Adoption of Electric Transport could Curb Greenhouse Gases
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released today an analysis that finds widespread adoption of electric transportation, including electrification in the off-road sector, could lead to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and could improve air quality. "Environmental Assessment of a Full Electric Transportation Portfolio" projects GHG emissions through 2050 and air quality impacts in 2030. It finds that greenhouse gas emissions from light-duty vehicles could drop as much as 64 percent below today's levels.
Widespread use of electric vehicles (EVs)—including lawn and garden equipment and heavy industrial equipment such as forklifts—could improve air quality, particularly in densely populated urban areas. Use of electric vehicles would achieve greater reductions in GHG emissions, corresponding to the rate that the electric grid becomes cleaner, through greater reliance on renewables and low- and non-emitting generation.
"This research points to the importance of two fundamental and parallel trends in energy and the environment,â€ said Mike Howard, EPRI president and CEO. â€œFirst is the continuing decarbonization of the electricity sector and second is the electrification of energy use in transportation and industry. We expect to see continued interest and work in measuring and understanding these trends more fully in the years and decades ahead."
The study analyzes two potential scenarios of the future electric sector, the â€œBase GHGâ€ and â€œLower GHGâ€ scenarios. Both project grid emissions decreasing over time, in part because of existing and potential regulations and plausible economic conditions. In the Lower GHG Scenario, further reductions in carbon emissions result from adoption of policies that apply an increasing price on carbon emissions, resulting in faster deployment of low-emission generation technologies.
In the Base GHG scenario, the study estimates that, by 2050, the electricity sector could reduce annual GHG emissions by 1030 million metric tons relative to 2015 levels, a 45 percent reduction. In the Lower GHG scenario, the study estimates that, by 2050, the electricity sector could reduce annual GHG emissions by 1700 million metric tons relative to 2015 levels, a 77 percent reduction.
The analysis modeled electric sector and transportation sector emissions with and without widespread vehicle electrification to determine the effect of electrification of light-duty vehicles, medium-duty vehicles and certain non-road equipment. The results indicate that electrification could displace emissions from conventional petroleum-fueled vehicles for each scenario as follows: In the Base GHG scenario, emissions were reduced by 430 million metric tons annually in 2050â€”equivalent to removing 80 million passenger cars from the road. In the Lower GHG scenario, emissions were reduced by 550 million metric tons annually in 2050â€”equivalent to removing 100 million passenger cars.
When combining reductions from vehicle electrification, a cleaner electric sector, and existing programs that improve conventional vehicle efficiency, the modeled electricity and transportation sectors together achieve a 48 percent reduction in GHG emissions between 2015 and 2050 in the Base GHG scenario, and a 70 percent reduction in the Lower GHG scenario. In the Lower GHG scenario, in 2050, total emissions for the electricity and transportation sectors could be reduced by 2610 million metric tons relative to 2015 levels.
While electric vehicles are cleaner than petroleum-fueled vehicles today, the greenhouse gas reductions can be maximized by charging vehicles from a cleaner grid. With a 62 percent share of light- and medium-duty vehicles in 2050 electric vehicles would consume 13 percent of grid-supplied electricity.
Transportation electrification can lead to modest, but widespread air quality benefits. "The study's models show that EVs can help reduce ground-level ozone and particulate matter in both urban and rural areas across the country. Air quality benefits from adoption of PEVs are expected to increase as a greater portion of the transportation fleet is electrified.
"The potential reductions here are significant,â€ said David Hawkins, director of climate programs at NRDC. â€œWidespread transportation electrification should be a key part of the U.S. strategy to combat climate change and ensure a clean energy future."
While there are more than 20 models of electric vehicles on the market today from leaders such as the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF, other automakers are increasingly expanding their offerings. Tesla Motors has announced more than $4 billion of investments by 2020 and German automakers are investing $7.5 billion in EVs by 2019. Across the industry, at least 24 newly announced electric vehicle models will be on the market before 2019.
"Today's study gives us a clear vision of how expanding transportation electrification is a key strategy to achieving critical greenhouse gas and air quality goals,â€ said Ted Craver, chairman, president and CEO of Edison International. â€œThis underscores the important role utilities can play nationally in accelerating the market through efforts such as investing in infrastructure to support public and workplace charging stations and incorporating EVs into our own fleets."
The report builds on an earlier EPRI-NRDC report released in 2007, which was the first to combine electric system, electric vehicle, and air quality models. The modeling system accounts for the evolution in grid and vehicle technologies, the impact of public policies, and the growth in electricity demand.
Utilities supporting this research include American Electric Power; British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (BC Hydro); Duke Energy Corporation; FirstEnergy Corporation; LG&E and KU; New York Power Authority; Oglethorpe Power Corporation; Oncor Electric Company; Southern California Edison; Southern Company; Seattle City Light; and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).