On a per capita electricity production basis, environmentalists are winning the war on energy

Electricity for all, which was once considered the goal of technological progress, is now treated like a giant step on the road to an ecological Apocalypse. As a result, we've increased regulation and decreased generation and the price per kilowatt-hour has gone up and supply per capita has gone down. We can thank a confluence of bad ideas, chiefly subsidies for inefficient and expensive green alternatives, penalties for coal and natural gas, and a war on nuclear science.

And every time there is a storm we learn new ways the infrastructure is already weak. With higher costs, reduced supply and knowing how fragile the electric grid situation is, it seems bizarre to be encouraging electric cars that would add even more strain.

Yet we are. Thanks to government subsidies, the promise of car pool lane access even for single drivers, and a rich core of well-meaning, guilt-ridden consumers that has been convinced electric cars are better for the environment, the USA bought 96,000 Chevy Volt's, Tesla's and Nissan Leaf's last year. That's nothing, really, under 2 percent of overall car sales, but it was up 84 percent from 2102 - and it is a harbinger of our doom

Why is it a problem? Because an electric car charger in your house is basically the same load on the electric grid as if you added another house. You won't see that in Chevy Volt marketing brochures, though.

Smart meters won't help much if electric cars become popular. Credit: DOE

The aging electrical distribution won't be fixed because it isn't a crisis yet. It also won't be able to handle a bunch of new electric cars.

The electric-vehicle owning public is already on edge about charging their cars. A kind of Soylent-Green-About-Electricity culture has emerged, leading to instances of "charge rage", where panicky electric car owners at work are firing off hostile emails to fellow employees who haven't moved their cars away from the plug fast enough. Imagine the tension if sales almost double again this year.

Adding more plugs is not the answer, is it just creating a larger problem when houses and businesses across the state have blackouts due to afternoon grid crashes, when everyone needs to charge up so they can make the drive home.

If sales remain low, it won't be an issue. Since it is not a practical environmental fix - the environment is why people buy them but mass acceptance of electric cars wouldn't do anything much to help with emissions - it may remain a niche market driven by advertising. If they do continue to gain in popularity, it could be a problem. Most people realize the electricity to charge them has to come from somewhere. Given the current regulatory climate, new power plants using traditional energy are hard to build,while $72 billion of taxpayer money on green energy subsidies hasn't come close to being a realistic alternative.

Yet at some point - we may have a breakthrough in 5 years, it may take 40 years - we will have a common-sense approach to nuclear, or solar will become viable or, if we try long enough, fusion may even work, so it is worthwhile thinking about the strain on the electrical grid now if most cars become electric.

Writing in IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid, researchers have come up with an interesting way to manage grid strain before there is a collapse and we get stuck with the usual political demagoguery - they want to break up requests for power into into small packets.

If that sounds like a torrent approach, well, yeah, it is. They say that by using existing "smart" meters they can optimize lulls in demand and even out the grid strain. So perhaps a car attached to smart meter plugs would charge for 5 minutes and then be paused while the electricity is used somewhere else as spot demand goes up. It's more elegant than a torrent or a T-1 line because it isn't simply reacting, their method is driven by rising and falling probabilities.

And taking the torrent approach further, they even say the charging can be anonymous. I have no idea why anyone cares if the government knows that their electric car is charging in a company parking lot but in an era where the NSA wants to monitor everything, privacy about electric vehicles would be a small victory.

Most importantly, their approach prevents the grid from being overloaded, an issue that is not going way. "And the problem of peaks and valleys is becoming more pronounced as we get more intermittent power — wind and solar — in the system," said paper co-author Paul Hines from the University of Vermont in their statement.

It won't solve the problems of higher-priced electricity and lower production or Charge Rage aggression, but if those problems are not fixed at least everyone would be stuck on the side of the road equally when they try to drive home, rather than just the people who got to a plug too late. And for elites who absolutely must be at the front of the line, utilities could charge more to have a dedicated plug that isn't optimized.

The authors have applied for a patent.

Citation: Rezaei, P., Frolik, J., Hines, P.D.H, 'Packetized Plug-In Electric Vehicle Charge Management', IEEE Transactions on  Smart Grid, Volume:5 , Issue: 2 March 2014  Pages 642 - 650, DOI: 10.1109/TSG.2013.2291384