Six ways to boost electric vehicles
Getting more American drivers into electric vehicles carries both environmental and national security benefits. But to get Americans to really buy EVs, the Obama administration needs to learn from the past and plan better today.
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Second, the Obama team can work to raise the federal gasoline tax, making EVs even more competitive against gas-powered vehicles. (To make a higher gas tax more palatable, such an increase could be offset with lower payroll taxes, leaving consumers with no overall tax increase. Or, some of the gas tax monies could be used to pay down the national debt; the poor will also need to be protected against any regressive gas tax).Skip to next paragraph
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Third, the government and automakers need to expand the limited number of plug-in stations. Indeed, EVs still require power, and most people don’t have access to off-the-grid or renewable energy. So that needs to change to make EVs environmentally sustainable.
Fourth, the extra electricity needed to run EVs should come from cleaner sources of electricity such as wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, and even natural gas. If America is merely going to produce the extra vehicle electricity with coal, it may defeat the environmental benefit of EVs because coal is dirtier than oil.
Fifth, as of now, EV batteries require lithium and rare-earth minerals, and some studies show that mining them is damaging to the environment. The steps listed above can create economies of scale for the production of EVs, thus lowering their costs, increasing their sales, and further incentivizing research that can make batteries cheaper and more environmentally safe. Innovators need to feel that this trajectory is being put in motion.
Sixth, bipartisan support for EVs does not now exist, but President Obama wants to move ahead. One way to generate support is to focus on improving battery costs and efficiency, before moving with the other five steps above. Success with batteries, when it comes, will then make a broader move toward EVs (and hybrid-electric vehicles) more plausible economically and politically.
EVs can make a real difference. Indeed, a new report by the National Research Council finds that by 2030, America could halve the amount of oil used in its vehicle fleet largely by relying more on cars that use alternative power sources, like electric batteries and biofuels. That’s significant.
Embracing EVs can meet both environmental and national security goals, but only if we remember history and plan better for the future.