National Research Council Says Benefits from Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles Decades Away

Michael Giberson

The National Research Council has issued a study examining the costs and benefits of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and concluding that it will likely be decades before such vehicles yield benefits to overcome their higher initial costs.  From the press release:

Costs of plug-in hybrid electric cars are high — largely due to their lithium-ion batteries — and unlikely to drastically decrease in the near future, says a new report from the National Research Council.  Costs to manufacture plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in 2010 are estimated to be as much as $18,000 more than for an equivalent conventional vehicle.  Although a mile driven on electricity is cheaper than one driven on gasoline, it will likely take several decades before the upfront costs decline enough to be offset by lifetime fuel savings.  Subsidies in the tens to hundreds of billions of dollars over that period will be needed if plug-ins are to achieve rapid penetration of the U.S. automotive market.  Even with these efforts, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are not expected to significantly impact oil consumption or carbon emissions before 2030.

John Petersen, writing at Alt Energy Stocks, sums up the point for investors who have jumped into the field: “grid-enabled vehicles, or GEVs, are nowhere near ready for prime time and investors that buy into the GEV hype can look forward to decades of pain and suffering.”  Petersen follows up with additional commentary on electric vehicle issues.

It doesn’t appear that the NRC report examines possible “Vehicle to Grid” (V2G) services and associated revenue, which are sometimes explored in this kind of analysis, but that is probably a good thing.  You might recall the USPS report “Electrification of Delivery Vehicles” assumed that the examined all-electric vehicles would yield nearly $200 per month from V2G (and still the project only made sense of the USPS if taxpayers chipped in to the tune of $15,500 per vehicle).  The NRC report is on the safer ground, I think.  As I’ve said here before, projections of significant V2G revenues are unlikely to pan out.

5 thoughts on “National Research Council Says Benefits from Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles Decades Away

  1. It is blindingly obvious that V2G requires that the vehicle be connected to the grid. The potential benefits of V2G exist only during periods of peak demand, in the afternoon of hot business days. In the afternoon of business days, delivery vehicles, such as those used by USPS are on the road, not parked and connected to the grid.

    On those same hot business days, vehicles used for transportation to and from work are parked in the company lot or in a commercial parking facility. While they could conceivably be connected to the grid while parked for work, that would trigger the potential for the energy stored in the battery to be inadequate for the trip home. While that would not necessarily be a deal killer for a PHEV, it certainly would be for an EV.

    Of course, business hours could also be shifted to offset the non-AC power loads from the AC peak.

  2. Ed- Sometimes the blindingly obvious not correct.

    V2G cannot only provide power at peak, but it can also be used to help smooth fluctuations in supply and demand, allowing fossil fuel generators to operate more efficiently at nearer to constant speeds. These services are useful 24/7, and the majority of the $200/day value in the UPS study derived from these services. $200 seems high to me, but there is value there.

  3. Constant *speeds*? I’m afraid you don’t understand, Tom. Generators don’t speed up or slow down (except very slightly in very short-term excursions that average to zero). You’re thinking of the plant output level, which isn’t related to the “speed” of the generator.

    My guess is that Ed’s most likely correct that the real V2G value is in on-peak operation, not in smoothing short-term fluctuations in supply and demand. There are some efficiencies in consumption of energy off-peak, which do tend to keep baseload generators operating at more efficient output levels, but that’s not exactly V2G.

  4. Tom,

    Thanks for the link.

    I still believe that the dependence on grid connection is blindingly obvious, as I stated above.

    The net transaction between the grid and the vehicle, especially for an EV, must be G2V during each connection period and must leave the vehicle essentially fully charged at the end of the connection period, so that the vehicle is available for its intended purpose, though that does not preclude periods of V2G during the connection period.

    However, it would seem that variable rate G2V would be as effective under most circumstances; and, it would tend to enhance the users’ value proposition. The rectification and battery-in losses occur on the customer side of the meter, as would any inversion and battery-out losses. Also, the customer would be adversely impacted by increased battery cycling.

    The users’ value proposition is not obvious when the in/out transactions occur primarily intra-period, so that there is no rate-based spread between the multiple purchase and sale transactions. That is not to suggest that such a value proposition could not be structured, such as through a grid balancing service fee.

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