While it may be possible for Plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) to reduce oil imports, the real question is, how quickly can they do so?
Will it take decades for PHEVs to have any significant impact on oil usage? Or can they cut oil usage more quickly?
A recent article based on data supplied by Pike Research said there would be 841,000 PHEVs on the road in the United States by 2015. This is an impressive number considering sales of PHEVs won’t start in earnest until 2012.
This is against a backdrop of approximately 237 million light vehicles on the road today. Therefore, according to Pike Research, PHEVs will represent about one-third of one percent (0.36%) of the light vehicles on the road in 2015; obviously, an insignificant number of vehicles in so far as oil usage is concerned. Light vehicles include cars and SUVs.
So what will it take to cut oil usage by around 30%, or about 2.5 million barrels per day?
Roughly speaking, it would require that 71 million vehicles (30% of total on the road) are PHEVs (or EVs), assuming PHEVs always used battery power and didn’t use any gasoline. No one believes this to be possible.
More realistically, if PHEVs used batteries for half the miles driven, it would require 142 million PHEVs to achieve a reduction of 2.5 million barrels per day (assuming no increase in the number of vehicles on the road.)
According to Pike Research, PHEV sales will be approximately 65,000 units in 2011 and 272,000 in 2015. Using this data it’s possible to extrapolate how long it would take before 142 million vehicles were PHEVs.
The average growth rate for PHEVs between 2011 and 2015, according to Pike Research, was around 70% per year. Using the 70% growth rate, it would take until 2030 before there were 142 million PHEV vehicles on the road. But this would require that PHEVs were 1/3 of all new car sales by 2020, which isn’t likely, and would require that 100% of new car sales of 15 million be PHEVs by 2023 – something that is virtually impossible.
I realize that the math is boring, but please stay with me. If not, jump to the last three paragraphs to see my conclusions – then return here, if you want, for the facts supporting the conclusion.
While it’s very possible that there will be a total of 841,000 PHEVs sold in the United States by the end of 2015, it’s very unlikely that sales will continue to increase at such a rapid rate. A sales growth rate of 30%, let alone 70%, would be remarkable.
Using a sales rate of 30% after 2015, it wouldn’t be until 2036 before 142 million cars were PHEVs – but this is hardly possible since it requires that 100% of new car sales of 15 million be PHEVs beginning around 2031.
These are back of the envelope rough estimates, but I did a more thorough computer projection four years ago that reached the same conclusion. It wouldn’t be until around 2050 that PHEVs would substantially reduce oil consumption.
The computer projection done four years ago accounted for increased sales due to population growth, the scrapping of vehicles after they were 15 years old, and assumed gasoline mileage for PHEVs of 100 mpg, with PHEV sales capped at 80% of total new car sales.
Specifically, the computer projection resulted in there being 320 million vehicles on the road in 2050; that oil consumption wouldn’t start to decline until 2038 and we would still be consuming 4 million barrels of oil every day in 2050.
An important variable in the computer projection is whether we would reach 320 million vehicles on the road in 2050, though that would reflect the same per capita percentage of vehicle ownership that has existed in recent history.
The point of this exercise is to highlight that it will be several decades in the future before PHEVs, assuming people buy them, can significantly cut oil imports.
If PHEVs can’t cut oil usage by any significant amount until decades from now, it means we must continue to explore and develop oil resources in the United States.
It also means it’s a serious mistake to base our energy policy on the assumption that PHEVs or EVs can significantly cut oil imports.