By on December 1, 2020

While electric automobiles have numerous advantages over internal combustion vehicles, we’ve often wondered when their disadvantages would be offset to a point that would make sense to have them become the dominant mode of transportation. While there are multiple issues that have to be addressed, one of the largest involves finding a way to source the kind of energy needed for the world to recharge them on a regular basis.

An EV-dominated society likely means elevated energy prices and peak demand hours that could easily overtax national energy grids. Renewable energy sources may also prove insufficient in providing the kind of power necessary — potentially requiring countries to double down on plants reliant on coal, oil, and natural gas if nuclear facilities are not approved. Counter-productive takes like that are often downplayed, however, so industrial giants can continue proclaiming the technology as largely trouble-free.

But what happens when EV royalty starts making similar claims about our collective energy needs?

On Tuesday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated that the world’s electricity consumption would likely double as EVs become the norm. While this doesn’t account for the additional energy needs created by our increased reliance on digital devices (something that’s already hard to calculate as electronics become more efficient), he believes it will create massive demand for nuclear, solar, wind, and geothermal energy solutions if sustainability is to be entertained.

In an interview with Berlin-based publisher Axel Springer, hosted by Germany’s Bild am Sonntag, Musk said sourcing the energy necessary to power EVs would become the biggest obstacle over the next two decades. It’s actually something experts have been considering for a while and Germany, in particular, has had to confront as its own massive push toward sustainable energy turned out to be, well, largely unsustainable.

Despite advancing one of the most ambitious excursions into wind and solar shortly after the 21st century began as part of its Energiewende program, Germany’s emissions stagnated in 2009. By 2018, the nation was actually increasing its utilization of coal-fired plants to meet its growing energy needs and public opinion of renewables declined immensely. While part of this was blamed on the country shunning nuclear power, there’s a growing skepticism that the nation can actually maintain its current energy usage on the promise that wind and solar will become more efficient and cheaper in the coming years. Though even dissenters aren’t thrilled at the prospect of becoming increasingly dependent upon limited resources like coal or entertaining new concepts like national energy rationing.

Either way, the issue will be exacerbated by an influx of electric vehicles.

“It will take another 20 years for cars to be fully electric. It is like with phones, you cannot replace them all at once,” Musk said during a discussion held on the Bild website.

“We need sustainable energy,” he continued. “If something goes wrong we don’t stop producing CO2 and still need to transition ourselves toward sustainable energy production.”

But Elon cautioned that sometimes the wind doesn’t blow and the sun won’t shine on the vast solar arrays needed to harvest and store the necessary energy. He envisioned a future where most people had solar cells on their homes and businesses. Buildings would also utilize batteries connected to improved energy grids to help offset peak draw hours and reduce the presumably higher cost of electricity.

Musk also noted to his German audience that he did not oppose nuclear energy and went so far as to suggest it might even be necessary if we’re to meet tomorrow’s need for electricity — which he said would double by 2040.

The rest of the interview revolved around Tesla’s plan to build its fourth gigafactory in the region, general musings about the future, and his own theory there we’ll have electrified jet planes within five years. If you speak German (or are an old pro at using Google Translate), and have the faintest interest in global energy solutions, the interview is worth a read. If not, Bild also released the video footage in English.
[Image: Tesla]
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43 Comments on “Elon Musk Says EVs Will Double World’s Need for Electricity...”

  • avatar

    So then, to get to our sustainable fuel-free, pollution-free utopia, we’re going to need more electrical outlets. A lot more.

  • avatar

    So, you have EV private solar chargers installed at homes that have EV’s, I’m sure some company will come up with a low cost solution! They have them now but too costly and most have to be connected with a whole house system.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    These claims about grid weakness and doubling of electrical need never account for the time span over which this need will arise.

    According to this source, which promotes EVs, EVs will only account for 7% of the cars on the road in 10 years:

    In my own household, 1 EV adds 20% to my electrical demand, so 2 would add 40%. I don’t know how anyone figures the need for electricity will double just for EVs.

    Even still, over time the grid can easily grow to meet demand – *unless* the liberals who want more EVs also simultaneously regulate the grid out of existence.

  • avatar

    Double before 2040, short of drastic unforeseen events.

  • avatar

    One word: NUCLEAR. Thanks to the left,however, nuclear has been a dirty word for the last 40+ years and has stifled nuclear research and iteration into Gen III reactors. Gen III reactors are incapable of melting down, produce no radioactive waste and are far safer for the environment than burning coal and clear cutting old growth forests to use as bio mass fuel.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      Yup. Short of fusion power (and who knows when we’ll get a true breakthrough there), Gen III reactors are the way to go. France gets almost all of its electricity from nuclear power – and it’s been working out fine.

    • 0 avatar

      Well it turns out nuclear energy is the most expensive energy of all. Look at the two failed AP1000 plants in South Carolina that were abandoned after many years and billions wasted. Not economically viable.
      And gen 3 reactors do not feature passive safety.

      • 0 avatar

        Gen III+ reactor designs were specifically developed to address those concerns.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        @Imagefront true, it is an expensive way to make power, but much of the costs are regulatory in the nuclear industry and some of it is idiotic.

        One of my earliest jobs in the computer field was an admin in the mid 90’s on a then already way obselete DEC PDP 11/70 Computer System. This was a 16 bit system with wire wrapped boards that took up a room. Even the military, keeper of all ancient systems ditched them by Y2K. But the PDP-11 is alive and well(well alive…I don’t know where they are sourcing parts as DEC hasn’t been a thing since the 90’s) controlling certain systems in some nuclear reactors. Changing it to something modern would be too costly due to regulatory issues. Last I heard of this was from a friend in the industry 3-4 years ago, so perhaps they have changed but stuff like that makes an already expensive industry next level expensive.

        There are promising designs but it is likely they will come to fruition somewhere like China or if the economic equation swings due to fossil fuel sources being taxed and regulated more heavily.

        nuclear will still and likely always be expensive, but if you are really all in on “carbon neutral” energy in our lifetimes it is the only tech that can fill in the renewable sources gaps.

        The AP1000 is just an old design with a band-aid though and Georgia is still building 2 I believe though the break even was now like 80 years out when I left the state so you are not wrong on the economic viability, though some could certainly be mitigated.

        • 0 avatar

          @Art Vandalay: I know the PDP11 well. Actually, the backplanes were wire-wrapped and not the boards. Learned to program on UNIX in C on one as a teenager.Machine language and even experience with the microcode.

          You can run an 11/70 in emulation. If any hardware is needed, it could be done with an FPGA. Still, that would need regulatory approval and you might as well use a newer machine (a $5 Raspberry PI Zero might do the job!). My dad had them in his business. I even remember him taking an LA-36 and maybe even an ASR-33 offline when I was 5 or 6 and letting me type on it to keep me amused.

          “There are promising designs but it is likely they will come to fruition somewhere like China”

          Maybe not, but I’m pessimistic about it. There are new designs happening here. One design was just approved, but it’s still questionable as to whether it will be built. It’s using Oregon based NuScale Technologies SMR design. Small Modular Reactors are the new thing, but people are still wary of them. If anything new is built, I suspect it will be an SMR since they seem like the latest and greatest thing. Might be a good replacement for older reactors when they are phased out.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            @mcs yes, you can emulate it on a pi. I have an 11/70 emulated running RSTS/E I did for no good reason one day. Some dude actually makes a reproduction of the switch panel for them that plugs in to the SPI and will run the lights and respond to the switches. Do that and one of those wifi serial hookups on a VT220 and you can have a whole room’s worth of computer on your desk. I went down a real nostalgic rabbit hole one day on those old DEC systems.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m not against nuclear power and I’m not arguing against it here. I’m recognizing a reality that exists. It does no good to cheerlead something that’s just not happening. Someone mentioned the Nuscale reactor concept, which is really just an idea right not and not an actual working design. The idea of having a dozen smaller reactors in a common pool with inherent passive safety – or that’s the hope.
          If a gas fired power plant blows up for some reason you simply rebuild it, correct your mistakes and move forward. If a nuclear power plant experiences a serious accident you’re screwed for the next 50 generations. Nuclear energy overall has an excellent track record but when things go wrong it goes horribly wrong. Just the existence of the possibility is the reason we don’t have more of it right now. Talking about better and safer designs or whatever France is doing won’t make a difference to the reality of it. Like any machine it can fail and is highly dependent on human beings for safety and to make it work.
          Amtrak can’t even keep trains from driving around curves too fast for the train to stay on the rails but people expect everything to always go perfectly at a nuclear power plant.
          Chernobyl was a man made accident and not a design problem or a design failure or a materials failure. It was criminal incompetence, they deliberately put the reactor in an incredibly dangerous configuration and it didn’t have to happen and shouldn’t have happened – and yet it did. How? Because: humans. Cruise ships go aground because: humans. They run into icebergs on their maiden voyages a because: humans. Airplanes crash: humans. Ask Boeing. And it wasn’t their first rodeo.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s 2020. Nobody’s building plants without passive safety.

        And “these two plants sucked so nuclear is bad” is the same bad argument as “solar is worthless for everything because it’s not good to run the whole grid”.

        Nuclear power is the only actually “green” option that can hope to power an industrial or post-industrial economy. There’s no alternative, not now.

        (And I ain’t holding my breath for fusion, since it’s been “totally in the next twenty years!” my ENTIRE LIFE.)

    • 0 avatar

      with nuclear energy you ultimately have to accept that a serious accident will eventually occur, then decide if that’s an acceptable condition. Where natural disaster, bad engineering and design, materials failure, terrorism or more likely – human error – something very can still happen. And when it’s a nuclear reactor it’s all over. That’s why Gen III+ reactors have core catchers – to keep the molten remains of the destroyed reactor inside the containment vessel – hopefully.
      Hope is not a design strategy.

      • 0 avatar

        You think nuclear scientists designed a reactor based on hope? You don’t seem to give much credibility to that profession.

        “then decide if that’s an acceptable condition”
        I think most people are coming to the conclusion that it is acceptable.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        If you look at the “big-3” disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukishima, I think only Fukishima had a breach of the containment vessel (Chernobyl didn’t have containment because those crazy Soviets).

        The events at Fukushima are pretty much a worse case scenario and disaster could have been averted still had they just pumped in seawater earlier. Still, you are correct in that people calculating cost need to be taken out of that decision tree.

        But again, if you really want to get out of the fossil fuel business with respect to power generation AND you are talking about increasing generating capacity on the level Musk is discussing, nuclear is going to have to happen. Best we start looking at new, safer designs and move on from our current 70’s tech. Or keep burning stuff because you aren’t going to get prople to step back to the 1800’s.

      • 0 avatar

        You do know that there are reactor designs that literally cannot melt down, right?

        (And hope is a design strategy. People “hope” that fly ash from coal plants won’t escape its containment. People “hope” the radioactive emissions from them won’t hurt anyone.

        People “hope” solar panels can provide enough power to keep people from freezing.

        Nuclear is the closest thing we have to power generation without either human or environmental* negative side effects in large quantity.

        * No dams, bad for fish. Solar farms destroy desert ecosystems. Etc.)

  • avatar

    I don’t see this as a problem. China is building hundreds of coal fired power plants to fill the energy gap.

  • avatar

    I think there are a couple of potential solutions that weren’t mentioned.

    One is the SMR which stands for Small Modular Reactor. A company called NuScale just had a design approved and I think they’re planning one for Utah. SMRs are significantly smaller than conventional reactors and are cheaper and faster to build than conventional large reactors.

    The other alternative is solid oxide fuel cell power generation from Bloom Energy. They use natural gas. A friend has one at his facility and I was around for the installation and have charged my EV from it several times. It’s really cut his power bill. They’ve been quietly installing these systems all over the country. It’s not renewable, but it’s really clean running.

    I think we’ll manage, but we have to be prepared to go to alternatives like SMRs and fossil-fuel-powered SOFCs. That’s not going to be popular with the radicals, but it’s a better and cleaner alternative to what we have now.

  • avatar

    Ten years ago when I had my first EV (24 kWh battery), I was refilling at least 60-70% of the battery capacity [ex. 30-40% state of charge when plugged in] at home each day (5 days a week) [and doing a partial top-off at work during the day]. We had also gotten fairly serious about saving electricity at home (LED’s, better insulation, smart thermostat, phantom loads, etc.).

    Net result: My electricity bill the first year with an EV was lower than my electricity bill had been the previous year with no EV.

    A few years later, we had two EV’s in the driveway sharing a charger, but the second vehicle saw much fewer miles and the electricity increase was small.

    [As a very rough guideline to estimate what your electricity usage from an EV would be, take your current gasoline bill for each vehicle and divide by three. (It might be more like four, but most people aren’t very ‘good’ at driving EV’s efficiently at first.)]

    • 0 avatar

      Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. residential utility customer used about 877 kWh of electricity per month in 2019 (pre-COVID).

      Current Tesla Model S has a 100 kWh battery and a range of 315 miles (EPA, P100D).

      Assume 90% charger efficiency(?).

      To double the average electricity bill you would have to fully charge the Model S eight times, which means you are driving 30,000 miles a year. Make it two Model S’s in the driveway at 15K each and this could be realistic. (Model 3 math would be different.)

      • 0 avatar

        The thing is that the Model S is going to be much more efficient that say a F-150 EV, Hummer ect and unless the market changes its ways those types of vehicles will make up a significant portion of the fleet. Speaking of Fleet that is the other thing that needs to be factored into the equation. Delivery trucks, garbage trucks, buses, ect are even less efficient and there are lots of those trucks out there.

      • 0 avatar

        ToolGuy, the issue isn’t whether any households will have their electrical bill double, it’s whether or not the grid can support the increase in demand. Even then, just because your electricity consumption doesn’t double, it doesn’t mean your energy cost won’t. That pesky supply/demand thing tells us that without a corresponding increase in supply, an increase in demand will mean an increase in cost. All these cool new generation technologies are great, getting them approved, built, and the transmission infrastructure upgraded to carry it won’t be cheap or quick, so your energy cost could easily double without your energy consumption doubling too.

  • avatar

    I do not see the problem here. It is the part of the plan. We will gradually transform global society. First we need to reduce number of people to something around 1 billion elite citizens made from high quality gene pools and which also implies gradual birthrate reduction and sterilization of carriers of low quality genes. Secondly in 12 years we will have Fusion power plants which will generate an abundance of energy via sustainable nuclear fusion reaction. And third: do you really need a car? Why not to ride bicycle and be part of local community? We will not commute to work, remember?

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    You mean there’s a downside to EVs? Who’d have thought?

    I prefer to only hold what Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) calls “half-pinions.” A half-pinion is when you’re too stupid to consider both sides of an argument. Examples:

    1. EV’s are only good.
    2. Climate change is only bad.
    3. It only matters how many people die of COVID, not the impact of lockdowns on other heath outcomes or the effect of lockdowns on the economy.
    4. Government needs to help the poor and those in need, regardless of the effect that doing so has on those who are not in need but pretend to be.
    5. Environmental regulations are always good, and we should never consider things like the law of diminishing returns, or cost-benefit analysis.

    I could go on, but hopefully the point is made.

  • avatar

    Easily fixed.

    Along with other realted things (coal emissions, etc.).

    By building a lot of nuclear power plants.

    Anyone pushing for a “green revolution” that isn’t nuclear is selling snake oil, or themselves convinced the snake oil works. But it doesn’t.

    Nukes or nothing, guys.

  • avatar

    If Elon Musk is correct about the doubling of demand for electricity, maybe it would be a good idea to keep the current fleet of nuclear reactors in the US alive. Many are falling off the grid due to cheaper natural gas via fracking. If in doubt, check on the status of Vermont Yankee, Indian Point (down to one unit), or Kewaunee.

    Overnight charging at home will even out some of the demand on the grid, but solar and wind power will only do so much.

  • avatar
    Sobhuza Trooper

    If Musk would like to REALLY change the landscape, he might include installing Thorium nuclear reactors at all Tesla Supercharger sites.

    • 0 avatar

      “Alvin, if you are concerned about the safety of reactors, then I think it may be time for you to leave nuclear energy.”

      [I wonder what state Chester Holifield represented…]

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