All the major automakers (with the glaring exception of Chrysler) are racing to bring plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) to market, and with good reason. The cars decrease our reliance on ever-dwindling supplies of petroleum while also cutting tailpipe emissions. But the Environmental Transport Association (ETA) in the U.K. warns that PHEVs might actually speed up climate change if we’re not careful.
According to a new report from the ETA, PHEVs can result in higher CO2 emissions and oil consumption if coal continues to be a major source of electricity for the power grid. The ETA claims, in fact, that under the current EU emissions trading system, PHEVs will definitely increase emissions. The U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) agrees–in a report last year, the organization also found that emissions will increase unless we lessen our reliance on coal.
Not everyone agrees. The Electric Drive Transport Association, which obviously has a vested interest in the adoption of PHEVs, assures us that “Even with today’s mix of grid electricity sources, which is dominated
by coal, the use of grid power instead of petroleum is a net benefit
for the environment. As grid-power becomes even cleaner over time, the
greenhouse gas reduction and other air quality benefits of plug-in
vehicles will be even greater.”
It’s a valid point, and automakers would be unwise to halt their PHEV production programs now. And the ETA also makes some good recommendations for how governments can stop PHEVs from increasing emissions: tighten long-term CO2 standards for vehicles, increase fuel taxes, and don’t shy away from regular, non-plug in hybrids.