The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has been pretty good at predicting power demand over the last three decades. If anything it has underestimated how much energy efficiency and renewables would grow in the region.
So now it is revising upward its estimate of how much power plug-in electric vehicles will use in the future. The panel, appointed by the governors of the four Northwest states predicts that high gas prices and electric vehicles tht will travel farther will combine to grow the need for power for these vehicles by 30 percent more than it previously thought.
The council expects electric vehicles will suck up between 100 and 550 megawatts of electricity annually by 2030, 18 years from today. That matches the demand from 60,600 to 333,300 Northwest homes.
So will this require big nuclear plants or gas plants to meet this new demand? No says the council.
Why? New federal standards for electric appliances and equipment will reduce demand for power and most electric car recharging will take place overnight when there is a surplus for power.
The other reason for the changing prediction is that experts know a lot more about electric cars today than they did three years ago. Batteries are less efficient during cold weather, for instance. Drivers are going to go farther when their cars can store more power and when they can recharge along the interstate.
In 2009 the Council assumed that by 2011 there would be 2,000-8,000 new plug-in electric vehicles in the Northwest. The actual number was about 2,000. New vehicle sales languished for the last few years, and the length of new-car ownership has increased to a record 71 months. This trend contributed to electric vehicle sales that were lower than the Council anticipated.
Fuel efficiency of all new vehicles also has improved steadily, from 20 miles per gallon in 2007 to 23 in 2011, and vehicle emissions have declined over that time, by about 14 percent -- improving the appeal of gas-powered vehicles to energy-conscious consumers, perhaps deterring some people from buying electric vehicles.
But remember, consumers are starting from scratch. In 2010 only 345 plug-in electric vehicles sold nationwide compared to 17,813 sold in 2011.
By January of this year, 314 Chevrolet Volts and 1,572 Nissan Leafs were registered in the Northwest, accounting for about 17 percent of the Leafs and 3 percent of the Volts in the country. But the recent trend is changing rapidly.
In the first three months of 2012, Volt sales were up 224 percent and Leaf sales 283 percent nationwide compared to 2011. The Council assumes plug-in vehicles will represent 10-40 percent of the new-vehicle market in the Northwest by 2030.
High gas prices are going to drive up sales, and when sales go up enough the scaling up of manufacturing capacity will help bring the price down. At some point soon a price is going to be set on carbon and when that happens the free market will take over and we’ll see all kinds of alternatives.
The winner, whether it be electric cars or biofuels , natural gas or something else will be the one that fits people’s needs and pocketbooks best.