State would need to spend €340m to allow for mass switch over to electric cars
The State would need to invest more than €340m in upgrading the national grid to allow a switch from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles (EVs).
Experts suggest that while boosting the current electric fleet from just over 2,000 to 20,000 could be accommodated, major upgrades would be required to allow people charge their cars at home.
Jonathan O'Sullivan, manager of innovation with the national grid operator EirGrid, said the grid feeding into housing developments and urban areas would need to be bolstered to accommodate the increased demand for electricity.
"The rapid increase in demand would be an issue," he said. "In a home, the electric shower, cooker and immersion are the big drawers of power.
"An EV charging in each house is a material change in use of the distribution network. Managing that network, and the money for that, are for discussion."
A study from the ESB says that the cost of accommodating some 275,000 EVs on the network would be some €343m.
Of this, €127m would be needed in rural areas, €115m in urban areas outside Dublin's M50 and €33m inside the M50.
Meters costing €250 each per vehicle would also be needed, bringing the bill to €343m.
Part of the upgrade works is likely to arise in any event, due to increased demand for electricity between now and 2030, as the economy continues to grow.
To switch half the transport fleet to electric, or one million cars, some 900MW of electricity would be required, EirGrid said.
This is the equivalent of the power generated by the country's biggest station, Moneypoint.
Among the issues to be decided are when work upgrading the grid should start.
All investment in the grid infrastructure must be sanctioned by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The costs are added to customer bills, so unless there are signs that sales of electric vehicles are rising at a rate justified to meet demand, the regulator is unlikely to approve the spend.
Currently, there are just over 2,100 EVs on the road. The Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) says that some 91,185 new cars were sold in the first half of his year. Just 374 of these were EVs, although data from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) suggests sales are increasing year on year.
A target of 900 is in place for this year.
"If we got to 50,000 cars in Dublin, I would think we'd start to see challenges," Mr O'Sullivan added. "We have 3,000 cars right now and there are no issues. I can't see any fundamental issue up to 20,000. But after 20,000, I think there will be operational issues."
SEAI CEO Jim Gannon said EV charging could utilise renewable energy sources in periods of low demand, such as night-time.
He explained: "The one thing that EVs can do is act as a battery pack for intermittent power generation, whether solar or wind," he said.
Mr Gannon added that the Low Emission Vehicle Task Force, which includes the motor industry, government departments and other stakeholders, was examining incentives to encourage motorists to go green.
The ESB study, 'Preparation for EVs on the Distribution System', suggests that some 20pc of all vehicles, or around 400,000, could be accommodated on the grid at "low cost".
Substations could be installed in new housing, commercial or industrial developments, or at a later date if required.
To allow for 50,000 vehicles on the road, some €35m would need to be invested.