeling and making plans for the challenges that may arise if everybody on your block plugs in their Volt at the same time, a team of engineers and mathematicians at the University of Vermont has come up with a simple, practical solution.

"The key to our approach is to break up the request for power from each car into multiple small chunks – into packets," says UVM Prof. Jeff Frolik, co-author on the new study, in a summary published by EnvironmentalResearchWeb.

By using the nation's growing network of "smart meters," the new approach would let a car charge for, say, five or ten minutes at a time, according to the report.  And then the car would "get back into the line," so to speak, and make another request for power. If demand was low, it would continue charging, but if it was high, the car would have to wait.

"The vehicle doesn't care. And, most of the time, as long as people get charged by morning, they won't care either," says UVM's Paul Hines, an expert on power systems and co-author on the study. "By charging cars in this way, it's really easy to let everybody share the capacity that is available on the grid."

"Some of the other systems are way too complicated," says Hines, who has extensive experience working with actual power companies. "In a big city, a utility doesn't want to be managing millions of tiny auctions. Ours is a much simpler system that gets the job done without overloading the grid and gets people what they want the vast majority of the time."