On October 2, 2012, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing on the growth of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in the United States and on efforts to spur greater transport electrification. The briefing discussed how communities, utilities, private companies, the government and others are leading efforts to put more PEVs on the nation’s roads by capitalizing on new technologies and working to overcome market barriers. The briefing explored ways to foster more rapid PEV adoption across multiple sectors and the different rationales for doing so. Speakers also discussed the various benefits of increased PEV market share; how utilities, communities and other businesses are developing more PEV-friendly areas; and the growing electrification of vehicle fleets.

  • The panel emphasized the importance of Electric Vehicle (EV) technology as a means of addressing economic security, national security, and environmental responsibility concerns. Electrifying America's transportation will reduce our dependence on oil and our greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Investment in national/regional charging infrastructure is expected to reach $5-10 billion by 2015.
  • Though EVs still represent a small portion of the market, their share is growing fast. Combined plug-in hybrid and battery EV sales this year have totaled 25,290 vehicles through August, a 170.5 percent increase over last year. Plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales in August 2012 amounted to 4,715 vehicles, representing a 56 percent increase over July 2012 and a 183 percent increase over August 2011.
  • The panel said PEVs and the EV industry should not be categorized by one or two vehicles, but rather that PEVs “come in a variety of flavors to meet the needs of customers.” By the end of 2012, there will be 20 PEV models available in the United States.
  • Henry Connelly, Communications Director for the Office of Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA), emphasized that EVs have historically garnered bipartisan support, as exemplified by the Electric Vehicles Deployment Act of 2011 (H.R. 1685) introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL).
  • Connelly suggested two important steps to help EVs attain “critical mass of the market share”: encouraging uniform communication with the public, and maintaining a “political appetite” by defining and supporting government incentives for EVs.
  • Patrick Davis, Program Manager for the U.S. Department of Energy Vehicles Technology Program, noted that DOE's current budget provides $165 million for EV research and development projects and is on track to meet its goal of reducing EV battery production costs to $300/kWh by 2014.
  • Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) has been used for PEV education projects and community readiness programs, university EcoCAR competitions, Graduate Automotive Technology Education Centers of Excellence, and EV manufacturing infrastructure facilities (supply chain) nationwide.
  • The EV Everywhere Grand Challenge, announced in spring 2012, will facilitate the development of a five-passenger EV with a payback time of less than five years. The goal of the Challenge is to make PEVs more affordable, convenient, and competitive.
  • DOE maintains the world’s largest electric drive vehicle demonstration, documenting 130,000 PHEV/EV test miles and 5,000 charging events daily.
  • Genevieve Cullen, Vice President of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, commented that for PEVs to reach commercial scale we need to: speed technological advances, address market hurdles (through policy mechanisms, information sharing, and support of federal, state, and local deployment readiness education) and update regulatory structures.
  • Edward Kjaer, Director of Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness at Southern California Edison, noted some of the significant EV industry achievements to date include harnessing administration support, sparking political engagement, encouraging trade association participation, and witnessing grassroots deployment efforts.
  • Kjaer also spoke of the importance of consumer voices, mentioning that people have developed an emotional connection to their electric vehicles and feel that they are able to “control the energy going into their cars.” The price of electricity to fuel a vehicle is much less than gasoline.
  • Kjaer explained that by the time PEVs deploy on a larger scale, charging during peak hours will not be an issue because the grid will have adapted. Smart charging – when charging is managed automatically to avoid the highest rates – will be widespread.
  • Currently, approximately 50 percent of PEVs are charged at Level 1 (120 volt) stations, normally during off-peak hours. Consumers can also install Level 2 (240 volt) stations in their homes.
  • Jim Bruce, Vice-President of UPS Corporate Public Affairs, explained that price volatility is the main problem UPS faces from relying on petroleum. UPS believes there is “no blanket solution to replacing petroleum,” but rather a “patchwork quilt” of alternative fuel options.
  • UPS recognizes EVs as an important investment for the future. In August 2011, UPS purchased 100 plug-in electric trucks for deployment in California. Though its “green fleet” is small relative to its total vehicle fleet, it is growing rapidly.
  • According to Bruce, replacing a single conventional diesel UPS truck with an electric vehicle reduces tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases by about 18 tons per year.
  • Federal and state incentives continue to play a key role in supporting the upfront costs of EV investment.

In 2011, sales of the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and other PEVs passed 17,000 domestically, and more than 25,000 have been sold in 2012 through August. This outpaces the introduction of hybrid vehicles a decade ago, when 30,000 hybrids were sold in their first two years of availability. Supported by a federal tax credit and consumer education efforts, annual hybrid sales quickly soared to 200,000 in 2005 and 350,000 in 2007, leading to more than one billion gallons of fuel saved to date. Hybrids were rapidly adopted once the initial unease over the new technology had subsided. To achieve similar success, PEVs will need to overcome additional market barriers that include “range anxiety” and charging-related issues. Financial incentives, including the federal tax credit and utility rate modification plans, together with education efforts and a national build-out of charging infrastructure, are helping consumers and fleet managers become more comfortable with PEV technology. Investments in accelerated PEV deployment allow the country to take greater advantage of electricity as a cleaner, less expensive fuel, keeping energy dollars in the national economy and fostering American innovation.