According to new research released by the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston, Texas, an "aggressive campaign" to bring electric vehicles to market in the United States quickly and ensure their saturation would be "the single most effective way to reduce U.S. oil demand and foreign imports" between now and 2050. This conclusion comes even in the face of comparing it to other solutions such as a massive adoption of compressed natural gas vehicles, pushing an economy-wide renewable energy portfolio standard, and instituting some kind of overarching cap-and-trade carbon policy.
Although many of us have heard this before and fully support plug-in cars for just this reason, the fact that this current conclusion is coming from the heart of U.S. Big Oil land, and from an institute who's namesake was alternately the Treasury Secretary for President Reagan and the Secretary of State for the first President Bush, seems to add additional weight. As the executive summary states, the Baker Institute analysis seeks to "help clarify and debunk common myths that currently plague the U.S. energy and climate policy debate."
According to the researchers, policies that promote a 30% market penetration of electric vehicles by 2050, in addition to existing corporate average fuel economy standards, would have the greatest net effect of reducing emissions and lowering dependence on foreign oil. "Electric cars could help oil use fall by an additional 2.5 million barrels per day by 2050 on top of the savings of around 3 million barrels per day already expected from the implementation of new corporate average fuel economy standards imposed by the U.S. Congress in 2007 and fortified by the Obama administration’s approval of stricter standards for the state of California," the executive summary states. In addition, the researchers conclude that under the electric car scenario, oil imports would fall from over 60 percent of total U.S. oil use currently to 40 percent.
The analysis finds that, although a massive shift to CNG vehicles would also lower oil consumption and emissions dramatically, it wouldn't be nearly as effective as simply electrifying a gigantic portion of our transportation sector and then using our abundant natural gas to provide the electricity. "CNG vehicles still rely on internal combustion engine technology, which is less efficient in fuel requirements than electric vehicles, whose engines gain energy from braking and have higher operational efficiency," the executive summary states. "In fact, a recent analysis of best-in-class vehicle technologies indicates that the well-to-wheel energy efficiency of electric vehicles is roughly three-and-a-half times greater than CNG vehicles."
If the U.S. were instead to use that natural gas to generate electricity as part of a portfolio with renewable sources of electricity, the analysis shows that "if the entire vehicle fleet were converted to electric vehicles and high efficiency natural gas combined-cycle power plants were used to generate all the additional electricity required, the increase in natural gas demand would be significantly less" than if the entire fleet was burning natural gas in its combustion engines—roughly a decrease in natural gas usage of 19 billion cubic feet per day.