Plug-in Electric Vehicles

Perhaps the most useful way to describe the last 20 years of electrified vehicle development – plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and battery electric vehicles (BEV) –  is with the metaphor of the tides.  From 1990 to about 2000 the EV tide came in, catalyzed by policy developments.  From 2000 to 2005 the EV tide went out, largely a result of policy changes resulting from opposition from the U.S. auto industry.  From 2005 to 2007 the tide began to rise again, spurred this time by grassroots initiatives and rising oil prices.  Since 2008, an unprecedented confluence of economic, technological and political forces has transformed the rising tide into a tsunami of increasingly rapid developments that promise to make electrified vehicles a centerpiece of U.S. transportation policy.

In December 2009, we completed a report on behalf of the RE-AMP network (120+ organizations in eight Midwestern states) titled, “Electric Vehicle Policy For the Midwest – A Scoping Report,” outlining and making recommendations on a variety of issues related to expanding electric vehicles in the region.  The short term impacts on GHG emissions of expanding EVs will be very small because the vehicles will not enter into the market in large numbers until manufacturing ramps up and they will slowly replace the types of new cars being made by automakers.  The long term potential for reducing emission can be substantial especially if efforts to expand renewable energy are ramped up.

Electrified vehicles will have a catalyzing and symbiotic relationship to many other GHG reduction strategies.  For example, because federal policy gives EVs a very high fuel efficiency rating, they will play a role in car companies meeting the new CAFE standards.  EVs are also poised to play a key role in transportation fuel supplier’s efforts in meeting low carbon fuel standards.  Moreover, because of their energy storage capability, EVs also can play an increasingly important role in the expansion of renewable energy.  And EVs already are playing an important role in the discussions about the future elaboration of a smart grid.

Our new report builds on our earlier work on this topic. In January 2004, we published A Better Way to Get From Here to There, a report describing a promising domestic energy strategy that relies on biofuels and PHEVs as a solution moving the U.S. towards energy independence. Eighteen months later, the two pronged biofuels/PHEV concept is increasingly heard in public discussions but the path forward is not often illuminated. Our 2008 report, Driving Our Way to Energy Independence, provided a technology update and provided policymakers the way to put the idea into action.

Extending PHEVs electricity-only driving range should be accompanied by a simultaneous strategy that expands the use of renewable energy – dramatically expanding the generation of electricity using wind, sunlight and other renewable fuels. On the engine side it means dramatically expanding the use of biofuels.  And simply having a renewable energy or biofuels stategy shouldn’t be the end. The biofuels policies should support broad farmer ownership of the manufacturing facilities. A 2006 paper by David Morris, Ownership Matters: Three Steps to Ensure a Biofuels Industry That Truly Benefits Rural America, provided a snapshot of the biofuels industry and a roadmap to ensure that local farmers see significant benefits from the expanding industry in the future.

There are dozens and dozens of poiicy ideas out there to help electrified vehicles expand. We’ll begin posting below what we feel are some of the more important near term initiatives.


  • Electric Avenue – by David Morris, Travel+Leisure Magazine, November 2007 A new kind of hybrid uses less gas and more electricity. All-electric cars are already here. What will this mean for the road trip of the future? David Morris plugs in.
  • Turn on the Electric Road – by David Morris, published in the NY Times, October 8, 2006

Electric Vehicle Charging Rates

With respect to charging electric vehicles (EVs), the ideal scenario would result in a maximum amount of renewable energy flowing into the vehicle's battery packs while at the same time utilizing our existing infrastructure (power plants, transmission/distribution lines) as efficiently as possible.   To meet this scenario, the timing of charging up vehicles must be compared to the timing of power plant

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Electric Vehicle Charging Systems Required For New Buildings – Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver has established an electric vehicle (EV) charging system requirement for new construction - both single family and multi-family properties.  In October 2009, a new rule requires 20% of the parking spots in new multi-family developments in Vancouver to have charging ports for electric vehicles.
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Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Planning Requirement

The idea here would be to get a head start on the emerging market penetration of electric vehicles (EVs) and enact legislation that opens a regulatory proceeding covering electric utility related EV issues.  At a minimum, the legislation should require utilities to develop a coordinated infrastructure plan for EVs. Issues included would be: ensuring interoperability of EV equipment, requirements for infrastructure, cost recovery, smart grid integration, time-of-use (TOU) pricing, other rate and billing issues.  The proceeding should also bring to light a clear picture of what power plants will be operating during the likeliest charging periods for EVs.… Read More

Regional Plug-In Electric Vehicle Planning – Southern California

This effort was announced in December 2009 and is a nice example of the start of a regional effort to do some comprehensive planning to facilitate the smooth transition to electric vehicles. The initiative is a collaboration between cities, utilities, automakers and others in the Southern California region who will work actively to support and build the necessary infrastructure for the commercial launch of electric vehicles.… Read More