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Will the grid be able to absorb all the elevated demand for electricity for transportation and buildings?


Xcel Energy has elevated its aspirations. In 2020, the company announced a goal of being able to power 20% of all vehicles in its service territories within the eight states it operates by 2030.

The new goal announced in early August looks further ahead, to 2050, and with greater ambition. That new ambition is to provide the infrastructure and energy to run all vehicles in its service area on carbon-free electricity or other clean energy by 2050.

This parallels the company’s goal of being carbon neutral in its electricity by 2050.

As it has said since 2018, the answers for achieving that ambition are not yet available. Xcel very specifically mentions hydrogen as an option, but whether that door will open in the next 10 or 20 years is by no means clear, as the company’s Alice Jackson, who now directs Xcel’s long-term planning, wryly noted in a June 2022 interview with Big Pivots. It’s been a technology predicted to be ready during the next five years for the last 50 years, she said.

The end goal in Colorado and several other states is to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, which has become the No. 1 source of emissions in the economies of many states. Electricity shed off its carbon emissions accomplishes that when used for transportation.

As of 2021, an electric vehicle powered with Xcel Energy was over 55% cleaner than a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle, according to a statement from Xcel. By 2030, it will be cleaner yet, at least 80% cleaner. This is across the company’s eight-state service territory.

Lower cost is another key benefit. Charging an EV during off-peak rate periods currently costs the equivalent of about $1 per gallon of gasoline.

Part of this strategic plan is to support installation of charging infrastructure. This goal includes having an opportunity to charge an EV within one mile of homes. There’s also a vision for environmental and social justice, corresponding with the goals embraced by Colorado and other states.

Travis Madsen, the transportation program director for Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, says Xcel is “smart to look at what’s coming and get ready for it.”

Might this shift in transportation but also buildings and other sectors be happening too quickly? Will there be enough electricity to meet demand?

“It’s not possible to move too fast,” Madsen says. ”What we’re talking about will bring mass benefits. Electric cars will be cheaper to fuel and to operate, and there will be cost savings in home electrification.

“So we are going to save a ton of money, it will prevent a ton of pollution, which is good for the climate and for our health. I don’t think that it’s too fast to realize those benefits. As for resource adequacy, it’s similar to other transitions we have gone through, and we have managed those previous introductions of new technology just fine.”


Top photo: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis at a bill-signing in 2019 as state legislators look on.

Allen Best
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