Can the grid handle millions of EVs? In Tennessee, distribution systems will be ‘canary in the coal mine’
There are about 18,500 EVs on Tennessee roads today, but the state is aiming for 200,000 by 2028.
“We have some work to do,” Alexa Voytek, energy programs administrator at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Office of Energy Programs, said on the panel.
TDEC has been working with TVA and other parties, including local governments and automakers, to prepare for rising EV adoption. A 2019 EV infrastructure assessment revealed the need for public or utility investment in fast charging infrastructure along highway corridors, “particularly given the low expected utilization in the short-term,” Voytek said.
In 2021, TDEC and TVA jointly committed to fund a network of charging stations 50 miles apart on Tennessee highways using funds from the Volkswagen Clean Air Act settlement, and now federal infrastructure funds as well. The state is expected to receive about $88 million over a five-year period from the federal government to help build a national charging network, though Tennessee must still submit a transportation infrastructure plan to the U.S. Department of Transportation by August, Voytek said.
Transportation electrification is a way to fulfill TVA’s core missions of energy, environment and economic development, Stanton said. If Tennessee reaches its EV adoption goal, it will result in about $200 million in annual consumer savings, he said. And over the last decade, there have been about $20 billion in EV manufacturing investments in TVA’s territory, he added.
The utility believes it can handle the load associated with full electrification of the transportation system.
“The load is not small by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re not talking about doubling or tripling existing energy use of the grid,” Stanton said. A “worst-case scenario” where all of Tennessee’s 10 million vehicles went electric today would add up to 30% new load, he said.
“We’re not seeing that the transmission system will be any kind of a bottleneck in the near term,” Stanton said. At the distribution level, however, “we’re going to start seeing some impacts, and improvements will need to be made to accommodate EVs.”