A new study issued by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council reports that adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles by consumers and fleet managers could by 2050 cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 163 to 612 million metric tons, and total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 3.4 to 10.3 billion metric tons.
How much of a difference would that really make? MIT Technology Review assesses the study’s findings this way:
The study shows that if plug-in hybrids are adopted widely in the United States, and if measures are taken to clean up power plants, by 2050, plug-in hybrids could reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 612 million metric tons, or roughly 5 percent of the total U.S. emissions expected in that time frame, according to Marcus Sarofim, a researcher at MIT’s Joint Program for the Science and Policy of Global Change. That’s a significant amount, he says, considering that transportation accounts for only about a third of the total greenhouse-gas emissions.
But if plug-in hybrids account for only a small part of the total vehicle sales in 2050 (about 20 percent, compared with 80 percent in the first scenario), and if little is done to improve pollution from power plants, the vehicles will still reduce greenhouse emissions by about 163 metric tons, according to the study.
More here from the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, and San Jose Mercury-News.
The NRDC, a prominent environmental group, stipulates (p. 10 of Executive Summary section) that it supports introduction of PHEVs “accompanied by substantial improvements in power plant emission rates.” That’s an appropriate caveat which highlights the need for an intensified focus on acheiving a cleaner electricity supply.
Today’s hybrid electric vehicles, such as the popular Toyota Prius, have helped generate a growing interest in making personal transportation cleaner, something that’s an important societal objective because despite a worthy focus on improving metropolitan region transit services, the majority of vehicle trips nationally will continue to occur in privately-owned vehicles.
Current hybrids such as the Prius are not plugged into a wall socket overnight but use electricity generated through an on-board battery to intermittently power their ride, along with conventional fuel when necessary. Hence the name “hybrid.”
But a greener plug-in hybrid is now being developed by none other than Toyota, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle and the MIT Technology Review editors’ blog. Also engineering their own PHEVs for market are Chevrolet and Ford. The automakers will employ increasingly smaller, lighter and eventually less costly state-of-the-art lithium ion batteries to power vehicles electrically and achieve greater fuel efficiency than today’s hybrid electric vehicles.
The EPRI/NRDC study reports that the lower the carbon dioxide emissions in the national electric power sector, and the longer the range of the PHEV, the greater the reduction in overall greenhouse gases versus a conventional hybrid vehicle in 2050. The GGE improvement, for medium and longer range PHEVs versus hybrids, will range from 27% to 46% per vehicle, according to table 5-3 on p. 5-6 of the study.
Imagine a national fleet with an increasing proportion of plug-in hybrids that run one-quarter to one-half cleaner than an advanced conventional hybrid electric vehicle. Imagine that truck fleets are plugged into the grid too, with corresponding decreases in diesel fuel emissions.
To get there will take not only a cleaner electricity supply, but advances in developing and distributing truly green biofuels, as well. Should the path to widespread use of green vehicle fuels include a carbon tax or a higher federal gasoline tax? Syndicated columnist Steve Chapman thinks so.
Given the huge political obstacles, a successful push for either would need to emphasize the serious public health effects of airborne particulates as much or more than the current de riguer hand-wringing and blame-casting over global warming.
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