In-Depth: Can Utah's power grid keep up with electric vehicle growth?

Posted at 9:14 AM, Jan 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 21:08:26-05

SALT LAKE CITY — As more electric vehicles (EVs) hit the road, the demand for electricity rises.

It's a concern to EV charging analysts like Casey Donahue, the Founder & CEO of Optiwatt.

"Our current grid infrastructure is going to be under a lot of stress with the upcoming electric vehicles coming online," said Donahue.

Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) estimates about 3% of cars in Utah are Electric right now and that number is only expected to climb.

This comes as President Biden set the goal of EVs making up 50% of all vehicle sales by 2030.

James Campbell, the Director of Innovation and Sustainability Policy at RMP said Utah's current power grid can only support 50% EV adoption.

"We did a study with the University of Utah where we had them look at what sorts of impacts increased EV adoption would have on our existing infrastructure to serve those residential neighborhoods," said Campbell.

If it goes beyond the threshold of 50%, Campbell believes changes will need to be made to our state's infrastructure and to consumers' charging habits.

Cambell said, "We do have sufficient capacity but we just want to make sure people aren’t plugging in right when you get home from work to add to the peak charging times."

One app, in particular, can help with that.

It's called Optiwatt and it's free to download for Apple and Android devices.

"We’ll actually optimize their Tesla or their electric vehicle to charge at non-peak rates, so we’ll save them money by optimizing that control," said the Founder & CEO of Optiwatt.

When it comes to traveling long distances, Utah has 22 direct current (DC) fast charger locations.

15 of those are Tesla Supercharger locations.

While a lot of EV chargers exist in the state than that, fast chargers reduce your travel time.

You may be wondering, "How will I know when to charge the car?"

When you put in a destination, the car will calculate how much battery you need to get to each point and it will recommend charging stops to you to make sure you reach your destination.

Cost is another reason more people are going electric.

Donahue told Fox 13 News that Optiwatt users saved about $14.5 million in gas across the U.S. in 2021 alone.

We tracked how much money you'd have to pay to charge your vehicle on a road trip from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, which is roughly 420 miles.

According to our calculations, it cost $38.82.

That includes three stops along the way in Nephi, Beaver, and Mesquite, Nevada, and just over an hour of charging time in total.

For comparison, it would cost about $63 in a gas-powered vehicle.

Rocky Mountain Power said they plan to add 20 more fast chargers in the near future to expand access to more destinations within Utah.

Campbell said, "We need to start filling in state roads so those destinations, where Utahns want to go. We actually have the capacity and the charging infrastructure so they can get there, and Vernal’s one of those examples; like Dinosaur National Monument could be a location in that there isn’t sufficient infrastructure."

RMP also thinks charging technology will change over time and there will be less of a need for what they call "the gas station model".

"We’re partnering now with Utah State University looking at do we put charging infrastructure in the road," said Campbell.

RMP said they see this as an opportunity for heavy-duty vehicles, especially at Utah's Inland Port.

Rocky Mountain Power said they got some Department of Energy grants earlier that have helped with the progress of some EV infrastructure upgrades to date.

They also told Fox 13 News that Utah stands to get $36 million as part of the infrastructure bill passed in November 2021.

"I would say what the infrastructure bill can do is it can move forward those plans, but it’s not going to really alter them significantly," said Campbell.

You can learn more about how much EVs can help you save, where you to charge a vehicle, and the incentives that RMP offers here.