Electric vehicles are here. Will the power to move them keep up?


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — So you’re thinking about trading that gas burner sitting in the garage for an electric vehicle. While you may be on board with the so-called electric revolution, the question is whether the nation’s infrastructure is ready.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing more and more EVs out on the road every day,” Lauren Youngdahl Snyder, vice president of customer experience for Jackson-based Consumers Energy, said.

With automakers producing or planning to put some 240 EVs models on the road in the next few years, you’ll see more in the near future. Right now, about 30,000 EVs are registered in Michigan. Consumers is projecting the need to power 1 million of them by 2030.

“You watch the advancements in battery technology and you watch what’s happening at the federal and state level, it really tells us that it’s not a matter of if EVs are coming, it’s a matter of when they’re coming,” Youngdahl Snyder said.

Two questions loom large in the switch: Will there be enough places to charge up and will the grid support that additional load?

As for charging stations and range anxiety, Youngdahl Snyder said Consumers has been working with the state of Michigan and Michigan State University for the past three years to place more charging stations at strategic points.

“Today, you can drive from Bronson, Michigan … (in the) southern part of the state all the way to Mackinaw leveraging chargers that we have placed there. And the same is true from west to east,” Youngdahl Snyder said.

In terms of the grid, Youngdahl Snyder says most EV owners are charging from home at night when energy usage is at its lowest. Consumers offers deep discounts to homeowners for nighttime charging.

The utility is working on future demand needs.

“We’ve paced appropriately with what we see in terms of load growth coming on the system. This is not going to happen overnight. So we’re making the proper investments,” Youngdahl Snyder said.

Some of the investment will be provided by taxpayers. The Biden administration’s Build Back Better spending plan includes up to $12,000 in tax breaks for the purchase of electric vehicles. The package is still stuck in Congress as lawmakers argue over exactly what it should include and how much money should be spent, but its EV dollars aren’t the only ones in the federal pipeline. Youngdahl Synder sees some of those dollars going to develop EV infrastructure for underserved and rural communities and groups with a large carbon footprint.

“I think of school buses… They’re great emitters of carbon. And so how can we make that transition into electric,” she said.

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