In a recent article, the New York Times cites a forthcoming IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) study which argues that the outlook for electric vehicles is not as good as many believe. The CERA report argues that electric vehicles “will be held back, in part, by shortages of recharging stations for urban motorists.” I do not doubt that this is the case, but since most prospective electric vehicle buyers live in the suburbs or are wealthy enough to have a home with a garage in the city, I don’t think that this is a big issue. Many suburbanites commute to the city, but a 100-mile range should suffice. For plug-in hybrid owners, home charging is all they will need.
“The study will assert that in a number of urban areas where wind or hydro power is not readily available, electric vehicles are likely to be recharged by coal-fired generating plants, whose carbon emissions will substantially undercut the vehicles’ climate benefits.” As I mention in a previous article, availability and purchases of electric vehicles will initially be concentrated in the northeast and west coast, where coal is a small fraction of the generation mix. Most of these states have a greenhouse gas intensity lower than natural gas. Therefore, electric vehicles in the United States will lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
“CERA’s study will also contend that in the absence of federal policy to tax carbon emissions, wind power will lose ground to natural gas-fired power generation, which should remain relatively cheap because of the huge increase in U.S. natural gas reserves stemming from shale gas development.” First of all, it is unrealistic to assume that there will be a prolonged absence of federal policy to tax or cap carbon emissions. Secondly, natural gas is a lot cleaner than coal power plants and internal combustion engines, so this development is a good thing. An abundance of natural gas may also result in lower electricity prices, which would only encourage the adoption of electric vehicles.
Will we meet President Obama’s goal of having 1 million all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015? Probably not. But it won’t be for the reasons cited above.