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There is only Enough Surplus Electricity in North America for 30,000 Electric Cars Electricity Human Activity Nature 

There is only Enough Surplus Electricity in North America for 30,000 Electric Cars


A friend of mine commented over bad sushi the other day that there isn’t enough electricity generated in North America for everyone to be driving an electric car.

A powerful statement!  We’re going to examine the electric grid of Canada and the United States and discover exactly how many electric cars we could service.  In order to do this, we’re going to need to really break down the numbers, make crazy assumptions, and examine a few things:

  • Average miles driven per car
  • Amount of electricity to charge a car to drive those miles
  • Amount of electricity generated in North America

We’ll also probably take into account that people who subscribe to Time of Use pricing on electricity in suburban areas will probably charge their cars overnight, and not evenly throughout the day. There is only Enough Surplus Electricity in North America for 30,000 Electric Cars
Lights or Electric Cars?

How Far Do Cars Travel in North America?


According to the latest Natural Resources Canada report, cars in Canada travel about 15,200 km’s per year. 19,876,948 vehicles up to 4.5 tonnes.


According to the US Federal Highway Administration, it’s 12,485 miles (20,000km’s).  135,399,945 million cars registered.


2707998900000 USA Car KM’s + 302129609600 Canada Car KM’s / (135,399,945 USA cars + 19,876,948 Canada Cars)
= (2707998900000 + 302129609600)  / (135,399,945  + 19,876,948 )
=19385 kms/car


Amount of Electricity Required to Travel ?

I think the best thing to use here is Watts per km.  We’re going to do a stretch here and state that all cars use a certain amount of electricity per kilometer.

We’re going to ignore some pretty important deviations and build the best average we can using this guide:

  • The cars all have the same drag profile, weight and loading, tires, etc.
  • The charging method and losses will be accounted for
  • The lifespan of batteries won’t be accounted for
  • The speed of kilometers driven will be considered to be averaged at 100kph, without losses for start/stop , highway/city

So how much electricity is used to travel in one kilometer in a Honda Civic shaped type of car.  We’re going to go about finding the answer in two ways.  The first way would be to calculate Force Required to push a car like that at 100km/h for a kilometer, and then we will convert the amount of horsepower from mechanical Watts to electrical Watts, allowing for ineffeciencies, losses, and other variabilities. Nope.

Manufacturer Car Specs

The second and more simple way to determine number of Watts per km of travel will be to examine published data on the Nissan Leaf or the Mitsubishi i-Miev to see what they say about consumption for full charge and the projected mileage.  I’m partial to Mitsubishi, so here goes:


Charging Stations



According to Mitsubishi:

240V 30A outlet will charge a vehicle from empty to charged in 7 hours.  = 7200Watts * 7 hours / 1000 = 50.4kWh
120V 8A power supply included will charge a vehicle from empty to charged in 22hours. = 21.12 kWh

The projected range of the vehicle varies, but averages around 160km under ideal conditions, and 48 km’s under traffic hell.   Let’s call it 100kms.

Now i understand that it doesn’t always use the same amount of electricity and the full amperage during the charging cycle, but let’s say that it does.

50.4kWh/100kms = 0.504 kWh/km

Electricity Required for All Kilometres Driven

In order to replace North American km’s driven (3010128509600 km) with electricity, we will need
3010128509600 * 0.504 kWh
=1517104768.8384 MWh
=1517104.7688384 GWh Giga Watt hours
=1517.1047688384 TWh Tera Watt hours

=1.517  PWh Peta Watt hours 

Electricity Production in USA and Canada

Canada produced about 580.6 billion kWh in 2010. (580 TWh)
USA produced about 4,120,000,000,000 kWh in 2010. (4.12 PWh)

Combined, North America produces 4.6 PWh.

1.517 PWh Consumption / 4.6 PWh Production
= 33%

Wow, we’d need a full 33% of the power grid to charge every replacement electric car.

We have enough, or do we?

Annual consumption levels leave little room for new cars.

USA 4.12 PWh produced – 3.889 PWh consumed = 0.231 PWh = 231 TWh

Canada 580 TWh produced – 504.8 TWh consumed = 75 TWh

Total Remainder for new load = 301TWh


Therefore, we only have enough juice to power the following:

Number of KMs per year

301,000,000 kWh / 0.504 Kwh/km
= 597222222 km’s


Number of Cars Driving the Average

597222222 km’s available  / 19385 kms/car
=30,000 cars.

That’s It!  We can only handle 30,000 cars!
In North America!



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5 thoughts on “There is only Enough Surplus Electricity in North America for 30,000 Electric Cars

  1. DDY

    How many industrial size windmills would it take to charge the vehicles?

    How long would it take your typical home windmill to charge your electric vehicle?

  2. Spec

    What a complete stupid article. Let the real scientists and engineers deal with the issue.

    1. realworldnumbers

      Hey, thanks for your comments!

      I’m approving it because you took the time to write. I’m a little sad that you called it stupid, and that you used poor grammar to express that. “completeLY stupid”, not “complete stupid”.

      Second of all, this report comes with a nice round figure on page 14:

      Providing 73% of the daily energy requirements of the U.S. LDV fleet with electricity would add
      approximately 910 billion kWh, an increase of about 24% of the total U.S. annual generation in 2002
      [EIA, 2006b].

      It seems to me that 910 billion kWh is pretty darned close to the figure i provided. My estimate was 33%, this paper seems to quote 24%. Not bad for simple research and guess work!

      Also, this is about plugin HYBRID cars. I’m talking full on electric.

  3. global hugs

    All electric vehicles do is to transfer the source of pollution.

    Also, I don’t think that your article or the analysis linked by Spec account for the transmission losses in the power grid, which I understand are significant.

    Thanks for your well thought out article. The simple truth that North America can only handle 30,000 electric cars means that the push to these vehicles is driven by politics and ideology rather than economy and practical considerations.

  4. Gemie

    I’d like to see you do an article on the true costs, output and return on investment for a small solar / wind setup with enough juice to keep a refrigerator going, or a desktop computer.

    I have an apple mini driving 3 monitors and a couple of external hard drives, including an Airport time capsule. What would it take to have a battery bank, convertor and home solar panels / windmills sufficient to run the setup every day for 12 hours?

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