Accelerating Change: Toward Low Carbon Transportation

Cars are ingrained in modern life. We rely on them to get to work, visit family and for travel. Unfortunately, modern transportation relies heavily on petroleum, contributing 14 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Burning one gallon of gasoline creates about 20 pounds of CO2—an average vehicle creates roughly 5 to 9 tons of CO2 each year.

Electric vehicles (EVs) offer a low-carbon alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles, but several barriers stand in their way. Higher prices, limited battery range, access to charging stations, and lack of model variety have slowed global EV sales. 

Both the private and the public sectors are working to reduce barriers and expand EV sales worldwide. Automakers are competing to reduce battery costs, which make up most of an EV’s price premium, and to increase battery range. Models with more than 200 miles of range that cost less than $40,000 to purchase will be available within the next year. Most major automakers also plan a wider range of EV styles, including SUVs and minivans in the next few years.

Innovative public policies aimed at encouraging EV adoption can vary by country, region, and city. For example, in the U.S:

  • California allows EV drivers to use HOV lanes even if they are driving alone. 
  • Portland, Oregon has an extensive public charging network, which may have helped spur all-electric vehicles sales to three times the average U.S. all-electric vehicle uptake rate. 
  • Cities like San Francisco are also helping to finance privately-owned public charging stations to increase charging access.

If you are considering a new vehicle, an EV could reduce your carbon footprint and save you money over the lifetime of the vehicle. Some questions to consider:

  • What are your needs? Consider how currently available EV models will fit your specific purposes, such as towing cargo or taking road trips. More diverse models planned for production in the next few years may also fit those purposes.
  • What are your daily and weekly travel needs? Try estimating your daily commute mileage and compare to EV battery ranges. A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle may be appropriate if you regularly take longer trips, but you will still need a place to charge your vehicle.
  • Where can you charge your EV? Most charging takes place at home or the workplace. Consider what you might need to charge at either location, and include any potential costs. Public charging may also work if it is conveniently located.
  • Where can you find reliable information? PlugInCars.com maintains a section on consumer considerations for EVs. Consumer Reports includes popular EV models and performance reviews.

Even if an EV isn’t right for you, optimal driving techniques and proper vehicle maintenance can still help you cut emissions and save money in a gasoline-powered car. For more information, visit the C2ES Make an Impact web page at http://makeanimpact.c2es.org/tips/move or the U.S. Department of Energy’s fuel economy web page at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/.