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What does President Obama’s climate speech mean for EVs?

27 June 2013

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New fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles, development and deployment of advanced transportation technologies, including next-generation biofuels and advanced batteries - these are the transport sector-related measures outlined by the US President Barack Obama in his Climate Change Action Plan, a wider strategy to address climate change.
In a speech given at the Georgetown University on June 26, President Obama acknowledged that climate change poses an immediate threat and outlined a comprehensive strategy to tackle this challenge. The President’s Climate Action Plan, which goes further than any attempts by previous US Presidents to address climate change, includes measures to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, expand renewable energy projects, protect coastlines from flooding and sea-level rise as well as efforts to reach an international climate agreement.

Increasing fuel economy standards and developing advanced transportation technologies are the main transport-related priorities of the Climate Action Plan.

Role of electric cars

Although in his speech President Obama did not directly emphasise the role of electric cars, the Climate Action Plan published by the White House after the speech highlights the importance of continued research in advanced batteries and the possible costs-saving potential of electric cars.
More broadly, the Administration will continue to leverage partnerships between the private and public sectors to deploy cleaner fuels, including advanced batteries and fuel cell technologies, in every transportation mode. The Department of Energy’s eGallon informs drivers about electric car operating costs in their state – the national average is only $1.14 per gallon of gasoline equivalent, showing the promise for consumer pocketbooks of electric-powered vehicles,” states the Climate Action Plan.

President Obama in his speech also complimented the US automakers for leading innovation in the transport sector and their ability to live up to this challenge.

“The fuel standards that we put in place just a few years ago didn’t cripple automakers. The American auto industry retooled, and today, our automakers are selling the best cars in the world at a faster rate than they have in five years - with more hybrid, more plug-in, more fuel-efficient cars for everybody to choose from,” stated the President.

Fewer GHG emissions from power plants = greener electricity for EVs = lower emissions

Perhaps one of the most significant elements of the President’s speech is his request to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from US power plants. President Obama, bypassing the Congress, has ordered the US Environmental Protection Agency to set limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing coal and gas fired power plants.

"Power plants can still dump limitless carbon pollution into the air for free," he said. "That's not right, that's not safe and it needs to stop."

The electricity mix and emissions from power production are important factors to determine the exact environmental benefits of electric vehicles, argues a report published by the American Council for the Energy Efficient Economy earlier this month. It can therefore be said that plans to reduce GHG emissions from power plants, combined with the promise of increasing renewable energy capacity, will mean the electricity used to power electric cars will eventually become greener, and that the emissions associated with electric cars will further decrease.

Fuel economy standards and next-generation biofuels

Fuel economy standards and research into cleaner fuels are the main elements of the transport section of the Climate Action Plan, named Building a 21st-Century Transportation Sector.

The Obama Administration has already introduced the toughest fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles in US history. “These standards require an average performance equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, which will save the average driver more than $8,000 in fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicle and eliminate six billion metric tons of carbon pollution”, states the Climate Action Plan.

In 2011 fuel economy standards were agreed for the first time for heavy-duty trucks, buses and vans, for the years 2014-2018. President Obama promised that as of 2018 fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles would be even tougher.

In addition President expressed his Administration’s support for the Renewable Fuels Standard programme and promised to invest in the research and development of next-generation biofuels.



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