The first major analysis of the potential impact of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles has found the widespread adoption of such cars and trucks would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and improve air quality. By 2050, plug-in hybrids, or PHEVS, could eliminate 450 million metric tons of CO2 annually – the equivalent of taking 82.5 million conventional cars, or a third of the nation’s current fleet – off the road. That would also cut oil consumption by nearly 4 million barrels a day. Assuming PHEVs hit the market by 2010, and depending on sales of the cars, the total reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 would 3.4 to 10.3 billion metric tons, according to the study conducted by the non-profit Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The study was based on sophisticated computer modeling of the U.S. power grid and transportation system.
"What we’re talking about today is potentially a very, very large effect," said John Bryson, CEO of utility giant Edison International (EIX), during a press conference in Washington, D.C. this morning. Utilities like Edison, PG&E (PCG) and Austin
Energy have taken the lead in pushing automakers to get in gear on
Even if plug-in hybrids become the dominant form of transportation they would only spike electricity demand by five to eight percent, researchers said, because most car owners probably will charge their vehicles at night when power plants are idle or under-utilized. The study’s computer models considered various scenarios, from a high CO2-intensive grid to a greener one as well as plug-in hybrids with varying ranges and sales. But even if plug-in hybrids made up only 20 percent of the nation’s vehicle fleet in 2050 and the electric grid remained relatively dirty, greenhouse gas emissions would still decline by some 163 million metric tons annually.
The impact of plug-in hybrids on global warming will depend on the electric system, noted NRDC scientist Dan Lashof. "The key to utilizing plug-in hybrids is a cleaner power grid," he said. The greener the grid, the greater the greenhouse gas reductions as coal-fired power plants are displaced by renewable energy or begin to deploy technology to capture their CO2 emissions.
General Motors (GM) executive Tony Posawatz brought a plug-in Chevrolet Volt concept car to the press conference. The automaker is designing the Volt to run primarily on battery power and use other alternative fuels to extend its range. "We at General Motors are certainly very interested in this study," said Posawatz. "The potential for plug-ins, I think everyone recognizes, is tremendous."