EV Awareness Day in Portland, Oregon  (Source:
Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn believes EVs will be 10 percent of the market by 2020, and Jim Piro believes Portland can accept that challenge

Portland, Oregon is looking to be a leader in the electric vehicle (EV) industry, and is proving its dedication by setting up new charging stations and opting to be a test site for these vehicles. Earlier this week, Portland State University and Portland General Electric Co. even announced that they will conduct a two-year research project to see if different charging stations affect the way EV drivers use charging infrastructure.

But Portland's mission, while progressive and environmentally-friendly, raises questions like "Will Portland's utility need to increase capacity?" and "How soon before the use of electric vehicles will make a noticeable difference to the grid?"

Portland General Electric CEO Jim Piro believes the city is best suited for EVs and their infrastructure, and that supporting an increased amount of these vehicles in the future will be no problem.

Many estimate that electric cars will make up 2 to 5 percent of the U.S. by 2020. Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, on the other hand, believes EVs will be 10 percent of the market by 2020. While this seems like a high percentage, Piro has reason to believe that Portland is up for the challenge, since more than 300 Nissan Leafs are on the roads in the city. This is more than one-tenth of the Leafs that Nissan has sold outside of California.

While Piro believes Portland has the potential to buy more electric cars, he doesn't think a supply and variety of models will be available anytime soon. So by the time manufacturing is "scaled up," Piro estimates Portland will have 170,000 vehicles in its metro area, or 50 megawatts of additional capacity. He says this is hardly enough for the utility's load to change if vehicles charge at off-peak times.

For all vehicles to switch to electric, or at least a majority of vehicles, Piro said there would be a need to increase capacity, considering a total of 500 megawatts.

"My guess is that we'd have to add a little bit of generation, but not a lot," said Piro. "It would add up to about 1000 megawatts off-peak, so that would be pushing the system if we tried to do that all night. Now our hydro capacity is tapped out, so we can't count on that. But frankly, that's like one natural gas plant, and a lot of that can be done off-peak."

Piro said the load of an EV charging station is equivalent to running two hair dryers at once or running a load of laundry in the dryer. Many are concerned that a cluster of EV owners in one neighborhood will be a problem, but utility companies are upgrading transformers to prevent this from becoming an issue. In addition, Piro added that there are "off-residential" applications that will allow electric to shine as well.

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