Jun 27, 2010

Plug-in Vehicles Will Be Dirtier Than Traditional Hybrids

AltEnergy On June 22nd Scientific American rolled-out a Web-only article titled "The Dirty Truth about Plug-in Hybrids, Made Interactive" that summarizes a January 2008 report from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and shows why plug-in vehicles in the U.S. will, on average, be just a little bit dirtier than gasoline HEVs. You read that right – dirtier, not cleaner!

I first raised the issue in an August 2009 article titled PHEVs and EVs, Plugging Into a Lump of Coal, where I estimated that plug-in vehicles would be about 25% cleaner than HEVs, but the marginal cost of CO2 abatement with plug-in vehicles would be five times higher than the marginal abatement cost with HEVs. The Oak Ridge report went a couple of levels deeper than my simple calculations and evaluated:
  • Baseload power requirements and generating facilities in 13 regions in the year 2020;
  • The specific types of generating facilities that would be used to charge plug-in vehicles; and
  • The regional CO2 increase or decrease from using those generating facilities to charge plug-ins.
The following graph highlights the comparative CO2 increase or decrease in the 13 regions identified in the Oak Ridge study and discussed in the Scientific American article.
....Last month the American Chemical Society published a similar white paper from Tsinghua University, Beijing, and the Argonne National Laboratory Center for Transportation Research titled "Environmental Implication of Electric Vehicles in China," which concluded that implementing electric vehicles in China would increase CO2, SO2 and NOX emissions. It also concluded that gasoline HEVs are more environmentally friendly, more commercially mature and less cost-intensive. The following graph comes from page 4 of the white paper.
While the CO2 emissions data from both China and the U.S. is damning, simple calculations prove that electric vehicles like the Leaf from Nissan (NSANY.PK) and the MiEV from Mitsubishi (MMTOF.PK) save an average of 10.4 gallons of gasoline per year for each kWh of incremental battery capacity while PHEVs like the Volt from General Motors save an average of 7.6 gallons of gasoline per year for each kWh of incremental battery capacity.

I'll encourage each of you to run your own discounted cash flow calculations on annual gasoline savings of 10.4 and 7.6 gallons per kWh and then compare your calculated value with current battery costs of ~$1,000 per kWh and projected future costs of ~$500 per kWh.
I've run the numbers and am not impressed.

Please