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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Transportation Emissions Up

 Electric Cars and Renewable Energy Set to Reverse the Trend

By David Roberts

Transitioning to more efficient and renewably powered transportation is a fundamental step to reducing one of the northeast regions largest sources greenhouse gases (GHG) and other harmful pollutants. As evidence of the need for transportation action, the chart below shows GHG emissions from transportation in the United States recently exceeded those from electric generation for the first time in nearly forty years.

CO2 emissions from U.S. electricity generation and transportation 1975-2015 in petagrams (billion metric tons) per year. Source: U.S. EIA via Decicco CarsClimate.com

The chart is from a recent analysis by John DeCicco at the University of Michigan Energy Institute who found CO2 emissions from the transportation sector increased at an average rate of 1.8% per year over the past four years while emissions from electric generation decreased as reliance on coal waned. Vehicle efficiency gains are slowing growth in transportation emissions, but not enough to reduce overall CO2 emissions as transportation demand rises with increasing economic activity and lower fuel prices.

Courtesy photo of the Chevrolet Bolt

Courtesy photo of the Chevrolet Bolt

Public transportation, walking, bicycling (including electric bikes), ride-sharing and other ways of getting around are important and necessary ways to cut down on car use. For those who are not able to take advantage of these options, the growing availability of affordable plug-in electric vehicles can provide a great way to reduce the energy and carbon footprint of household transportation.

The price of plug-in electric cars continues to come down, and the auto industry is on the verge of transformational products which provide over 200 miles of electric range at a price point of around $30,000 after incentives. As an example, the Chevrolet Bolt is due to arrive by the end of 2016 and will offer over 238 miles of range according to the official EPA rating. Cold winter conditions in the northeast states might reduce range by 20 to 30%. Range of over 170 miles in nearly all conditions should be plenty for the vast majority of driversdaily needs. Tesla has also announced their Model 3 which will have over 200 miles of range and a price around of $35,000 when it is available in late 2017.

Many other automakers are working on long distance all-electric cars to be available in the next few years. In addition, the current wide availability of plug-in hybrids which can run on gasoline or electricity like the Chevrolet Volt, Ford CMax Energi or forthcoming Toyota Prius Prime means there is no need to wait if you are in the market for a new car and existing all-electric models are not suitable for your needs. Plug-in hybrids offer efficient electric drive for 15 to 50 miles depending on the model and then switch over to gasoline for longer trips when needed.

The pollution-reduction benefits of driving an electric car depend on the source of electricity used to charge the vehicle. Fortunately the relatively clean electric power grid in the Northeast means an electric car gets the equivalent of about 86 miles per gallon or better according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has extensively researched this issue.

Courtesy photo of the Tesla Model S with Powerwall shown

Courtesy photo of the Tesla Model S with Powerwall shown

Want to do better than 86 mpg? Consider powering an electric car from renewable energy sources. You may have options for this through your electric provider, or do it yourself with solar PV, which could bump you up to an estimated equivalent of 350 miles per gallon of gasoline or better.

Tesla is likely to streamline the components and process needed to create a fully renewably powered home, including enough energy to cover electric car charging. Their CEO, Elon Musk, recently tweeted a message the company was aiming for an October 28th announcement of an integrated system consisting of a solar roof, Powerwall battery home energy storage and Tesla electric vehicle charger. This type of system could allow for direct current (DC) charging straight to electric car batteries, which would further increase the efficiency by avoiding the energy losses in converting DC power to AC power common in net-metered solar PV installations. Honda demonstrated similar technology with their Smart Home pilot launched in 2014 (http://www.hondasmarthome.com/).

Other automakers are also hard at work on ways to increase the efficiency of their electric cars and make it easier to power them from renewable energy sources. With all these exciting developments it can be tempting to wait on investing in an electric car and renewable energy generation to power it. If youre in this boat and looking at a new vehicle purchase in the coming year, we suggest considering an electric car lease for two to three years. There are some great lease deals available for monthly payments in the $200 to $300 range as the federal plug-in vehicle income tax credit of up to $7,500 is usually included in the lease. When the lease ends in a few years, there should be more options to consider for even more drastic reductions in your home and transportation energy footprint.

David Roberts is the Drive Electric Vermont coordinator. He has driven an all-electric Nissan LEAF for the past four years and says, if you have to drive, drive electric.

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