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Summer 2007               Fueling Our Future

Electricity/Plug-in Electric Hybrids
Ranking: Green

Verdict:
When plugged into green energy, plug-ins are our brightest hope for curbing global warming while matching the performance of today’s cars. 

What is it?:
Electric vehicles (EVs) have electric motors that are powered by rechargeable batteries; EVs are plugged into a standard outlet to charge, a process that can take up to eight hours.

Many envision plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) as the future of the electric vehicle. Like conventional gas-electric hybrids, PHEVs have a fuel engine and an electric battery. PHEVs have a bigger, better battery than current hybrids, allowing users to plug the car in and charge the battery, so that the car can run solely on electricity more often than gasoline. The gasoline engine kicks in once the battery is drained, increasing the range of the car.

Pros:
  • Since the average American drives 30 miles per day, the battery range of most EVs and PHEVs (up to 100 miles between charges) would enable most Americans to do all of their daily driving on electricity, thereby greatly reducing emissions as well as our overall need for fuel.
  • EVs and PHEVs powered by electricity from clean energy sources, like wind or solar, are pollutant- and emission-free.
  • EVs charged with coal power still produce about 30 percent fewer greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles. PHEVs charged on the current grid mix would produce 42 percent fewer emissions.
  • PHEVs appeal to a wide spectrum of consumers, because they allow for long-range driving.
  • PHEVs cost less per mile to “fuel.” A PHEV runs on the equivalent of 75 cents per gallon, assuming $3/gallon gasoline and 8.5 cents/kwh electricity.
  • EVs and PHEVs can be a reality now. Current technology has been proven to work. The US electrical grid already has the capacity to power the daily commutes of 73 percent of our light-duty passenger vehicles; by charging them at night, we could switch millions of cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs to PHEVs tomorrow without building a single power plant.
Cons:
  • While EVS and PHEVS don’t put out emissions while they’re running on electricity, they do rely on being plugged into the grid. Currently, about half of the electricity in the US is generated by coal-fired power plants, which are the largest source of CO2 emissions in the country.
  • Standard EVs have limited ranges—up to 100 miles—before the battery needs to be recharged, reducing their
    appeal on the mass market. (PHEV technology provides a way around this concern.)
  • EVs and PHEVs are not widely available; most have either been converted by their owners or, in the case of EVs, are relics of a short attempt made by car manufacturers to put EVs on the market in the 1990s.
Current status:
Few manufacturers currently sell EVs, and none sell PHEVs, which are still in the development stage. While PHEV conversion kits are being developed on a limited basis, they are, for now, not available to most people.

While Chevy has put out a concept PHEV, it hasn’t set a firm date to start producing it. Other car manufacturers claim to be pursuing PHEVs, though none have plans to bring them to market. Most car companies claim to be waiting for better battery technology, but demonstration vehicles around the country, which consistently achieve over 100 miles per gallon, have proven that PHEVs are possible now.

Consumers need to pressure the car companies to wake up and start pursuing low-emissions vehicles like PHEVs.

Also, for EVs and PHEVs to be truly green, they need be to powered by renewable energy—encourage your local utility to make renewable energy an option for you, and ask your representatives to support legislation that offers incentives for solar and wind power. Should You Make the Switch?:
If you purchase green power through your utility or have a solar-powered home already, then an electric vehicle is a terrific option for bringing down your emissions even further.

Tesla Motors released its all-electric Tesla Roadster in 2007, and is accepting reservations for the 2008 model. You can look for used EVs for sale through the Electric Vehicle Association. It’s also possible to convert your conventional car to run on electricity, though it can be expensive and technically difficult.

Many companies are working on building kits to help mechanics convert gasoline-electic hybrids to plug-in hybrids.

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