Electricity: A Fuel of the Future

The recent tensions in the Middle East and their impact on oil and gasoline prices remind us that the U.S. remains heavily dependent on foreign nations—some of them unstable—to meet many of our energy needs. Of course, oil will continue to have an important place in our energy mix, and expanding our domestic reserves makes sense.

But the nation’s electric companies also have a major role to play in securing our energy future. The transformation of the nation’s transportation fleet to one fueled in large part by domestically produced electricity can help wean the U.S. from its dependence on foreign energy sources.

Electric Vehicles’ Development Accelerates

Plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) already are hitting major U.S. markets as car manufacturers join electric utilities in embracing electricity as the transportation fuel of the future. Edison Electric Institute and its member electric power companies are committed to making the new EVs a success. A significant part of our readiness effort is ensuring that consumers understand their options when it comes to charging their new EVs, as well as the impact their new cars will have on the grid.

All the new EVs will come with a standardized cable that can be plugged into a wall outlet, so you can be ready to charge at any time. This “Level I” charger, as it is called, uses 110 volts and will fully recharge your new electric car in 5 to 20 hours, depending on the size of the car’s battery. If you want a faster recharge, a “Level II” charger can get the job done in 4 to 6 hours.

The Level II charger uses 208–240 volts and requires a special, heavy-duty electric outlet, similar to the one used for clothes dryers. Typically, the cost to buy and install a Level II outlet is between $1,000 and $2,000. No separate meter will be needed.

Public charging stations are starting to come online as well. Many electric utilities are involved in The EV Project (http://www.theevproject.com) and similar initiatives to create a public charging infrastructure as well as electrified corridors along major interstate highways.

Several office buildings and retailers in the states first receiving the new plug-in EVs are now installing chargers in their parking garages. Keep in mind, however, that most people drive fewer than 35 miles per day—well within the range of a fully charged EV. Therefore, for the vast majority of driving Americans, public charging won’t be necessary.

Electric Vehicles’ Many Benefits

Of course, the main benefit of driving a plug-in EV is that it’s good for your wallet. At today’s average annual residential electric rate, charging your EV would be comparable to paying less than $1 per gallon for gasoline. In addition to the relatively lower cost to “fill it up,” you will qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit. State tax credits, as well as other financial incentives, are also available. Furthermore, many utilities are offering special incentives to help pay for a home charger, as well as special rates to encourage even cheaper, overnight charging at home.

Widespread adoption of EVs will help the economy too. Estimates are that they would create many domestic jobs, lower our trade deficit by $127 billion by 2030, boost household incomes and overall GDP, reduce the federal budget deficit, and make our economy more resilient to oil price shocks. And investments in creating EV-related jobs in the U.S. will help to stop those jobs from moving overseas.

The widespread adoption of EVs also will help our country reduce its dependence on foreign oil. Less than 1% of electricity is now generated from oil. Electrifying all the cars on the road would reduce oil imports by over 3 million barrels per day by 2030. And doing so could free up 12% to 15% of our annual defense budget spent on securing imported oil trade routes.

The new plug-in EVs will even help the environment because they use significantly less gasoline than both current hybrids and standard vehicles—and, therefore, release fewer emissions.

If EVs really take off, will the grid be able to handle all those cars recharging their batteries at the same time? Yes! Studies have shown that even in neighborhoods with older or smaller-capacity transformers, three to four EVs would have to be added to a single transformer to become a problem. Transformer maintenance and grid management are part of what electric utilities do; the coming of mass market electric cars is no different than previous waves of new electric products such as air conditioners or large-screen TVs.

And the grid has surplus capacity built into it, particularly at night, when electricity demand is at its lowest. Also, it will be several years before plug-in EVs become widespread enough to put a serious strain on the grid.

Lastly, plug-in EVs are fun to drive. The electric motor provides instant torque with no hesitation. With the support of the country’s electric power industry in building the necessary infrastructure to power them, they’re on the fast track to successfully deliver on their promise.

Rick Tempchin (rtempchin@eei.org) is executive director of Retail Energy Services at the Edison Electric Institute.