Plug-in Electric Cars Lower Global Warming Emissions, Oil Consumption and Unhealthy Air Pollution

Contact: Julian Boggs | 859.358.2980 |

Des Moines, IA—Increasing America’s use of plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid cars would dramatically reduce emissions that cause global warming and air pollution and would curb dependence on oil, according to a new white paper released today by Environment Iowa.

“With more Americans focused on the environmental and economic consequences of our oil dependence, carmakers are scrambling to offer customers the cleanest, most fuel efficient cars”, said Environment Iowa Federal Field Associate Julian Boggs.  “Dramatically ramping up electric vehicles can bolster America’s efforts to wean ourselves off of oil and to reduce pollution that causes global warming.” 

Plug-in vehicles are being profiled in an unprecedented way at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week. A “plug-in” car is one that can be recharged from the electric grid. Some plug-in cars run on electricity alone, while others are paired with small gasoline engines to create  plug-in hybrids. Many plug-in hybrids can get over 100 miles per gallon, while plug-in electric vehicles consume no gasoline at all.   Plug-in vehicles produce no direct tailpipe pollution when operating on electricity and there is already a vast electric power infrastructure to fuel them.   As renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, meet a larger share of our electricity needs, electric cars could contribute to little or no air pollution. 

A project at the University of Iowa will test the potential of plug-ins to be powered by renewable energy. The University recently received $250,000 in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds to help build a solar-powered charging station, and the early modeling for the project is promising, according to U of I energy engineer Eric Foresman. ““We initially were hoping to be able to power all six of our current cars with the station.  The feasibility study surprisingly predicted we’ll be able to power quite a few more than that.  Depending on the option we could charge 35 – 47 electric vehicles.”

The university currently uses the six electric vehicles to power maintenance crews around campus. These vehicles, in the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) class, typically run 25-35 miles per hour and use substantially less power than their highway-ready counterparts being shown at the Detroit Auto Show, like the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF.
Brian Heithoff of Consumers Energy Electric Coop in Marshalltown sees huge growth potential for plug-ins in the coming years. “We believe this technology has legs,” he said. Heithoff would know: his utility refitted a Toyota Prius into a plug-in and test-drove it throughout the winter.  “There’s about to be a major transition here in the next 5-10 years,” he predicted.

Already, some of Iowa’s utility coops, like Consumers Energy and Waverly Light & Power, are investing in electrical infrastructure that will allow customers to take full advantage of a plugged-in future.  As demand for plug-ins increases, so too will demand for energy. However, according to Boggs, “the current electric system has the capacity to fuel up to 73 percent of American vehicles without building another power plant by charging vehicles at night or using solar panels by day. Still, the nation will need to clean up its electric grid to reap the full environmental potential benefits of plug-in cars.”

The report, Plug-in Cars: Powering America Toward a Cleaner Future , answers many questions about plug-in vehicles and lays out a strategy for how to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road. It highlights data from existing research to show that electric vehicles can help to improve Americans’ standards of living. The key points of the paper include the following:

    * If half of the light vehicles in the United States were electric vehicles powered by completely clean electricity in 2030, total fleet emissions would be reduced by 62 percent.
    * Operating costs of plug-in cars are likely to be significantly lower than those of gasoline-powered cars. Electricity costs three to five cents per mile with average electric rates, or the equivalent of $0.75 to $1.25 per gallon of gasoline.
    * Utilities can structure electricity prices so that it is cheaper to charge cars at times of the day when there is lower electric demand, ensuring that a large number of plug-in cars do not put a strain on the utility.
    * Powering a car on electricity would result in 93 percent less smog-forming volatile organic compounds and 31 percent less nitrogen oxide emissions than powering a car on gasoline.

“Environment Iowa urges our state and local officials  to fully harness the power of plug-ins by setting clean car standards, offering financial incentives for buyers of plug-in vehicles, promoting renewable energy and adopting ‘smart grid’ technologies that would allow plug-ins to help stabilize the electric grid,” said Boggs.


Environment Iowa is a state-based, citizen-funded environmental organization working for clean air, clean water, and open space.

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