Drive 1,666 miles for $50: Nebraska research shows ‘profound’ economic, environmental benefits of electric cars

Source: By Martha Stoddard, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2016

LINCOLN — Real-world research underway in Nebraska is finding that electric cars cost substantially less to run and cut air pollution more than conventional, gas-powered vehicles.

In fact, according to the lead researcher, the study shows that the economic and environmental benefits of all-electric vehicles are “profound.”

“At today’s gasoline and electricity prices in Nebraska, you can spend $50 on gasoline and drive 454 miles or you can spend $50 on electricity and drive 1,666 miles, cutting the carbon emissions in half or more,” said Moe Alahmad, an associate engineering professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on the Omaha campus.

He reported his research Friday to a special legislative committee charged with working toward a state action plan on climate change.

State Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, co-chairman of the committee with Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, said Monday that he believes that electric vehicles have a role to play in the state’s response.

“The committee is looking at broader answers to reduce carbon emissions,” he said. “Electric vehicles are something than can be used.”

But Larson said it remains to be seen what role the Legislature can play in encouraging more use of electric vehicles.

One possibility may be creating incentives to encourage the spread of charging stations.

Alahmad’s research is part of a project undertaken by the Nebraska Community Energy Alliance, a group of 25 Nebraska communities and educational institutions.

The alliance set out two years ago, using grants from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, to promote electric vehicles by demonstrating their benefits in actual use.

The research involves 24 electric vehicles leased by 15 local governments, as well as data from the installation of 35 charging stations. The vehicles included Nissan Leafs, Chevrolet Volts and a Ford Fusion.

Alahmad tracked electric vehicle usage from November 2014 through this August, along with conventional fuel prices.

He found that the electric vehicles saved the leasing entities a total of $11,792 in operating costs and cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 87,000 pounds.

During the 22 months studied, fuel costs averaged 11 cents per mile for gasoline-powered vehicles, he said.

Electricity for the electric vehicles ranged from an average of 3 cents per mile, if it was supplied by the Nebraska Public Power District, down to 1.9 cents per mile, if it came from the Omaha Public Power District.

The research also found a difference in maintenance costs, with electric vehicles again being cheaper than gasoline ones.

The alliance website notes that the amount of savings from an electric vehicle depends on such factors as the cost of gasoline, the aggressiveness of the driver’s driving style, how often the driver uses the air conditioner or heater and even the terrain on which the vehicle is driven.

At the same time, electric vehicles accounted for substantially less greenhouse gases than conventional ones, Alahmad said.

The amount of emissions attributed to electric cars depends on the methods used to produce electricity for them. The vehicles themselves produce no emissions at the tailpipe, in contrast to gasoline-powered vehicles.

An electric vehicle would account for 179 grams of carbon dioxide per mile, based on the electricity sources used by OPPD in 2015.

But the amount would drop to 85 grams per mile once OPPD incorporates more renewable sources of energy, as called for in the utility’s 2033 plan.

That compares with a conventional vehicle, which emits an average of 411 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.

The pattern is similar for virtually all other gases blamed for contributing to climate change.