A “plug-in” car is one that can be recharged from the electric grid. Some plug-in cars run on electricity alone, while others are paired with small gasoline engines to create plug-in hybrids (which are different than the Toyota Prius and other conventional hybrids common today). Many plug-in hybrids can get over 100 miles per gallon, while plug-in electric vehicles consume no gasoline at all. Plug-in vehicles produce no direct tailpipe pollution when operating on electricity, and as renewable energy sources like wind and solar meet a larger share of our electricity needs, electric cars could create little or no air pollution. The technology needed to build workable plug-in vehicles exists today, and plug-ins have several advantages over gasoline-powered cars including far less required regular maintenance and no oil changes.
PennEnvironment was joined by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, and Axion Power International, Inc. in releasing today’s white paper.
“We are interested in exploring the potential contributions of electronic vehicle technology toward meeting our Greenworks Philadelphia goals,” said Mayor Michael Nutter.
Council woman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who has been passing legislation on the local level to promote cycling as a means of reducing automobile emissions in Philadelphia, said “Plug-in cars can be an important piece of the puzzle to lessening our carbon footprint. PennEnvironment should be commended for putting this issue at the forefront of their agenda.”
“If the goal is to significantly reduce emissions and US dependence on foreign oil, the place to start is the automotive industry and the time to start is now,” said Tom Granville, CEO of Axion Power International, Inc, which is based in New Castle, PA and which manufactures the types of batteries that power electric vehicles. “If the US follows a path similar to what Europe is embarking on with respect to mandating CO2 reductions, resulting in inexpensive stop/start micro hybrid cars coming to market, our future is indeed filled with the promise of a cleaner environment and a stronger economy.”
The new PennEnvironment white paper, entitled Plug-in Cars: Powering America Toward a Cleaner Future, answers many questions about plug-in vehicles and lays out a strategy for how to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road. Key points of the paper include:
* If half of the light vehicles in the United States were electric vehicles powered by completely clean electricity in 2030, total fleet emissions of global warming pollution would be reduced by 62 percent.
* Powering a car on electricity would result in 93 percent less smog-forming volatile organic compounds and 31 percent less nitrogen oxide emissions than powering a car on gasoline.
* If three-fourths of American cars, pick-up trucks, SUVs and vans were electric, oil use would be reduced by about one-third.
* Operating costs of plug-in cars are likely to be significantly lower than those of gasoline-powered cars. Electricity costs three to five cents per mile with average electric rates, or the equivalent of $0.75 to $1.25 per gallon of gasoline.
* Utilities can structure electricity prices so that it is cheaper to charge cars at times of the day when there is lower electric demand, ensuring that a large number of plug-in cars do not put a strain on the utility.
* Unlocking the full environmental and economic potential of plug-in vehicles will require efforts to clean up and modernize America’s electric grid. Pennsylvania and the country as a whole should adopt renewable energy standards requiring that at least 25 percent of our electricity come from renewable energy by 2025.
PennEnvironment urged state and local officials to fully harness the power of plug-ins by setting clean car standards, offering financial incentives for buyers of plug-in vehicles, creating a low-carbon fuel standard that allows plug-ins to contribute to lowering global warming emissions, promoting renewable energy and adopting ‘smart grid’ technologies that would allow plug-ins to help stabilize the electric grid. The group also called for a comprehensive federal energy and climate bill to help drive support for plug-in cars.
“PennEnvironment urges the U.S. Senate – and Senators Bob Casey and Arlen Specter here in Pennsylvania- to pass a comprehensive energy and global warming bill that, among other key steps, encourages the development and deployment of plug-in hybrids and other clean energy technologies,” said Willcox.
America’s current fleet of gasoline-powered cars and trucks leaves us dependent on oil, contributes to air pollution problems that threaten our health, and produces large amounts of global warming pollution. “Plug-in” cars are emerging as an effective way to lower global warming emissions, oil use, and smog. A plug-in car is one that can be recharged from the electric grid. Plug-in cars come in two types: plug-in hybrids that are paired with small gasoline engines, and fully electric vehicles that consume no gasoline at all.
As automakers race to become the first to introduce a mass production plug-in vehicle to American consumers, citizens and decision-makers are grappling to understand the implications of switching to a vehicle fleet fueled primarily by electricity for our environment, for consumers, and for the nation as a whole.
Plug-in electric vehicles have the potential to make an immediate difference in reducing air pollution and curbing dependence on oil.
Over the long term, plug-ins can play a critical role in the effort to stop global warming. The technology needed to build workable plug-in vehicles exists today, but it will take a coherent strategy and concerted action in order to take full advantage of the potential of plug-in vehicles.
Plug-in cars can make a major contribution to America’s efforts to reduce global warming pollution.
• More than 40 recent studies show that plug-in cars produce lower carbon dioxide than traditional gasoline-powered cars. One study by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) found that an electric car fueled by unused capacity in the current electric system would emit 27 percent less global warming pollution than a car fueled by gasoline, and would reduce global warming pollution in almost every area of the country, even where the primary source of electricity is coal.
• To take full advantage of the potential of plug-in vehicles, however, America must move toward a cleaner electricity grid. A study by the University of California, Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology showed that if half of the light vehicles in the United States were electric vehicles powered by completely clean electricity in 2030, total fleet emissions would be reduced by 62 percent.
Switching to plug-in cars will improve air quality for most Americans.
• Replacing gasoline with electricity will reduce the smog found in our cities and other densely populated areas. The PNNL study found that powering a car on electricity would result in 93 percent less smog-forming volatile organic compound (VOCs) and 31 percent less nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions than powering a car on gasoline.
• A study by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that, combined with our current emissions standards for power plants, converting 40 percent of U.S. cars to plug-in hybrids by 2030 would reduce smog for 61 percent of Americans, and increase it for 1 percent of Americans. Soot would decrease for 82 percent of the population, and increase for 3 percent of the population.
• Powering cars on clean electricity such as wind and solar power would virtually eliminate vehicle-related air pollution—whether from the tailpipe or the power plant.
Switching to plug-in cars will reduce oil consumption.
• A study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that if three-fourths of the cars, pick-up trucks, SUVs and vans in the United States were electric vehicles, oil use would be reduced by about one third.
The technology for plug-in vehicles exists today, and plug-ins have several advantages over gasoline-powered cars.
• Plug-in hybrids that have been converted from conventional hybrids can achieve 100 miles per gallon or more.
• Electric cars that can go over 200 miles on one charge are being sold in the United States today.
• Most plug-in cars can charge in a normal wall outlet found in many home garages, and rapid chargers have been developed that can fill a 100-mile battery in under 30 minutes.
• Electric cars are much simpler to maintain than conventional cars, with few moving part compared with the hundreds of moving parts required for an internal combustion engine. Electric cars have no oil changes, and require far less regular maintenance.
Plug-in cars will be more expensive than gasoline-powered cars. However, operating costs of plug-in vehicles will likely be lower. And, over time, many factors will contribute to declining costs.
• The high incremental cost of a plug-in car is largely due to the cost of batteries. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated the near-term incremental cost of a plug-in hybrid to be about $10,000-27,000, depending on the size of the battery. In the long term, they predict the incremental cost will drop to $6,000-$13,000.
• Operating costs of plug-in cars are likely to be significantly lower than those of gasoline-powered cars. Electricity costs three to five cents per mile with average electric rates, or the equivalent of $0.75 to $1.25 a gallon of gasoline. Maintenance costs for fully electric cars will also likely be lower as electric vehicles are mechanically simpler than those with internal combustion engines.
• Plug-in vehicles could come with new models of ownership. Some companies, for example, could lease batteries to owners, eliminating the upfront cost of purchasing the battery and the potential cost of replacing it when it is no longer able to power a vehicle.
America’s electric system has the capacity to fuel most of our cars today, but the nation will need to clean up our electric grid to reap the full potential of plug-in cars.
• A study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that America’s electric system could fuel 73 percent of U.S. cars, pickup-up trucks, SUVs and vans without building another power plant, by charging vehicles at night.
• Utilities can structure electricity prices so that it is cheaper to charge cars at times of the day when there is lower electric demand, ensuring that a large number of plug-in cars do not put a strain on the utility. These rate structures will encourage plug-in car owners to use “smart chargers” that charge cars only when demand and electricity prices are low.
• With investments in “smart grid” technology, plug-in cars could help stabilize the electric grid and provide emergency backup power—reducing the cost of electricity for all consumers and making the grid better able to accommodate intermittent forms of renewable energy generation such as wind and solar power.
There are still barriers to the widespread adoption of plug-in cars, but smart public policy strategies can help to overcome those barriers.
• Despite rapid advances in battery technology, automakers and battery developers still have strides to make in arriving at battery designs that deliver the range and affordability American consumers are looking for. Continued funding for research and development of advanced batteries can help.
• The initial price of plug-in cars will likely be high, but getting significant numbers of plug-in cars on the road quickly is important to prove that the technology is viable and to identify unexpected hurdles. Financial incentives for buyers of the first generation of plug-in hybrids, coupled with policies to encourage the purchase of plug-ins by government and private fleets, can help get significant numbers of plug-in cars on the road quickly. So too, could a low-carbon fuel standard that allows plug-in vehicles to contribute to the goal of reducing life-cycle global warming emissions (including from indirect land-use impacts) from vehicle fuels by 10 percent by 2020.
• Unlocking the full environmental and economic potential of plug-in vehicles will require efforts to clean up and modernize America’s electric grid. The United States should encourage the use of clean energy by adopting a renewable electricity standard requiring that 25 percent of our electricity come from renewable energy by 2025. The nation should further reduce global warming emissions from power plants by adopting a cap on global warming pollution that reduces emissions to 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Finally, the nation should invest in the adoption of “smart grid” technologies that would allow plug-in vehicles to help stabilize the grid.
• The lack of public charging infrastructure—while not a deal-breaker for plug-in vehicle owners who can charge their cars at home—could limit the willingness of some consumers to buy or use plug-in vehicles. Local, state and federal governments should jump-start the creation of charging infrastructure by installing chargers at publicly owned facilities, developing procedures for the installation of chargers on city streets, and providing incentives for private development of charging infrastructure.