SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Plug In Hybrid Electric Vehicles


In his January 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama announced his goal to have 1 million electric plug-in vehicles (EVs) on American roads by 2015. That same month, electric vehicles took high prizes at Detroit’s Auto Show, including ‘Car of the Year’ (Chevy Volt). Time is clearly ripe. The technology exists to meet this goal, and SACE believes that mass deployment of EVs in the U.S. may become a reality sooner than later.

We support the transition to an EV system for Americans – EVs can reduce our reliance on foreign oil, improve our economy by keeping American dollars from being spent overseas, reduce emissions, and improve health. Furthermore, they can provide a boon to the renewable energy sector while simultaneously improving energy efficiency on the grid.


EVs themselves are zero-emissions vehicles, meaning that driving an EV does not produce any of the dangerous byproducts of gas and diesel vehicles. Furthermore, many providers are already planning for solar-powered and solar-assisted charging stations. By using the sun to power car batteries, drivers can reduce their transportation-related emissions even more! In fact, Nissan is already in the process of building 30 solar-assisted charging stations right here in the Southeast at their plant in Franklin, Tenn. Nissan now manufactures the Leaf, their new 100% electric vehicle that made its U.S. debut in December 2010, at this same facility.
Nissan_Leaf_SACEThe economic implications of EV deployment are therefore especially significant to the Southeast. Nissan Americas Chairman Carlos Tavares has gone so far as to call Tennessee “Nissan’s home in the Americas region.”

And the renewable energy benefits of EVs are not limited to solar, either. Studies are underway in Europe and the United States to consider the potential of smart technology to make cars automatically charge when there is excess wind-generated power available on the grid, and to develop direct current transmission lines to bring wind power to regions lacking strong wings with less transmission loss. According to Texas-based Clean Line Energy Group , direct current transmission lines “create thousands of temporary and permanent jobs, reduce pollution, save water relative to traditional electric generation, and, in a future with electric vehicles, will help improve our national security and diversify America’s energy supply.”

Mass deployment of EVs also offers a boon to electric utilities, since consumers will increasingly displace their dependency on petroleum by relying more heavily on grid-tied electricity. As the market grows and more and more EVs are on the market, this scenario will translate into a boon for the burgeoning energy efficiency industry as well, since utilities will seek ways to encourage drivers to charge their vehicles during off-peak hours.

According to MIT’s Dr. Tammy Thompson, lead author of a landmark study on the subject: ”As more of the fleet switches over to [EVs and] PHEVs [plug-in hybrid electric vehicles] and a larger demand is placed on the electricity grid, it will become more important that we design and implement policy that will encourage charging behaviors that are positive for both air quality and grid reliability.”

Sounds like a win-win situation (unless you are in the petroleum business). However, as always, there are significant variables and factors that must be addressed before we can successfully deploy EVs at a large scale in the Southeast and throughout the nation.

???Barriers to EV Deployment

In order to achieve President Obama’s lofty goal, several important factors must be addressed – and quickly if the desired timeframe is to be met. PHEVs, which are more similar to conventional gas or diesel vehicles and can use the same infrastructure, took eight years to reach the 1 million-car mark. EVs, however, require specific charging stations that must be newly constructed specifically for this purpose. Furthermore, because the majority of current plug-in EVs (including the Leaf) cannot travel over 100 miles without charging, widespread adoption of EVs will require an intricate new infrastructure system consisting of new charging stations. The price tags are also somewhat inhibiting: at $32,780 and $41,000, respectively, the Leaf and the Volt cost considerably more similarly sized conventional cars.

Some policy solutions are already in the works to address these problems, such as federal tax credits of up to $7,500. To further promote the deployment of EVs, President Obama proposes changing this credit into a rebate that can be redeemed right at the dealership. The President is also seeking increased federal research and development support and additional financial incentives to help build infrastructure in certain cities, which will in turn encourage consumers to consider EVs more fully in those cities.

U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tennessee’s own Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have introduced the “Promoting Electric Vehicles Act.” S.948 proposes to create ‘deployment communities’ throughout the country that would serve as catalysts to advance EVs. According to Sen. Merkley’s website, S.948 also seeks to “create a competitive grant process for companies to electrify their fleets and make it easier for the federal government to acquire more electric vehicles.” Markey goes on to explain that if S.948 becomes law, the selected communities will “serve as models and help determine best practices for the nationwide use of electric vehicles.”

San Francisco-based ECOtality has initiated its own EV project to deploy 14,000 EV chargers in 18 cities in five American states, including Tennessee (the only Southeastern state chosen).

Read SACE’s recent blog posting for more details about the program and ways you can participate – be sure to read the interesting conversation happening in the comment section as well.

Further Resources
Council on Foreign Relations’ Environmental Assessment of EVs
NYT: The Great Kilowatt vs. Gallon Face-Off
SACE’s How To Drive Green Page

What You Can Do
Track S. 948 at OpenCongress
Reserve a Nissan Leaf
Sign up for ECOtality’s EV Project updates