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"The Plug-in Electric Vehicle Pathway" chapter 2 in Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways: A Research Summary for Decision Makers


Journal Article

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS)

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Suggested Citation:
Axsen, Jonn, Christopher Yang, Ryan W. McCarthy, Andrew Burke, Kenneth S. Kurani, Thomas S. Turrentine (2011) "The Plug-in Electric Vehicle Pathway" chapter 2 in Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways: A Research Summary for Decision Makers. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, 38 - 63

While biofuels seem to represent the nearest-term answer to the demand for alternative fuels, electricity is closing in as a viable choice. Electric-drive technology continues to pique the imagination of motorists with its promise of clean skies, quiet cars, and plentiful fuel produced from nonpolluting domestic sources. In the designs they have dangled before us, automakers have shown us variations in plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) size, performance, and definition in efforts to overcome the fundamental challenge of electric drive: how to store energy and supply power. PEVs (a category that includes plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or PHEVs as well as battery electric vehicles or BEVs) are powered at least in part by electricity from the grid—a fuel that under certain conditions is less costly and more environmentally friendly than gasoline. Because vehicle electrification can improve the total energy efficiency (MJ/mile) of the vehicle and may allow lowering of the carbon intensity (gCO2/MJ) of the fuel used in vehicles over time, PEVs offer a form of transportation with the potential for very low greenhouse gas (GHG)  emissions.

PEVs have now entered the marketplace with models from several manufacturers. However, PEV technology has yet to achieve widespread market success. In this chapter we sort through the hype and improve understanding of the PEV pathway and what it will take to become competitive with internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). We draw from several streams of research—including testing of battery technology, modeling of the electricity grid, and eliciting consumer data regarding PEV design interests and potential use patterns—to address these questions:• What is the technical outlook for PEV technology and batteries?
• How will widespread charging of PEVs influence the operation and evolution of the electricity grid, and how does infrastructure need to develop for our transportation
system to transition to the PEV pathway?
• What are the expected environmental impacts of electricity use for charging vehicles, and how can we minimize them?
• How do PEVs fit into long-term deep GHG-reduction scenarios?
• What policies and business strategies are needed to support PEVs in both the near and long terms?

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