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School of Public & Environmental Affairs Podcast Series

Sanya Carley

Sanya Carley

on The Future of Electric Cars - (3:26)

Sanya Carley

Electric cars, including the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf -- are coming (see below for WTIU YouTube reporting on Chevy Volt coming to Bloomington). And many environmentalists and renewable energy advocates hope they’ll help turn the tide against climate change and lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

But will electric cars meet these lofty expectations? Sanya Carley, an assistant professor at SPEA , says ... maybe … because the environmental benefits of electric cars depend in part on the source of the electricity used to charge them ...

“When our electricity network is made up primarily of fossil fuels, as is the case currently with a national average of roughly 50% coal generation for electricity, then if we’re replacing petroleum with coal, that’s something that merits further research as to whether or not this is truly an environmental benefit,” Carely says.

Nevertheless, Carely says, electric cars do have many potential benefits, especially when it comes to helping curb oil consumption. The U.S. transportation sector relies heavily on oil from other countries, raising a variety of climate-related and geopolitical concerns. Electric vehicles have “huge potential benefits” for lessening dependence on foreign oil

But one of the great unknowns, Carley says, is how well the electricity grid will handle the extra demand if electrics cars begin to replace conventional cars in large numbers. One potential solution is if electric car owners are willing to charge their vehicles mainly at night, when electricity use is typically low. “Although it might be more often the case that consumers will want to charge their vehicles when convenient, which might happen to be during peak hours, and then we run into large reliability concerns,” Carely says.

Other challenges for electric cars include the current lack of widespread charging stations, the reliability of the cars’ batteries, and whether or not enough people are willing to buy electric cars to make them commercially viable. In any event,nearly all major car companies will soon be rolling out electric vehicles. And if they catch on, Careley says, smart policies will be crucial in helping us adjust to the new energy landscape.

“I would say that one of the most important things moving forward is to create policies to ensure that we meet the increased electricity demand from electric vehicles with renewable sources of energy.”

Learn more about Sanya Carley's research on electric vehicles.

Arrival Of First Chevy Volt May Not Portend Citywide Changes
By Stan Jastrzebski
Posted: July 28, 2011
Indiana public media