Will electric cars stop power shortages?

Neil Briscoe 25 April 2022

Many are concerned that increasing numbers of electric cars will put too much strain on the national grid. Well, one Irish entrepreneur has an answer—more electric cars…

One of the worries about the future of electric motoring that consistently raises its head is how we generate enough power. What happens when everyone’s car is electric, and they all come home at six in the evening and plug in? Will the street lights dim? Will  everyone’s trip switch trip? Are we looking at a future of permanent brown-out?

Indeed, even before the current crisis in energy prices, there were concerns about generating enough power for mass EV use. The Electric Vehicles Energy Task Force, commissioned by the UK government, warned last year that: “Electricity produced by generators, or supplied from storage devices, must exactly balance the demand for electricity on a second-by-second basis ... If this balance is not maintained the system can fail. If the operator changes the charging rates of too many electric vehicles (EVs) too quickly the electricity system may not be able to respond fast enough. In this event, protection systems would react, and electricity supplies could be lost.”

Is there a solution, a squaring of this circle? Well, possibly yes, and the answer might just counter-intuitively be—more electric cars. Lots more. 

Norman Crowley has made a name for himself converting classic cars to electric power. The Cork-born entrepreneur, now based in Wicklow, just south of Dublin, is trying to make his AVA Electrifi company the go-to place for boutique classic electric conversions. Gazing at the gorgeous Ferrari and Cobra electric conversions he’s already created, it’s easy to become beguiled by the idea, but what Crowley is working on away from low-clung classics is potentially even bigger. It’s about converting not classics, but hard-working vehicles to battery power.

“About a year ago, a mining company approached us to convert a 1980s Toyota Land Cruiser to electric power” Crowley tells me. “They asked us to do it as a pilot project because come 2026, no vehicle will be allowed down the mine anymore unless it’s electric. So we asked them how many vehicles do they want to convert, ultimately? And it turns out that each mine has between 200 and 400 vehicles.”

"Norman Crowley has made a name for himself converting classic cars to electric power"

Crowley’s business senses no doubt started twitching at such potential work, but so too did his eco-antennae. Through one of his businesses, Crowley Carbon, Norman helps other companies lower their carbon footprint through energy efficiency, smart metering and so on. The electric car conversions for mining, though, represent not just potentially greater efficiency, but the possibility of a gigantic battery in which renewable power can be stored.

“So take a step back. We’ve got lots more wind generation coming on the system, and lots more solar. On a day like today, sunny and breezy, you get lots of both” says Crowley. “But in general in the winter, you’ll get more wind and no solar, and in the summer you’re getting lots of solar but little wind. So you need to balance the grid and how they is you have huge battery systems, and huge generators, and generators that aren't that environmentally friendly. But if you think about a mine, and your 400 vehicles. Each vehicle is 100 or 200-kilowatt hour battery. So every five vehicles is a megawatt.

So down a mine, with all those batteries sitting still is the same thing as 100-megawatt power plant. Those batteries aren't running all the time. They get driven down to mine in the morning, then they’re be parked up for most of the day. So imagine that mine is a power plant, and then you want to balance the grid you can use all those vehicles, and then the mine can get paid for that grid balancing.”

So, I ask Crowley, is the future of electric motoring going to be more about converting old vehicles — from 1980s Land Cruisers to 1970s Ferraris to 1950s Jaguars, going through AVA’s current catalogue — than building new ones? “If you’d asked me that a year ago, I’d have said no” replied Crowley. “Now, I think absolutely yes. It's not getting rid of the past. I think there's a very bad thing that's happening in the world which is where people are going; ‘the stuff we did in the past was bad. And now we need to be better.’ But the stuff we did then wasn't bad, the stuff we did then was emblematic of where we were then. Now we can do different stuff.”

Read more: 12 Unbelievable car stories

Read more: The electric revolution: What's next for motoring?

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