Thinking about buying an electric car? Your home may need a boost.

Thinking about buying an electric car? You currently have a few options in the U.S. The two most common are the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf. But before you buy, there are some questions to ask your car dealer and some things you need to know about your home’s electrical system.

Electric cars like the Chevrolet Volt draw about three kilowatts when charging. Before you buy one, contact your electrician and your utility to make sure your home can handle the increased demand.

Ask your dealer about the available charging options. Both the Volt and the Leaf have more than one. Some options might require modifications to your home’s electrical system. If that’s the case, a licensed electrician should inspect your home and do any work to meet national standards and comply with local building codes and permits.

The Volt and the Leaf draw a little more than three kilowatts when charging, according to their manufacturers. The typical home, at any given time on a normal day, draws between four and six kilowatts.

The amount of energy your home uses determines what size transformer you need. Typically, Bluebonnet installs transformers capable of handling 10 kilowatts, 15 kilowatts or 25 kilowatts.

Adding three kilowatts to your home’s energy demand is the equivalent of adding a barn or garage apartment. Your electrician can to tell you what’s needed to handle the additional demand.

Before you buy an electric car, call our Member Service Center at 800-842-7708. We’ll make sure your transformer can meet the new demand.

As more and more electric cars hit the streets, will utilities be able to generate enough electricity to charge them and still provide power for everything else? Yes: According to the Electric Power Research Institute, 10 million electric vehicles would increase the nation’s demand for electricity by about .5 percent. That’s about one-third of the annual growth in demand for electricity without electric vehicles.

It will be several years, maybe decades, before that many electric vehicles are on U.S. roads. Chevrolet will produce 16,000 Volts this year and 60,000 in 2012. Nissan will produce 50,000 Leafs worldwide this year. It began selling the Leaf in December 2010 and has sold more than 4,000 in the U.S. so far. 

Utilities, electric vehicle manufacturers and owners will have to work together to plan for the future. If several homeowners on the same street or in the same neighborhood buy electric vehicles and charge them at the same time, utilities will have to upgrade their electric delivery systems to meet the demand.

Think of it in terms of water. As more homes are built in a neighborhood, the water system’s pipes must be made larger to provide enough water. If not, when everyone waters their lawns, or washes clothes, dishes and cars, water pressure would drop or stop altogether.

Electricity is the same way. If electric cars are clustered on a distribution line or a transformer that isn’t large enough, everyone on that line or transformer could lose power. That’s why it’s important for members to let us know when they’ve bought an electric car.

What does the future hold for electric vehicles and utilities? Will your car be able to provide power for your home in the event of a power outage? Will you be able to sell power from your vehicle to us in the event of power generation shortages? Perhaps, but answers are several years and several generations of electric vehicles away.

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About Will Holford

Have you ever wondered about the future of electric use? Perhaps you’re curious about how some global or national events might impact your power, the environment or your bill? Maybe you’re just interested in what’s going on at Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative. We want to share what we know, and that’s what the Bluebonnet Blog is about. Will Holford, Bluebonnet’s Manager of Public Affairs, is going to write most often for the blog. He’s been with the co-op since 2007, and has worked in communications for more than 14 years. Will enjoys learning about energy – and writing about it. He and other Bluebonnet employees (and occasional guest contributors) will get the conversation going -- about everything from where your power is generated to where it’s used, advances in technology, changes that will affect you, and interesting peeks behind the scenes at the co-op. We welcome your comments, questions and ideas. Email Will at will.holford@bluebonnet.coop.
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