Electric cars will challenge state power grids

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A Chevrolet Volt hybrid car connected to a charging station at a parking garage in Los Angeles.

SEATTLE — When Seattle City Light unveiled five new electric vehicle charging stations last month in an industrial neighborhood south of downtown, the electric utility wasn’t just offering a new spot for drivers to fuel up. It also was creating a way for the service to figure out how much more power it might need as electric vehicles catch on.

Seattle aims to have nearly a third of its residents driving electric vehicles by 2030. Washington state is No. 3 in the nation in per capita adoption of plug-in cars, behind California and Hawaii. But as Washington and other states urge their residents to buy electric vehicles — a crucial component of efforts to reduce carbon emissions — they also need to make sure the electric grid can handle it.

The average electric vehicle requires 30 kilowatt hours to travel 100 miles — the same amount of electricity an average American home uses each day to run appliances, computers, lights and heating and air conditioning.

An Energy Department study found that increased electrification across all sectors of the economy could boost national consumption by as much as 38 percent by 2050, in large part because of electric vehicles. The environmental benefit of electric cars depends on the electricity being generated by renewables.

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