Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall.

Last week, we broke down the basics of how our electric grid works. Today, we’re tackling a more specific question.

If we all switch over to electric cars, can the grid handle it? To find out I called up our founder Stephen Porder, who’s also the Provost of Sustainability at Brown University. Welcome, Stephen.

Stephen Porder: Hi Megan, good to be here. Good to hear from you.

Megan Hall: Last week, we talked about how the electric grid can’t store any energy, it basically has to make electricity in the moment to respond to our needs. Knowing that if everyone today decided to get an electric vehicle, could the grid handle all those people plugging their cars in to charge them?

Stephen Porder: So if it all happened today, the answer is no. And let me explain why. So when I plug in my electric vehicle, it essentially doubles the amount of electricity flowing into my house at that time. So you can imagine that if everybody plugs in their vehicle at the same time, that doubles the number of houses out there, right, and that’s a big increase in demand.

Megan Hall: Considering that our grid can’t handle charging a bunch of electric cars right now. Does that mean I should hold off on buying one?

Stephen Porder: Absolutely not. Our grid can handle the number of electric cars that are being built right now. And electric vehicles, on average are four times more friendly for emissions than gas vehicles. So it’s time to switch to electric cars. It’s time to also invest in upgrading electrical infrastructure.

Megan Hall: What would it take for a state like where we live in Rhode Island, or you know, the United States in general, to get to the point where we could handle most people transitioning to electric cars, what needs to happen?

Stephen Porder: Electric cars alone are one of the challenges but they’re not going to come overnight, right? We have hundreds of millions of vehicles in this country, people don’t buy a new vehicle every day. And in fact, the auto manufacturers aren’t even producing that many electric vehicles yet, this is going to be a transition that takes time. And we’re going to need to upgrade our grid infrastructure to get ready for that. And that’s part of why when people talk about a path towards fixing climate change, they talk so much about infrastructure,

Megan Hall: What can we do to hurry this transition to electric cars along?

Stephen Porder: We can do our part by electrifying our vehicles. And the utilities and the politicians have to do their part by making our grid robust enough to handle those changes.

Megan Hall: All right, so let’s say I do manage to buy an electric car, given the way the grid works now, what would you say is the best time for me to charge it? So I don’t put as much stress on the existing system?

Stephen Porder: Oh, great question. So right now, just charge it overnight, preferably after about eight or 9pm. And the reason for that is that industry isn’t really going strong at that time. People are starting to wind down for the evening. And so you know, appliances are being turned off and so forth and so on. And if you plug it in, when you go to bed, it’ll be ready to go in the morning. You won’t have to go to the gas station, you’ll be fully charged and ready to go.

Megan Hall Great. Thanks, Stephen.

Stephen Porder: Thanks, Megan. Talk soon.

Megan Hall: That’s it for today. For more information or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet. Go to the public’s or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts.

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Possibly is a co-production of the Institute of Brown for Environment and Society, Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative and The Public’s Radio.

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