Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle Costs Likely to Remain High, Benefits Modest for
WASHINGTON -- 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.
The report looks at plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that can operate on
electricity for 10 or 40 miles. The PHEV-10 is similar to the Toyota
Prius but with a larger battery. The PHEV-40 is similar to the
Chevrolet Volt; it has a larger motor and a much larger battery than the
PHEV-10. The lithium-ion battery technology used to run these vehicles
is the key determinant of their cost and range on electric power.
Battery technology has been developing rapidly, but steep declines in
cost do not appear likely over the next couple of decades because
lithium-ion batteries are already produced in large quantities for cell
phones and laptop computers. In the first generation of production, the
PHEV-10 battery pack is estimated to cost about $3,300, and the PHEV-40
battery pack about $14,000. While these costs will come down, a
fundamental breakthrough in battery technology, unforeseen at present,
would be needed to make plug-ins widely affordable in the near future.
According to the committee that wrote the report, the maximum number of
plug-in electric vehicles that could be on the road by 2030 is 40
million, assuming rapid technological progress in the field, increased
government support, and consumer acceptance of these vehicles. However,
factors such as high cost, limited availability of places to plug in,
and market competition suggest that 13 million is a more realistic
number, the report says. Even this more modest estimate assumes that
current levels of government support will continue for several decades.
Most of the electricity used to power these cars will be supplied from
the nation's power grid. If charged at night when the demand for
electricity is lowest, the grid would be able to handle the additional
demand for millions of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, the report
says. However, if drivers charge their vehicles at times of high
demand, such as when they get home from work, the additional load could
be difficult to meet unless new capacity is added. Smart meters, which
bill customers based on time of use, may be necessary in order to
encourage nighttime charging. In addition, some homes would require
electrical system upgrades to charge their vehicle, which could cost
more than $1,000.
Relative to hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will have
little impact on U.S. oil consumption before 2030, especially if fuel
economy for conventional vehicles and hybrids continues to increase past
2020. PHEV-10s save only about 20 percent of the gasoline an equivalent
hybrid vehicle would use, the report says. If 40 million PHEV-10s are
operating in 2030, they would save about 0.2 million barrels of oil per
day relative to less expensive hybrids, approximately 2 percent of
current U.S. daily light-duty vehicle oil consumption. More substantial
savings could be seen by 2050. PHEV-40s, which consume 55 percent less
gasoline than hybrids, could have a greater impact on oil consumption.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles emit less carbon dioxide than
equivalent conventional vehicles, but not less than hybrids after
accounting for emissions at generating stations supplying their
electrical power, the report says. Beyond 2030, assuming consumer
acceptance, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles could account for
significant reductions in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, if electricity
generation plants fired by fossil fuels were equipped with carbon
capture and storage systems or replaced with renewable energy or
According to the report, a portfolio approach toward reducing U.S.
dependence on oil is necessary for long-term success. This should
include increasing the fuel efficiency of conventional vehicles and
pursuing research, development, and demonstration into alternative
strategies, including the use of biofuels, electric vehicles, and
hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
This study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The National
Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of
Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.
They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science,
technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The
Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National
Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A
committee roster follows.
Copies of Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies --
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles are available from the National
Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet
at http://www.nap.edu . Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of
News and Public Information (contacts listed above).