Batteries, Hydrogen, and Hybrids: Where We Are Now, and Where We’re Going

May 4, 2015 | 1:15 pm
David Reichmuth
Senior Engineer, Clean Transportation Program

Today I’m attending the 2015 Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) summit in Sacramento, California, where automakers, policymakers, and technical leaders are sharing information and plans for continuing the impressive progress in getting clean ZEVs on the road. This is the third California ZEV summit and it’s amazing to see the progress that has been made in getting cleaner vehicles on the road.

Clean plug-in vehicles continue to grow in sales, model availability

In the U.S. there have been over 310,000 electric vehicles sold to date. In 2014, over 59,000 new plug-ins were sold in California alone, bringing the state’s total to 130,500 ZEV over the last 5 years.  These cars are reducing gasoline use by 36 million gallons, fuel spending by $77 million, and global warming emissions by 280,000 metric tons of CO2, each year in California.

New models also continue to be introduced, with the first EVs from Audi and Volvo expected to go on sale this year alongside a redesigned Chevy Volt. More models from Mercedes, Tesla, and Mitsubishi are expected by this time next year. With 20 models of plug-in vehicles already available, customers have more and more choices for clean (and fun to drive) cars.

Plug-in cars are also getting cleaner, as both more efficient electric vehicles are introduced and electricity gets cleaner.  UCS estimates that 60% of the Americans live where driving the average EV is cleaner than the most-efficient gasoline-only car, up from 45% in our prior assessment in 2012.

EV sales in California. Data Source: California New Car Dealers Association.

Hydrogen fuel cell electric cars starting to hit the roads

A second type of EV, the hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, is starting to be sold in California.  The Hyundai Tucson went on sale last year in limited quantities and Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell sedan should come to the Golden State this fall.  New hydrogen stations are opening soon in California to provide the fuel for these new cars.

With the introduction of fuel cell cars come questions about their emissions and the sources of hydrogen gas for refueling these vehicles.  We’ve written several fact sheets (linked below) to help understand the role of hydrogen in clean transportation.

  • Why do we need both fuel cells and plug-in electric vehicles?

    Because they have complementary advantages. Fuel cells can be quickly refueled at a station like a gasoline car and plug-ins can take advantage of the existing electric infrastructure in many single-family homes. Depending on your driving needs and home charging availability, one type of electric vehicle might be a better fit for your transportation needs.

  • Are hydrogen vehicles clean?

    Global warming emissions from fuel cells depend on how the hydrogen is made, but in California the first fuel cell vehicles are substantially(?) cleaner than gasoline-powered cars.

  • Where will the hydrogen come from?

    Hydrogen can be made from multiple sources. Natural gas is often used to make hydrogen, but cleaner hydrogen for vehicles is also being made from biogas at wastewater treatment facilities and from water using solar electricity.

Electric vehicles to reduce both California’s emissions and oil use

EVs can both reduce global warming emissions and oil use, two goals we know are important to ensure a healthier and sustainable future.  These goals have also been put forward by California’s leadership, with recent calls to cut global warming emissions 40% from 1990 levels and oil use in half, both by 2030.

We can get to these goals using practical solutions like switching to electric drive vehicles. That’s why the progress and accomplishments we seen so far are encouraging and it’s great to have forums like the ZEV summit to learn about actions that automakers, governments and others can take to make sure the electric vehicle market continues to grow.

About the author

More from David

David Reichmuth's work focuses on analyzing new vehicle technologies and advocating for policies that support the increased electrification of transportation. Dr. Reichmuth has testified at hearings before the US House of Representatives, the California State Legislature, and the California Air Resources Board, and he is an expert on California’s Zero Emission Vehicles regulation.