Stamp of Approval
EPRI and the National Resource Defense Council have recently released a new study which shows the environmental as well as the economic benefits of plug-ins.
Plug-in hybrids seen as vehicles for change
A study projects lower emissions and sufficient power grid capacity.
By Martin Zimmerman,
The widespread use of plug-in hybrid vehicles — which could be driven up to 40 miles on electric power alone — would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States without overloading the nation's power grid, according to a new study.
The upbeat news for plug-ins, seen by many as the next big step in environmentally friendly automotive technology, came with two caveats. Achieving the maximum air quality improvements would require a significant cut in the pollution produced by electric utilities. It's also dependent on large-scale adoption of plug-in hybrids, which may not be in new-car showrooms for several years.
Even so, backers of plug-in technology were heartened by the latest findings, which could help defuse the claim that the vehicles simply would transfer the source of air pollution from vehicle tailpipes to power station smokestacks.
The study "finally gives an environmental stamp of approval" to plug-in hybrids, said Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars.org, an advocacy group in Palo Alto. "It shows that even with today's power grid, plug-in hybrids are a great idea."
The study released Thursday was conducted by two nonprofit groups, the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council. It measured how the nation's air quality would be affected under varying levels of plug-in hybrid use and pollution control at power plants.
According to the study, a marginal improvement in power plant emissions, coupled with ownership of plug-ins by 20% of U.S. drivers by 2050 — the report's worst-case scenario — would cut annual greenhouse gas emissions by 163 million tons.
Under a "middle case" scenario, which assumes plug-ins make up 62% of U.S. passenger vehicles by 2050 and utilities adopt more stringent pollution-control measures, emissions would be cut by 468 million tons a year.
That would be equal to removing 82.5 million vehicles, about a third of the light vehicles on the road today."The study clearly shows that the benefits from pluggable hybrids are greater if the power sector is cleaner," said Dan Lashof, science director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center.
The study estimated that a 60% market share for plug-in hybrids would tap only 7% to 8% of the electricity available nationwide in 2050. That finding jibes with a study released late last year by the Department of Energy that concluded that "the existing electric power system could generate most of the electricity consumed" by plug-ins. (more)
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