January 15, 2010, - 12:15 pm

Energy Exec: “Electric Car Could Black Out Your Neighborhood”; No Plans for Total Electric “Volt”

By Debbie Schlussel


This week, the NAIAS–the North American International Auto Show (also known as the “Detroit Auto Show”)–is taking place.  And the biggest talk of the show is the Chevy Volt, the electric car that GM will put on sale, this year.  But the Volt is not the panacea for dependence on gasoline and oil that we thought.


In fact, the Volt isn’t completely electric and GM says it has no plans to make a completely electric Volt, though that could happen (not anytime soon).

General Motors has not confirmed it would build a pure-electric version of the Chevrolet Volt.

“It is not currently on the production timeline,” said Rob Peterson, GM’s electric vehicle spokesperson.

That said, Peterson didn’t deny the possibility, either, noting that such a vehicle could be a possibility.

That’s disappointing to me because I’d love to stop financing Islamic and America-hating countries and their Saudi soda (oil) production, and their many terror-financing gas station owners.

GM will be building a battery-only Volt, but it acknowledged the car’s range drops in cold weather.

But there’s even more disturbing news. Many experts have warned that with an electric car, there’s no way we’d have the electric capacity to charge everyone’s car at high-demand times, like, say, after work and overnight, or even at low-demand time periods.

And Tuesday evening, I heard an interview with Anthony Earley, CEO of DTE Energy (formerly known at Detroit Edison) electric company. He told Detroit’s CBS all-news radio station, WWJ-AM 950, that it would be difficult if everybody or even many people to own an electric car and charge it when they come home from work.

We can’t have everybody charging their car at the same time. It would cause outages and blackouts of neighborhoods.

He said there wasn’t yet a plan to deal with that.  And here’s basically a repeat of that statement in an interview with one of Earley’s subordinates, Haukur “Hawk” Asgeirsson, manager of power systems technologies for DTE Energy:

Recharging a car at 220 volts can be done now in about three hours — maybe less. And five-minute charges are technically possible, at a higher voltage. But such fast charging could be rough on today’s grid.

“If we plug in thousands of cars at times when our circuits are stressed — in the middle of a hot day when the air-conditioning load is great — we’re going to have serious problems,” Asgeirsson said.

“We’re also concerned about bunching in cul-de-sacs and other places where there will be several customers wanting to plug in at the same time,” he said. “If you have six homes all wanting to plug in at once, that’s going to be a shock to that transformer.”

The industry already has a name for fear of being stuck out on the road with an electric car and a dead battery. “We call it ‘range anxiety,’” says Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director of global electrification.

Creating electric vehicle infrastructure will be a bigger challenge than building electric vehicles, Gioia says.

“We have to collaborate at a level that we never have before,” she said. “In an electric world, navigation systems become mandatory. You’ll rely on it to find out where to charge and how long it will take to charge, and to reserve time to charge.

New solutions always come with new problems. And for many things, there is never a complete panacea.

Still, I’d like to get away from oil. And I’m hopeful they can come up with new solutions to the new potential problems.

Would you buy a Chevy Volt? Why or why not? What do you believe is the solution to getting away from our oil and gasoline dependence?


Some other interesting info about the Volt:

* There’s no need to stop and recharge if you travel beyond the 40-mile range of the Volt’s batteries. An onboard generator starts automatically to provide more electricity.

* The Volt’s generator uses a new 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine GM builds in Flint. A turbocharged version of the same engine will help the Chevrolet Cruze get 40 m.p.g. on the highway.

* A safety system makes it impossible to drive off while the Volt is plugged in for charging.

**** UPDATE: Reader Ted writes that these are all scare tactics designed to keep us addicted to oil:

Just reading your item on the electric car. Geez, some of these people really want to preserve the gas and oil consumption. I’ve read an article some time ago that if everybody switched to electric cars, that our current electrical grid could handle 85% of that load.

I think studies have also found that a susbstantial number of trips are well within the range of electric car capabilities.

In terms of overtaxing transformers and such, we already have mechanisms you can attach to your electric meter that shows you energy usage on a real time basis. I expect it could be adapted to interface to an electric charger to regulate the voltage draw of the charger. So, as you move into the evening and early morning hours, the charger could ramp up to full draw.

Sounds like a bunch of ill-informed “chicken littles” when it comes to adopting electric car technologies.

To me, it sounds like a business opportunity and a way to create new business.

And we can stick it to belligerent oil nations and finally be able to tell them where to go…

Amen. I hope you’re right, Ted.

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22 Responses

Debbie, I don’t think an electric car is practical. A better solution is a hybrid. Save the electric for in town transportation and switch to gas when driving long distance. I’d love to have the country wean itself off Arab and Venezuelan imported oil. But we can’t change our entire fossil fuel based economy overnight. However, I do agree where it is possible, we should limit gas consumption – so the money stays in our wallets and doesn’t end up in our enemies’ bank accounts.

NormanF on January 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm


    We CAN change “our entire fossil fuel based economy overnight”. All we need to do is pass the OPEN FUELS STANDARD ACT OF 2009 and it will be a done deal. Basically, this act requires 80% of all motor vehicles sold in the United States to be flex fuel (gasoline, ethanol AND methanol) by 2015. Once passed, the domestically manufactured fuels (ethanol and methanol) will present a competitive price that petroleum cannot exceed if it is to remain competitive.

    There is no good reason hybrid cars can’t be flex fuel. I’m not just blowing smoke here! I replaced my ’98 Taurus wagon in 2008 with a flex fuel Chevy Impala. FYI, GM leads all manufacturers in the production of flex fuel vehicles.

    If you’re a “buy American” guy like me, don’t just sit there. Make sure your next car is flex fuel and demand that your legislative representatives support the OPEN FUELS STANDARD ACT of 2009. I find it sickening that our Congress passed a cap-and-trade bill and left this one sitting on the shelf. It only goes to show you that they’re all (Democrats and Republicans) in bed with the Saudi Petrochemical Lobby.

    Get on the ball and support this critical bill today. The strategic path to winning the war against Islamist terror is the elimination of petroleum as the prime mover of America’s transportation system. It CAN be done and Brazil has already done it.

    There is NO Santa Claus on January 17, 2010 at 1:08 pm

A couple of weeks ago I actually had a discussion about this with a friend of mine who is a consultant to the nuclear power industry. He told me that if we did the following we could make a significant dent in our oil imports by using electric cars:

1. Build 3 – 5 new nuclear power plants (There are already plans to build some more).
2. Beef up the national power grid to make it more reliable and have it capable of operating at a higher capacity.
3. Arrange for cars to be able to charge from convenient locations that could be efficiently and quickly supplied via the national power grid.

I_AM_ME on January 15, 2010 at 12:48 pm

There’s more hype associated with electric cars than I can lay out here. The range figures, for example, typically don’t include running the heater, air conditioner or stereo. The only folks who have seriously dealt with the range issue is Better Place, now being prototyped in (where else) Israel which replaces the entire battery pack in about two minutes at automated stations. But all those batteries will have to be recharged sometime! No solution for that yet. And who wants to revisit that battery station twice a week?

The problem comes down to scale, and electric vehicles dependent on the grid simply … don’t.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re stuck with hydrocarbons for the time being. Clean diesel provides a bit more efficiency, but natural gas would provide a better bridging solution until fuel cells become viable. We just have to stop futzing around and exploit the resources within our territorial boundaries. The same goes for Israel which, despite the creativity provided by Better Place, has those newly discovered gas fields which should come on line in 2-3 years.

Raymond in DC on January 15, 2010 at 2:19 pm

People still don’t want to recongnize that these cars are worse for the environment than traditional petroleum based fuel sources.

Reason 1: The batteries used in hybrid or electric vehicles contain environmentally dangerous chemicals. Where will all of these spent batteries be disposed of? Remember, these batteries are made up of the same chemicals that are in your cell phone, and you have to replace that battery about every 2-3 years.

Reason 2: Where does the electricity come from to recharge these cars? From big, bad, evil coal. Coal provides the U.S. with about 50% of its electricity needs. Don’t these green weenies understand that we will need to mine and use a lot more coal to produce this electricity?

Also, these cars are a danger to everyone on the road because of their low acceleration and low top speed. I can drive faster in second gear than these little Matchbox cars can full out.

Jarhead on January 15, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    jarhead, come on, once we invent the secret new energy technology that has no environmental impact and will be free to everyone and works flawlessly with our current grid infrastructure, your objections will be completely invalid!

    we just need to hurry up and pass the climate change legislation so we can free up al gore, and his legion of global scientists, to solve this pesky energy hurdle with their genius.

    howardroark on January 15, 2010 at 2:30 pm

debbie, come one, there’s an easy solution to the electric car charging problem: government workers — preferably acorn folks — would issue limited numbers of charging permits per neighborhood.

howardroark on January 15, 2010 at 2:25 pm

One other point. Let the free market determine the right time to produce these types of vehicles. These cars will be produced when the market is right to manufacture a cost effective solution. I would bet that right now the profit margin on these vehicles is very low.

Jarhead on January 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    “I would bet that right now the profit margin on these vehicles is very low.”

    dammit man, now i have to reply to you without a smartass response!

    the chevy volt is already underpriced to make a profit. and it’s too expensive to expect any large sales volume. every volt that will be sold will lose money for GM.

    i think there’s a niche market for full-electric vehicles: inside factories where you can’t have noxious emissions, golf carts, fleet vehicles for small town municipalities, etc.

    howardroark on January 15, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I would say that the electric option would be more practical for public transit, with its predictable routes and limited service ranges. Also, that would advance the big problem of creating a sufficient infrastructure, since there would be no “big bang” increase in the number of electrically powered vehicles, but only incremental increases as govenment entities switched over their bus fleets. Public transit would be a good area in which to work out the bugs in electrically powered vehicles and gradually upgrade grid capacity. There will be no increase in grid capacity on the scale needed unless there is a stable and reliable market for the power.

sorrow01 on January 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Generating electricity, even with coal, is substantially better emissions-wise and efficiency-wise over burning gasoline in your car.

Your car has ‘sweet spots’ where it gets the best mileage, where the gearing for the engine is best, where the air resistance is smalle. It’s usually around 30-40 mph. But your car is hideously inefficient starting from a dead stop and accelerating because the gearing is bad; and when driving at 60mph and up like we all do on the highway because the air resistance is so big.

When you generate the electricity at an electric plant, be it coal or nuclear or whatever, the engines there are being run at peak efficiency at all times. They find the ‘sweet spot’ and stay in it. They also are closely monitored for emissions in the case of coal plants, and scrubbed, as opposed to our cars which are monitored for emissions once every one or two years depending on your state.

As has been measured, on a per-energy basis, the emissions generated by a coal plant’s energy-needed to go 50 miles are half that of the emissions generated by gasoline driving an efficient compact car the same distance on a standard test track.

luagha on January 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Get a bike.

kippy on January 15, 2010 at 4:32 pm

A cargo bike like Surly Big Dummy is one way to free oneself of a car. What this SUV of bikes does best is to haul cargo. The length makes its awkward to put in a car or train but an aftermark S&S coupler kit allows it to be disassembled to pack in a suitcase or box. This bike even allows one to ferry passengers or children. Mine looks like the one in this picture:

Surly Big Dummy

NormanF on January 15, 2010 at 4:55 pm

NormanF on January 15, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Debbie as much as I would like to reduce reliance on foreign oil, killing it as our transportation fuel source will not help much. I’m not exact on the number but I think around about 3% of oil consumption goes to gasoline and diesel. The rest goes to making the tires, interiors, hoses, paint, bumpers, body panels etc. As far as non car related things: roofing shingles, wiring, piping, paint and just about anything. So many thing are derived from oil that if you eliminated oil we would probably be living in caves. One last thing even an electric car is still going to need oil for lubrication. Even a nuclear reactor has parts that need to be oiled.

Mark on January 16, 2010 at 2:12 am


    That’s not true! The vast majority of petroleum is used in the transportation sector. It is true that petroleum is used for a lot of other things. We’ll always need SOME petroleum and those who think otherwise are living in a fantasy world.

    That being said, your primary thesis is wrong because the vast majority of petroleum is refined for transportation fuels.

    There is NO Santa Claus on January 17, 2010 at 1:14 pm

This may be fraud or if true, may have great potential, generating green oil from crops’ waste materials instead of digging the earth.

SpicaChang on January 16, 2010 at 9:12 am


    That is true to a greater extent than you may realize. You see, we don’t necessarily have to use crops for bio-fuels. The CO2 emitted from coal plants can be pumped into ponds growing lipid-rich or carbohydrate-rich species of algea. These species of algea can then be refined into bio-diesel or ethanol for transportation fuels.

    There are also salt-water species of algea that can be grown in deserts from sea-water piped in from the oceans and used in a similar manner.

    Bio fuels have tremendous potential for economic growth; especially in poor agrarian countries (like the Carribian). What we need is motor vehicles that can use these fuels (regardless of their feedstock origin). Without a market, there’s no chance of utilizing these fuels. That is why it is imperative for the United States to pass the OPEN FUELS STANDARD ACT OF 2009. You can view my other comments for more information.

    There is NO Santa Claus on January 17, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I suppose we need to understand there are serious financial connections between the auto manufacturers, oil cartels and likely electric companies. They would diversify their investments by buying stock in each others’ companies.
The great news though is that solar electric panels have now dropped under $2.00 per watt!! When I first began to watch the solar industry in the late sixties, these solar panels were over $35.00 per watt.
Today, you could recharge your vehicle in your own backyard for free and GET A TAX CREDIT for the investment.
We may not be free from the grasp of the oil cartels but we are gettin closer and closer.

Silverbullet on January 17, 2010 at 9:04 am

What Haukur “Hawk” Asgeirsson said is absolutely true. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we have the resources to correct this and it would fuel a generation of economic growth that would throw off the yoke of the Saudi petrochemical lobby once and for all.

I can assure you that my immediate neighborhood could not support two electric vehicles. If I recall correctly, the Tesla Roadster (probably the best performing electric car in the world) requires a 70 Amp branch circuit at 240 Volts to charge it. That translates to 13.4 kVA since the NEC allows you to load that circuit at 80% (i.e. 56 Amps). This is a LOT of juice!

My home is fed from a single 25kVA transformer feeding 3 other houses. Each house has a 100A service from the utility. Our neighborhood transformer is overloaded but utilities can do these things since they aren’t governed by the National Electric Code. It all works right now, even on hot days with everybody’s air conditioner cranking at full tilt. It will NOT work if one of those homes charges a Tesla roadsters.

Moreover, the capacity of distribution lines, substations and transmission lines will have to be increased to accomodate a national fleet of electric cars. That’s not a bad thing because such projects will fuel economic growth just as the automobile fueled American economic growth in the 20th century.

The problem is that our government is retarded. The stimulous package has a $4 Billion package to build new transmission lines. However, this money is earmarked to build new transmission lines to wind farms in remote areas. None of it can be used to increase the capacity of our already stressed transmission grid (as evidenced by the 2003 blackout).

As if this isn’t bad enough, there’s no way that wind turbines can power the electric car fleet of the future. Here in Michigan Consumers Energy just received a DEQ permit (in late December) to build a 900MW clean coal plant. It was held up for a year by Gov. Granholm and I’ll rant on that subject some other time.

By comparison, the average wind turbine is rated at 1.4 MW. Do the math! It takes 642 wind turbines to equal one coal plant… when the wind is blowing. Furthermore, this doesn’t even take into consideration the complex issues of voltage regulation and power transmission. Nor does it take into consideration the TWO YEAR backlog of orders for wind turbines that exists right now. This is madness!

I am an Electrical Engineer, professionally licensed in Michigan. My specialty is power systems. I can tell you from my personal knowledge that Haukur “Hawk” Asgeirsson is correct. I can also tell you that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. After all, expanding the electric grid to accommodate electric cars would be an engine of economic growth that could last America for a long time and relieve us of economic dependence on Saudi petroleum.

When I meet with my peers in the electric utility industry, there is often times a sense of panic and foreboding amongst us as we wonder how the heck we’re going to meet electricity demand with our hands tied. The REAL bad-guys preventing all this are the “tree-huggers” who are pulling out all the stops to prevent real electrical expansion. They have our entire government in a choke-hold and it is THEY who are in bed with the Saudi Petrochemical Lobby; not the electrical utility execs.

The electrical utility execs are merely telling us that the electric car will require new investment and that we better stop goofing around with romantic fantasies about “windmills” and solar panels. (In some regions, solar/thermal generation holds some excellent potential; like in Israel, but that’s another story.) If we’re really going to successfully power a new fleet of electric vehicles, we can do it. We can do it with technology that is MUCH cleaner than it was 30 years ago. The only problem is that we can’t do it in a way that will satisfy environmental fanatics who are often times funded by the Saudi Petrochemical Lobby.

There is NO Santa Claus on January 17, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Mr. There is No Santa Claus,

Can you please provide a source for your claim that “environmental fanatics” are often times funded by the Saudi Petrochemical Lobby? Thanks.

VerdeGoh on January 21, 2010 at 10:03 pm

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