Electric vehicles might present a major problem during natural disaster evacuations, according to experts on the topic. The increasing usage of electrical vehicles might not meet the safety requirement of massive hurricane evacuations. Centralized charging systems, improved battery technology, and an increase in hybrid vehicles are among potential remedies.
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Although electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more and more popular with consumers, transportation industry professionals are looking into potential issues with widespread EV adoption.
EVs and evacuations amid natural catastrophes is one such problem.
A Transportation Research research titled “Can We Evacuate From Hurricanes With Electric Vehicles?” posted in ScienceDirect discovered that Florida, which is frequently hit by hurricanes, may not have sufficient electricity to cope while in an evacuation.
“If the majority of the evacuating vehicles were EVs, Florida would face a serious challenge in power supply,” the report said.
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It was stated that this might have an impact on six out of the state’s nine major power agencies, particularly those in the middle of Florida, and “could induce cascading failure of the entire power network.”
Wildfires and earthquakes are the two most common natural disasters in California.
Both are unexpected, short-notice catastrophes that might take down the electrical system, making it particularly challenging, if not impossible, to recharge a battery electric vehicle (BEV),” according to a case study from California Polytechnic State University.
As reported by the International Energy Agency (IEA), sales of electric cars (EVs) attained an unprecedented 3 million in 2020. Furthermore, the Biden administration’s stated aim of having half of all new vehicle sales in 2030 be zero-emission vehicles may help EV sales climb to 23 million by that time.
The issue of evacuations during natural disasters has become more urgent as EV adoption has skyrocketed.
An expert group at the 2022 National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) asserted that the issue has not yet been resolved.
Posing the Question
“What happens when people … run out of battery on the side of the road [during an emergency evacuation]?” an NCSL conference attendee asked.
“Early adoption is less than one percent. But when its 2035 or 2040 and we’re at 15–20 percent, it’s a whole new level of problem to deal with.
“What’s your vehicle evacuation plan at that point?”
One of the panelists for “The Promise and Challenges of Electric Vehicles” at NCSL, state senator Jeff Brandes (R-Fla.), admitted the concern and stated that Florida was looking into it. It remained without a resolution.
A “really creative company” in Colorado is looking into the viability of transporting chargers in boxes and distributing them “like we deploy water, like we deploy firefighters,” according to state senator Faith Winter (D-Colo.). Colorado, according to Winter, is aware of the problem and is working to find a solution.
During a Hurricane
In 2020, Dr. Mikhail Chester, the director of the Metis Center for Infrastructure and Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University, and Dr. Kairui Feng, a researcher at the Princeton University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, published a report on the issue of trying to evacuate from hurricanes in electric vehicles.
The team’s evacuation methodology was based on Hurricane Irma (2017).
“Hurricane Irma created the largest-scale evacuation in U.S. history, involving about 6.5 million people in Florida on mandatory evacuation orders and, consequently, 4 million evacuating vehicles.
“Severe travel delays happened throughout the state due to traffic jams; some highways [with a 75 mph speed limit] were experiencing a 15 mph peak traffic speed under a tripled traffic volume, compared to the usual conditions.”
Researchers looked at the electricity requirements if the evacuation vehicles were EVs and contrasted those to the power suppliers in Florida, presuming that the motion of the automobiles would be the same.
According to the simulation results, in certain places “the power demand would significantly exceed the capacity,” while other areas would fare better in the short term as a result of vehicles charging at home.
But as the batteries depleted and required recharging, the simulation produced unsettling outcomes.
“When the exodus reached inland Florida and batteries are depleted, the power service companies there would face enormous electricity pressure, and the EV power demand would rapidly exceed their safety margins.”
According to the research, certain power companies would indeed encounter a 400 to 1000 MW power shortfall, which would result in between 35 and 45 percent of vehicles having access to electricity and 55 to 65 percent not.
A “larger-scale cascading failure in the power network” lasting up to three days would occur once demand on other grids exceeded supply, despite the fact that power providers in places like Tallahassee and Gainesville would initially be able to deliver power.
The report’s abstract states, “The increasing usage of electrical vehicles might not meet the safety requirement of massive hurricane evacuations, which may happen more frequently in the future climate.
“Policymakers need to consider the evacuation problem as EVs are increasingly adopted in disaster-prone regions. Potential solutions include developing centralized charging strategies, improving battery technology, and adopting hybrid vehicles in addition to EVs.”
The EV advocacy website EV Resource responded to the criticism that EVs are unsuitable for storm evacuations with the following: “While power outages are a problem during and after hurricanes, there aren’t electricity shortages before the storm.”
According to EV Resource, people could charge ahead of a storm, and that charge ought to be enough to get them to safety.
“EVs don’t sit and burn fuel. The horror stories of people being stuck in traffic for 12 hours and running out of gas simply aren’t a problem for EVs and hybrids. Even for long stays in traffic, EVs can run for a long time by shutting off non-essentials like air conditioning.”
Fires or Earthquakes
On their website, EV Resource did not offer any evidence to support the aforementioned claims. In addition, as noted in “The Use of Electric Cars in Short-Notice Evacuations: A Case Study of California’s Natural Disasters,” both earthquakes and fires frequently occur without notice, unlike hurricanes which often come with advanced warnings.
The authors of the case studies, Roxanne Peterson and Mohamed Awwad, from the California Polytechnic State University’s Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department, also note that “Short-notice evacuations, such as those caused by wildfires and earthquakes, may lead to stall-outs, resulting in increased traffic and accidents.”
The case study claims that EVs have a range of 100 to 200 miles and that a complete recharge can take three to twelve hours. Although faster, fast charging can still consume up to 30 minutes.
Charging issues “can create serious problems in evacuations” in the event of an emergency evacuation, which could result in EVs obstructing roads and causing more traffic and travel time to build up.
The report said, “California’s two main natural disasters are earthquakes and wildfires.
“Both are short-notice events that have the potential to knock out the power grid with no warning, making it especially difficult, if not impossible, to charge a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV).
“More than 2 million properties in California are at extreme risk from wildfires, making up about half of all properties at extreme risk from wildfires.”
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