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Benefits and drawbacks of plugging-in your vehicle

Benefits and drawbacks of plugging-in your vehicle

In March of 2012, at the Daimler Truck factory in North Carolina, President Obama launched EV-Everywhere, part of Energy Department “Clean Energy Grand Challenges”, whose goal is to make electric vehicles more affordable and convenient to own and drive than today’s gasoline-based automobiles within the next 10 years. Before that, Obama’s predecessor George W.Bush in his 2007 State of the Union Address urged scientists and engineers to “press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles.”


Non-profit organizations and PHEV (Plug-In Electric Vehicle) advocacy groups like CalCars and Plug-in America have been actively promoting plug-in hybrid vehicles and educating the public about economic, environmental, and national security benefits they offer. A highly visible grassroots campaign Plug-In Partners was launched in 2006 seeking to demonstrate to automakers that there is sufficient demand to support the mass production of flexible-fuel PHEVs. It seems that the benefit of millions of cars plugging into the nation’s electric grid in the coming years has never looked better.

Benefits of plugging in your vehicle

PHEVs and V2G (vehicle-to-grid) concept promise undeniable economic, environmental, and national security benefits that result from displacing gasoline with electricity. And at the same time V2G concept “connects electric power system and petroleum-based transportation system in a way that may address significant problems in both”(B.K. Sovacool, R.F. Hirsh, 2008).


Plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, are hybrids with high-capacity batteries that can be charged by plugging them into an electric outlet or charging station. PHEVs use batteries to power an electric motor and use another fuel (gasoline or diesel) to power an internal combustion engine or another propulsion source. PHEVs have larger batteries than regular hybrid vehicles which makes it possible to drive moderate distances using just electricity: 10 to 40 miles in models currently available on the market.


V2G system enables a plug-in electric vehicle to communicate with the smart grid.

The V2G concept is based on the ability of the battery and hybrid vehicles to send power that they generate internally to the electric grid. The V2G requires three things: a power connection for electrical energy flow from a vehicle to the grid; a control/communication device that would allow utility operators to get access to the vehicle’s battery exactly when needed, and a precision metering device to measure how much power vehicle provided and at which times.

The two-way communication between the grid and the PHEVs allows for better management of the electricity resources and even gives vehicle owners an opportunity to sell electricity back to the grid when it is in need of power and the car is not. This can be used to moderate and stabilize power fluctuations and lead to a more reliable power supply grid.


A transition to PHEV/V2G concept would help reduce dependency on foreign oil and increase energy security.

In 2013, the United States imported about 33% of the petroleum it consumed. Transportation was responsible for almost three-quarters of total US petroleum consumption. Most people drive relatively short distances– typically to and from work. U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the daily commute of about 60% of the vehicles is fewer than 30 miles. Therefore, a PHEV with a battery capable of a 30-mile range could eliminate petroleum use for these short trips.


PHEV can also help reduce fuel costs dramatically due to the low cost of electricity compared to conventional fuel.

For example, less than a dollar worth of electricity would take you as far as one gallon of gas. To get a better idea about potential savings driving a plug-in hybrid vehicle offers, try My Plug-In Hybrid Calculator created by the U.S. Department of Energy, it covers every PHEV available on the market today. You can also use their side-to-side comparison tool to figure out which plug-in hybrid works best for you.

Moreover, PHEV in a V2G configuration could provide additional revenue to the owners that wish to sell the power back to the grid. While V2G capable car could provide peak power or serve as a demand-response service, the real need exists for so-called ancillary services – particularly, regulation, or frequency response, and spinning reserves. Grid operators across the country require each of these services for every one of the 8,760 operating hours in a year and the calculated value of these electric services amounts to $12 billion per year, some of which would flow to V2G owners.


PHEV may offer significant benefits to the environment. EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) has shown that a plug-in hybrid with just a 20-mile all-electric range could help avoid 6000 pounds damaging greenhouse gas emissions, reducing pollution by 38 percent. A report published by the National Resources Defense Council stated that if 60 percent of US light vehicles were powered by the electric grid, carbon emissions from the transportation sector would drop by one-third – an equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions produced by 82 million conventional cars.

The “Well-to-wheel” concept includes all emissions related to fuel production, processing, distribution, and use. Most greenhouse gas emissions are produced by coal-fired plants. But even in areas where most electricity is produced by coal, plug-in electric vehicles still reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25-30 percent over conventional vehicles.


PHEV also has the benefit of flexible fueling.

The electric grid is available almost anywhere. Therefore, you can charge your vehicle at home, at a workplace, at a public charging station. If needed, a plug-in hybrid vehicle can also refuel with gasoline or diesel. The number of public charging stations has been constantly increasing. Today, it surpasses 11,000 stations with more than 28,000 outlets. You can search for a public charging station here.

Drawbacks of plugging in your vehicle

Although the benefits of PHEV/V2G transition are quite obvious, certain roadblocks limit the successful transition.

Barriers related to customer acceptance, historical aversion to new technologies, and the resistance of the stakeholders in the existing infrastructure may become serious impediments/drawbacks. The high initial cost of a plug-in hybrid may be considered a serious drawback for a lot of consumers given that most people do not discount the advantages of the new technologies the same way financial experts do.

Many drivers will probably be unaware that the actual electricity and gasoline consumption will be affected by their driving and charging habits, traffic conditions, and other factors, expressing frustration when their plug-in hybrid vehicle does not perform as expected. Aggressive driving, for example, which involves higher speeds and/or aggressive acceleration and requires extra power consumption and inefficient use of a braking system, diminishes PHEV’s fuel efficiency by more than 30 percent.

Serious resistance may come from automobile manufactures and petroleum companies, as well as repair businesses that have invested billions of dollars into the production and supply infrastructure of conventional vehicles.

Certain automobile manufacturers argued that alternative vehicles would be too costly for consumers adding close to $3000 to the price of each vehicle. Besides electric vehicles would require an entirely new set of suppliers, assembly processes, and technicians as opposed to already existing infrastructure for conventional vehicles, which would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

A transition to PHEVs would most likely cause significant loss of business to maintenance and repair companies since EVs have fewer moving parts and do not require oil changes, tune-ups, and mandatory early emission inspections. Petroleum companies also have their reasons for resisting the PHEV/V2G transition since they will be facing losses of revenues from the extraction of oil, refining it, and selling gasoline to the end customer if the transition is successful.

Despite any challenges that may exist for the successful implementation of the HPEVs/V2G concept, PHEVs represent an exciting opportunity to create greater energy independence, and at the same time reduce harmful emissions. The time is now for the industry as well as the society to take a serious look at the PHEV potential that will help create a more sustainable future.

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