Without Efficiency, Electric Vehicles Are Just Another Huge Appliance

by | Jan 27, 2010

andy mannleThe competition between electric vehicles and hybrids is heating up . But even as consumers are being encouraged to save energy at home, and use energy-saving appliances, the dawn of the electric vehicle age represents a huge increase in home power use.

This year’s LA Auto Show was all about the electric vehicle. More models are coming out in 2010 and 2011, and more companies are getting involved. Some automotive experts predict eco-friendly cars will make up 10% of the total car market within a decade. And the competition is fierce to see which model and even which technology is going to come out on top.

Will it be Toyota’s new hybrid, the Plug-in Prius; or the Chevy Volt, an all-electric with an onboard gas tank that charges the battery? Will it be the affordable Nissan Leaf or the luxury Tesla? Will Ford and Volkswagon enter the fray?

What’s not being asked in all the frenzy to shift vehicles from oil to electricity, is where will all this power come from? While EV enthusiasts are quick to point out that no emissions are coming from the tailpipe, an electric car is not automatically a zero-emission vehicle. Owning an EV requires having a garage to park it in with a plug to charge it. Yet 50% of the electricity in the US is supplied by coal; the most carbon-emitting, water-polluting, inefficient, and environmentally-destructive fuel on the market.

So even though electricity is cheaper at night, and efforts are underway to ramp up wind power production to meet the new demand from EVs, we are still years away from large-scale efficient windpower production linked to a high-voltage energy grid. Yet the number of EV’s and hybrids on the market is increasing by leaps and bounds.

One surefire way to offset the increased electricity demand of this shift, is to increase our efficiency efforts. By pursuing aggressive strategies to reduce home energy consumption, we can go after the cheapest, cleanest, safest, fastest way to shrink home energy bills at the same time that they’re rising as more and more people skip the gas station and plug-in their cars at home. Energy efficiency efforts could save us $70 billion dollars a year, and help to level off rising energy use. The Obama administration is putting more money toward efficiency and green jobs, with the president calling efficiency “sexy” because it saves money.

Efforts are underway to perform energy-efficiency retrofits on a million homes by 2012. Without these efforts, the shift to “eco-friendly” vehicles over the next several years will cause a rise in electricity costs, and increased greenhouse gas emissions from coal. While this may reduce our dependence on foreign oil, it’s certainly not the green future the Prius crowd thinks they’re driving toward.

Andy Mannle is a writer and consultant dedicated to exploring sustainable policy, innovations, and solutions. His clients include New Leaf America, West Coast Green, and the ETHOS fund among others.

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