Plug-in Hybrids Hold Great Environmental Promise, Study Finds

Plug-in Hybrids Hold Great Environmental Promise, Study Finds

A comprehensive report released yesterday by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council finds that widespread use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the United States could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality.

The research looks at how popular adoption of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), both by individuals and as part of large fleets, would affect the environment between 2010 and 2050.

The most striking findings of the report include the estimated 450 million metric tons of GHG emissions removed from the air by 2050; if 60 percent of the population drove PHEVs in 2050, they would only be using 7 to 8 percent of the country's electrical supply; and a potential for reducing daily oil consumption by 3 to 4 million barrels.

"[A] combination of more efficient vehicles, improved battery technology, and a lower-emitting electric power plant fleet can produce substantial reduction in global warming pollution from both the electric power and the transportation sectors," said David Hawkins, Director of the NRDC's Climate Center. "Our results show that PHEVs recharged from low- and non-emitting electricity sources can decrease the carbon footprint in the nation's transportation sector."

Based on an average electricity cost of 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) can be fueled for the equivalent of 75 cents per gallon of gasoline, at a time when gas costs about $3 per gallon at the pump.

The groups said their analysis is the first one that combines detailed models of the U.S. electric system and transportation sector with sophisticated atmospheric air quality models, and which accounts for the future evolution of both sectors in terms of technological advances and the growth of electricity load and capacity.

"This research accelerates our understanding of the interplay of emissions from various sources," said Steve Specker, president and CEO of EPRI. "We now see that widespread use of PHEVs could expand the fuel options in our transportation sector and at the same time yield net benefits to our environment."

Plug-in hybrids function in essentially the same manner as the gas-electric hybrids on the roads already today; but instead of using the gasoline to charge the electrical battery as the car drives, PHEVs plug into the electrical grid to recharge a high-capacity battery. The high cost of manufacturing these batteries continues to be the main obstacle to widespread PHEV use.

These vehicles also offer the opportunity to power the nation's vehicles by emission-free, renewable energy, if PHEVs are able to charge at solar-powered homes or charging stations. Taking advantage of a cleaner electrical grid will allow PHEVs to emit far fewer GHGs than conventional or current hybrid vehicles, and can help reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.

"[The study] demonstrates that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can contribute significantly to the national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said John E. Bryson, chairman and CEO of Edison International. "With public support, it is likely that someday millions of Americans will fill up their vehicles at the plug instead of the pump, saving money and protecting the environment."