You heard the debate. More plug-in hybrid, PHEV on the road means more pollution since we will have to produce more electricity from coal burning utilities.
The gist, not so fast. This is one of those yes and no topics. Yes, if we recharge whenever and however, we will tax the grid and fire up more petroleum based electric centrals. However, coal electric facilities are always on and you cannot reduce the fire.
For one thing, the upcoming PHEVs from main manufactures will have smart charging software programs that will allow the car to recharge only at specific times for lower rates. What this means is at that time, electric facilities are under-utilized, and the electricity will at least be stored somewhere. Imagine a V2G system on board and you can re-shunt the electricity back to the grid a day later when it is needed during peak hours. All of this by 2010.
The case against. So there it is, the controversy. According to USA Today, PHEV’s lower tailpipe emissions may be offset by smokestack emissions from electric utility plants. So we question these not backed up comments such as: “About 49% of U.S. electricity is generated using coal, so in some regions a plug-in running on its batteries is nearly the equivalent of a coal-burning vehicle. The trade-off is one that even plug-in backers acknowledge.” Who acknowledged that and how? Even the famed Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council said the contrary. However in states such as North Dakota where most of the electricity is coal derived, the offsets by be minimal.
The real problem. The crux of the contention is still how far the PHEV can run on battery power alone. Considering car makers are heavily invested in infrastructures geared for building gas engine, they are in no hurry to build PHEV with longer electric only mode range. They buy batteries from other companies. That explains why they are rushing to strategically partner with battery makers or build them themselves. Tricky situation but mostly for the environment and users.
In conclusion, though it is easy to only look at one aspect of this new technology, it is crucial to not just see electric vehicles and PHEVs as saving the environment alone but an entire coherent infrastructure with clean renewable energy sources, as we have been heavily promoting here. All in all, only 100% EV will make a difference and until half of our energy will come from clean sources, hopefully through well crafted incentives and tax breaks, then we can go on driving as much as we want.