Calif. Plan, N.Y. Heat May Foretell Car/Power Gridlock

Thursday, 08 Jul 2010 06:02 PM

By Mike Tighe

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A proposed law in California and a heat wave on the opposite side of the country are colliding to illustrate the potential for a gridlock of a whole new sort as the age of hybrid cars advances.

Fried electrical grids could be a bigger concern than tied traffic grids.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law Wednesday that extends permission for solo drivers of vehicles that run on electricity or compressed natural gas to use carpool lanes into 2015, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Otherwise, that privilege would have ended Jan. 1.

But another proposal that could reverberate along the Pacific Coast Highway — to broaden the perk to other vehicles — could collide with reality like a crash-test dummy, say experts in The Golden State and in The Big Apple.

That bill would extend the carpool privilege to 40,000 more vehicles, plus plug-in hybrids, the Mercury News reports.

Some experts question the workability of the plan, saying that the electrical infrastructure simply doesn’t exist to charge so many cars without straining the power grid.

Echoing that concern is the automotive blogger at The New York Times, in light of the fact that the Big Apple is sweltering in a thermometer-busting heat wave.

Much of the country also is shriveling in the heat, causing power outages in some areas, Jim Motavalli notes in the Times’ “Wheels” blog.

“Suppose the summer peak load also included plug-in electric cars?” Motavalli frets. “The consumption from a charging E.V. can cause a home’s load to double, so it’s worth considering the potential for electric cars to cause brownouts when more of the cars are eventually on the streets.”

Others told Motavalli that they share his concern. “In a situation like New York is in right now, charging electric vehicles could add to the burden pretty significantly,” said Jack Nerad, an executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

The load would be much less if electric cars were charged overnight, “but there’s no guarantee of that,” Motavalli quoted him as saying.

Electrical vehicle expert Phil Gott speculated that utilities will see the demand and prepare for it. Maybe.

“If they elect not to take it seriously, then yes, we’ll have issues,” Gott acknowledged.

For its part, Con Ed, New York City’s major purveyor of electricity, short-circuits such concern, although it has been asking customers to turn off nonessential power because of the strain its grid is enduring amid recent oven-like conditions.

“We don’t foresee a problem because of the small number of vehicles expected over the next few years,” Con Ed spokeswoman Sara Banda told Motavalli.

Unless, of course, those lights at the end of the darkened Lincoln Tunnel are hybrids, looking for an outlet.

For the Wheels blog in The New York Times — Click Here Now.

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