Gas prices are climbing again, and waves of new electric vehicles on the market are finding more new drivers than ever—attracted by better tech, a variety of pricing incentives, and growing awareness that they cost less to operate than the gas and diesel varieties.
Soon, EVs will replace gas-powered cars. It’s a great time to make the switch. But the process—and cost—may not be quite as simple as buying your new EV, driving it home, and plugging it in. Before you buy, said Products & Services Director Bill Powell, do a small amount of electrical homework. “It can quantify as big dollars, or as no problem. Before buying an EV, members need to do a little poking around,” he said.
Powell, known throughout WEC service territory as The Energy Coach, points out that most EV drivers charge at home, and that charging a vehicle draws a lot of energy for a long period of time. While it’s still overall cheaper to charge an EV than to keep filling a gas tank, Powell explained that EV purchasers need to make sure that their equipment is prepared for the change in load, and if it isn’t, that they’re prepared to update it. In nontechnical terms: if you have ten pounds of sausage, a five pound casing won’t cut it.
“What’s the most significant unexpected cost? Unique to member location, it may be an inadequate service entrance, an inadequate service wire, and/or an inadequate transformer. It’s site specific,” explained Powell.
It can quantify as big dollars, or as no problem. Before buying an EV, members need to do a little poking around.Bill Powell, the Energy Coach
The first place to look is the service entrance, or circuit breaker box. Most circuit breaker boxes are 100 or 200 amps. An EV charger requires a 50 amp load—an enormous load compared to almost any other household appliance. In a 100 amp circuit breaker box, that’s half the total load. For some households, that may still work; for many, an upgrade may be necessary. Powell added that the additional loads represented on the circuit breaker slots tell an important part of the story: are all the slots filled in? Then you may need a new circuit breaker. Take a picture of the panel, he advised.
Once you’re acquainted with your circuit breaker box, “it’s time to call your friendly local cooperative,” said Powell, and ask about your transformer and peak historic demand. Your transformer is the can-shaped device on the pole that connects distribution electricity to your house. If your peak historic demand—the maximum amount of electricity you use—plus a 50 amp EV charger is greater than what your transformer and wiring can handle, you’ll need to upgrade your transformer, and possibly your wire. Many homes in WEC’s service area have one transformer to one meter, but other members have joint use transformers, where one transformer feeds to not only their meter, but their neighbors’ as well. In that case, adding an EV load directly affects the amount of electricity available to your neighbors.
This call is actually required under state law. “If you add more electric load, it’s your responsibility to let your utility know, and it’s the utility’s job to update the transformer and charge you for it,” explained Powell. The cost to the member is the increment between the previous transformer and the one that meets demand, plus the capital costs to install it. The utility makes upgrades up to the point of interconnection, which is where the utility’s responsibility ends and the homeowner’s begins.
“I prefer that our engineers always assess the member’s service first,” added Dave Kresock, Director of Engineering & Operations. “It’s important that any member notify us when they are planning to install additional loads in their residence, and it is very important that the member always consults with a qualified electrician for any upgrades required beyond the point of interconnection.”
It’s important that any member notify us when they are planning to install additional loads in their residence, and it is very important that the member always consults with a qualified electrician for any upgrades required beyond the point of interconnection.Dave Kresock
Powell can tell you what happens if a member plugs in a new EV when everything else in the home is running, and the equipment is inadequate to the added demand. A fuse blows. And not just the circuit breaker, but the actual fuse on the transformer, up at the top of the pole, which requires a WEC crew to come and fix it.
Bottom line, said Powell: Do your homework about which EV is right for you. Then, look at your breaker box, and take a picture if it helps. Call The Energy Coach to ask about your historic peak load and ask for a service assessment. “We can tell you about your specifics,” he explained. You may have plenty of capacity for that new EV, or you may need a little—or a lot—of updates. Either way, it won’t be a surprise.