The number of electric cars cruising Minnesota roadways is growing rapidly every year, spurring new demands on the electrical grid to keep them all charged.
That was on Mark Uglem’s mind as he gazed at the gas-powered vehicles peppering driveways in his Champlin subdivision. Can the electrical grid handle the extra draw if those cars were electric and charging simultaneously?
“You’ll need so much more juice to run everything,” said Uglem, a former Champlin mayor and state representative. “Is Minnesota ready to handle the move to electric vehicles?”
Uglem sought answers from Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune’s community-driven reporting project fueled by great questions from readers.
Electric vehicles still make up a tiny percentage of cars and trucks on the road in Minnesota — only about 18,000 registered vehicles were fully or partly powered by batteries as of February. But that’s up from just a few hundred a decade ago.
Large auto manufacturers are jumping on the electric vehicle (EV) bandwagon. By 2040, nearly 60% of all passenger vehicles sold will be electric, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an arm of the Bloomberg news and research firm.
Americans drove more than 3.3 trillion miles in 2019, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Fueling that travel with electricity, rather than gas, will require a lot of power.
Like most states, Minnesota is part of a regional grid overseen by an organization that — in simple terms — moves power to where it is needed. The power is delivered locally on utility-owned transmission systems that can become overloaded if there is too much demand.
Minnesota-based electrical utilities Great River Energy and Xcel Energy say they have been investing millions of dollars upgrading transmission lines, transformers and substations over the years partly in anticipation of increased demand. And they will continue to do so, said Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy operations in Minnesota.
“It’s less about how many plug in, but when they plug in,” said David Ranallo, Great River’s director of culture, communications and member services. The key, he said, is to encourage EV owners to charge during off-peak hours when the system has excess power.
As an incentive, Great River and Xcel Energy offer lower rates during overnight hours when power consumption is lower and the majority of electric car charging takes place.
A majority of EV owners charge their vehicles at home, and can do so using standard outlets they already have, said Tim Sexton, assistant commissioner for Sustainability and Public Health for the Minnesota Department of…