New study recommends mass adoption of electric vehicles

California will need mass consumer adoption of electric vehicles to meet its long-term energy and environmental goals and to improve its economy.

In the past few years, major automakers have begun marketing electric vehicles, introducing a range of cars and trucks that can “plug in” to the grid for electricity to power the engine, either wholly or in part.

Meanwhile, new car companies, some of which are based in California, have focused exclusively on all-electric and plug-in hybrid models.

Today, all major automakers have plans to introduce electric vehicles by 2015, with some already on the market, like the Nissan LEAF, Chevy Volt, Tesla Model S Sedan, Fisker Karma, Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, CODA Sedan, and Ford Focus Electric. Many of these vehicles are designed or manufactured locally in California, including Tesla, Fisker, and CODA.

“Electric Drive by ’25,” which was released Sept. 10 and is 10th in a series of reports on climate change sponsored by Bank of America, outlines policies that could be adopted by different sectors of the electric vehicle industry to promote a widespread transition to electric vehicles in the state by 2025.

The mass adoption of electric vehicles would clean California’s air and boost the economy, the report argues.

“Electric vehicles are important to our environmental concerns, public health, quality of life and national security,” said Ethan Elkind, the Bank of America climate policy associate for UC Berkeley and UCLA’s law schools. “They are important to the economy because you would have a domestic source of fuel instead of having to import foreign oil.”

The report, which was written after a workshop between representatives from different sectors related to electric vehicles, argues that a mass adoption of electric vehicles, which use cleaner sources of energy, such as natural gases, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state — roughly 40 percent of which come from California’s transportation sector.

A larger electric vehicle market could also mean savings for the state in health care costs as well as savings for citizens on the cost of gas because electricity is cheaper per mile than gasoline, the report argues. It also argues that a growing electric vehicle industry could stimulate state economic growth by increasing the number of California-based electric vehicle automakers.

“It would have huge domestic economic benefits, and I think it’s fair to say that this is gonna be the industry of the future for cars,” Elkind said.

The price and lack of charging infrastructures are the main challenges preventing widespread electric vehicle adoption, according to the report. The Nissan Leaf, which is all electric, costs roughly $35,000, and long-distance travel with the Leaf can be difficult due to the scarcity of charging stations.

Electric cars are more expensive than regular cars because the price of the battery can add $5,000 to $10,000 onto the price of the car, said Steven Weissman, director of the Energy Program, Center for Law, Energy & the Environment and the facilitator of the workshop. In response to this, the report recommends that federal and state leaders increase funding for battery research and find alternatives besides taxing gas to fund infrastructure developments.

Policy leaders play a crucial role incentivizing the purchase of electric cars. The report recommends that state leaders extend AB 118, which provides a maximum rebate of $2,500 to electric vehicle users and is set to expire in 2015. If extended, it could also help state leaders meet environmental standards set by AB 32, which mandates that California reduce its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020.

The extension of AB 118 has been met with contention.

“Why should average vehicle owners have to bear the cost of establishing energy-efficient programs to get these cars on the road?” said David Wolfe, legislative director of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

According to Wolfe, many of the provisions of the bill provide no benefit to regular car drivers who should consequently not have to bear additional taxes.

Even though the report is geared toward California, the widespread use of electric vehicles has national applicability, Weissman said.

“What happens here in California can certainly set the market for the rest of the country and certainly for the world,” Elkind said.

Still, the magnitude of environmental benefits is not the same in all states because it depends on which energy source is used to generate electricity. In states like West Virginia electricity is produced by coal as opposed to cleaner energies used in California, said Weismann.

“Even the people in West Virginia are going to be experiencing a net environmental benefit to driving with coal fired electricity than compared with oil,” Elkind said. “The bottom line is that it’s a benefit for everyone — the question is how big of a benefit.”