It’s common to charge electric vehicles at night. That will be a problem.

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As electric vehicles hit the road around the country, hundreds of thousands of Americans are beginning to learn the ins and outs of car charging: how to install home chargers, where to find public charging stations, and how to avoid the dreaded “range anxiety.”

But as EV owners plug in their cars, there is a looming problem: pressures on the electricity grid if most drivers continue to charge their electric cars at night.

According to a new study from researchers at Stanford University, if EV sales grow rapidly over the next decade — and most drivers continue to charge their electric cars at home — vehicle charging could strain the electricity grid in the Western United States, increasing net demand at peak times by 25 percent. That could be a problem as the West struggles to keep the lights on amid heat waves and rising electricity demand.

The first thing to know about EV charging is that it’s nothing like filling a car with gasoline. Charging an electric car takes time — while the fastest chargers can charge an EV battery by 80 percent in 20 to 30 minutes, most chargers are slower, taking somewhere between two and 22 hours to get to a full charge. That means that around 80 percent of EV charging happens at the owner’s home, overnight — when the driver doesn’t need the car and can leave plenty of time for a charge.

The mass adoption of electric vehicles will change everything we know about automobiles – from driving them to repairing them. But the shift will be bumpy. (Video: Lee Powell/The Washington Post, Photo: Brian Monroe/The Washington Post)

But that charging pattern is at odds with how electricity is increasingly being generated. The largest demand for electricity happens in the evening, between about 5 to 9 p.m. People come home from work, turn the lights on, watch TV and do other activities that suck up power. Solar panels, meanwhile, produce their energy during the middle of the day. The highest electricity demand, then, happens just when solar has begun to shut off for the day.

In the Stanford study, researchers modeled charging behavior of residents of 11 Western states, and then analyzed how that behavior would impact an electricity grid that is switching increasingly to renewables and other clean energy sources.

“Once 30 or 40 percent of cars are EVs, it’s going to start significantly impacting what we do with the grid,” said Ram Rajagopal, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and one of the study’s authors. Even if drivers wait until after peak hours and set their cars to charge at 11 p.m. or later, they will be using electricity at exactly the time when renewable energy is not readily available. That could lead to increased carbon emissions and a need for more batteries and storage in the electricity grid.

One solution, the researchers say, is if more EV owners shift to daytime charging, charging their cars at work or at public chargers. If electric cars are charged in the late morning and early afternoon, when the grid has excess solar capacity that’s not being used, there will be less pressure on the electricity system and less need for storage. According to…

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