US Power Grid Could Fuel 180 million Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles - DOE Study

A new study for the Department of Energy finds that "off-peak" electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel 84% of the country's 220 million vehicles if they were plug-in hybrid electrics. If all the cars and light trucks in the nation switched from oil to electrons, idle capacity in the existing electric power system could generate most of the electricity consumed by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Researchers at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also evaluated the impact of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, on foreign oil imports, the environment, electric utilities and the consumer.

"This is the first review of what the impacts would be of very high market penetrations of PHEVs, said Eric Lightner, of DOE's Office of Electric Delivery and Energy Reliability. "It's important to have this baseline knowledge as consumers are looking for more efficient vehicles, automakers are evaluating the market for PHEVs and battery manufacturers are working to improve battery life and performance."

Lightner noted that "the study suggests the idle capacity of the electric power grid is an underutilized national asset that could be tapped to vastly reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

  • Current batteries for these cars can easily store the energy for driving the national average commute - about 33 miles round trip a day, so the study presumes that drivers would charge up overnight when demand for electricity is much lower.
  • Since gasoline consumption accounts for 73% of imported oil, it is intriguing to think of the trade and national security benefits if our vehicles switched from oil to electrons
  • Since the utilities would be selling more electricity without having to build more plants or power lines, electricity prices could go down for everyone.
  • Since, PHEVs are expected to cost about $6,000 to $10,000 more than existing vehicles - mostly due to the cost of batteries -- researchers evaluated how long it might take owners to break even on fuel costs. Depending on the price of gas and the cost of electricity, estimates range from five to eight years - about the current lifespan of a battery. 

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