Journal article

Potential for widespread electrification of personal vehicle travel in the United States

Needell Z, McNerney J, Chang M, Trancik J ...see all

Nature Energy, vol. 1, issue 9 (2016) p. 16112

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Electric vehicles can contribute to climate change mitigation if coupled with decarbonized electricity, but only if vehicle range matches travellers’ needs. Evaluating electric vehicle range against a population’s needs is challenging because detailed driving behaviour must be taken into account. Here we develop a model to combine information from coarse-grained but expansive travel surveys with high-resolution GPS data to estimate the energy requirements of personal vehicle trips across the US. We find that the energy requirements of 87% of vehicle-days could be met by an existing, affordable electric vehicle. This percentage is markedly similar across diverse cities, even when per capita gasoline consumption differs significantly. We also find that for the highest-energy days, other vehicle technologies are likely to be needed even as batteries improve and charging infrastructure expands. Car sharing or other means to serve this small number of high-energy days could play an important role in the electrification and decarbonization of transportation.

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  • Zachary A. Needell

  • James McNerney

  • Michael T. Chang

  • Jessika E. Trancik

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