Factcheck: Misleading Headlines About Electric Car Charging While Boiling the Kettle
By Simon Evans
In recent days, a new round of misleading headlines said that homes won't be able to boil a kettle while also charging an electric car. Given how the traditional British cuppa holds near-sacred status, this subject was ready-made for attention.
Today, however, the vast majority of home car chargers are rated at or below seven kilowatts (kW) and can be run alongside kettles, ovens and any other domestic appliances without problems. The source of the headlines, a National Grid "thought piece" published in April, was about problems on home or local electricity circuits, that might arise in the future if they are not addressed.
Running 11kW fast chargers at the same time as kettles, on inadequate wiring, is one of these potential problems. But these high capacity units are "vanishingly rare," said James McKemey, head of the insight team for charge installation firm Pod Point. He told Carbon Brief, "When we go to site we have to assess the load there already. If running a kettle would mean blowing your main fuse, we can't install."
The media focus on electric cars has grown since environment secretary Michael Gove said on July 26 that the government wanted to ban the sales of "conventional" petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. (It remains unclear if hybrid vehicles would be allowed, as the ban has not been explained in detail.)
This ambition would entail a major transformation of the UK economy. It would pose significant challenges for the electricity grid, the exchequer's tax take, carmakers and the wider auto sector.
National Grid, which manages the UK power network, has been trying to work out what those challenges look like and what it will need to do to address them. This is an effort to identify potential problems so that they can be avoided, but has been widely misconstrued as a forecast of calamity.
Earlier headlines have suggested the UK will need six, ten or even 20 new nuclear plants to charge electric cars, which would raise peak demand by up to 50 percent. National Grid published a "myth buster" to explain why these headlines were wrong. It said:
"The government's recent announcement ... has led to lots of speculation in the media regarding the effects on the energy system. Often National Grid's Future Energy Scenarios (FES), which is our analysis of future energy demands, has been cited incorrectly and sometimes out of context. This article is intended to clear up some of the misconceptions."
As Carbon Brief explained in July, the reality is likely to be closer to a six gigawatt (GW) or 10 percent increase in peak demand due to electric cars in 2050, equivalent to two nuclear plants. This assumes smart car charging becomes the norm, extending the current trend in that direction.
Newspapers have also been quick to suggest that electric cars would massively increase annual demand for power. Obviously, electric cars will raise demand for electricity. (A reduction in demand from oil refineries will partly offset this. They use around 1.5 percent of current UK supply).
However, analysis from Cambridge Econometrics and National Grid suggests electric cars might raise annual demand by just 10 percent in 2050. Key uncertainties in this outlook include the rate of electric car adoption, the average number of miles driven per person in the future—this number peaked a decade ago—and whether autonomous vehicles or car sharing take off.
This week, headlines have found a new electric car problem to worry about—again, based on a piece of National Grid future-gazing. The Financial Times was first to the story on Aug. 20 under the headline, "Charge electric car but don't boil kettle, says National Grid."
It said homes using 11kW, 48 amp fast chargers might not be able to boil kettles at the same time, since most home electricity circuits can only handle 60-80 amps at one time. Kettles are limited to 13 amps, like many other domestic appliances.
The FT article noted that, as of today, only five percent of homes would be able to take an 11kW charger. It added that these homes would be able to handle fast chargers and kettles at the same time, if they fitted a 100 amp main fuse.
This was not enough to prevent the cuppa crisis from spreading, however. In subsequent headlines, the Telegraph ("Don't boil the kettle while charging your electric car because it will blow the fuse, National Grid warns"), Times ("Charging an electric car while the kettle is on may blow a fuse") and Mail Online ("Forget that cuppa: Charging an electric car at the same time as boiling your kettle will blow your fuse, National Grid warns") were among those following the FT's story.
By this point, caveats were often forgotten and growing certainty took hold. An Aug. 22 Telegraph editorial confidently said, "The National Grid says anyone driving an electric car should not charge it at home while boiling a kettle because the power surge would trip the main fuse."
@nationalgriduk Yesterday's Telegraph editorial (not online) joins the inaccurate electric car cuppa crisis bandwag… https://t.co/hqzwbUPWKL— Simon Evans (@Simon Evans)1503501491.0
In one Daily Mail piece published in print and online, veteran columnist Christopher Booker managed to pull together all the recent misleading headlines about electric cars into a single article.
It's worth returning to what the National Grid's thought piece actually said on this question. Note that it was published in April and has only now received widespread coverage. It said, in hypothetical terms:
"The average household is supplied with single phase electricity and is fitted with a main fuse of 60 to 80 amps. Using a 3.5kW battery charger requires 16 amps. If one were to use an above average power charger, say 11kW, this would require 48 amps. When using such a charger it would mean that you could not use other high demand electrical items (such as kettles, oven, and immersion heaters) without tripping the house's main fuse ...
"If your house had fitted the maximum 100 amp main fuse, then a more powerful 22kW charger could be used ... In reality, an 11kW charger, with an above average main fuse, is likely to be a good compromise."
It's worth repeating that very few homes are currently able to install an 11kW charger and Pod Point does not believe they are necessary. In any case, only high-end electric car models are able to use three-phase 11kW fast chargers, with most models restricted to 7 or 3.5kW units.
The spread of larger electric car batteries does not mean people will drive further, added McKemey, so 7kW chargers should remain adequate for almost all homes. Over the past 16 months, 33 percent of chargers installed by his firm were 3.5kW, another 67 percent were 7kW and just 0.1 percent were high capacity fast chargers.
National Grid went on to identify a second potential "pinch point," if multiple homes on a local electricity circuit all use car chargers at once. It said some 32 percent of low voltage circuits might need upgrading once electric car adoption reaches 40-70 percent, or more quickly if fast chargers are used.
The UK will need widespread adoption of electric cars, coupled to increased supplies of low-carbon electricity, if it is to meet its legally-binding carbon reduction targets. The government wants to ban sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 and for "almost all" to be zero emission by 2050.
This shift will have wide-ranging effects, many of which will be positive. Roadside air pollution will be eased, motorists are likely to save money on fueling their vehicles and the UK will become less dependent on imported oil.
Other effects of electric cars will be more challenging. The treasury may need to find a new source of income as fuel duty income evaporates. Carmakers will have to develop new models and new supply chains. Mining for the components of batteries will pose different environmental risks. And electricity grids will need to adapt.
As Pod Point's McKemey said, however, the idea that no one is thinking about how to address these challenges "could not be less true."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
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As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
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<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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