Maximizing the Environmental Benefits of Electrified Vehicles

Full battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are considered “zero emission” because they don’t release greenhouse gases or other pollutants during use. But that term can be misleading, because it takes electricity to charge the vehicle, and the power plant generating the electricity may also generate emissions. Electric vehicles do reduce pollutants generated by burning petroleum fuel in the vehicle, in proportion to the reduction in vehicle fuel consumption. However, replacing gasoline with electricity generated from coal, for example, results in emissions at the power plant, including carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. As a result, the environmental benefits of BEVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) depend largely on the fuels used to power the electrical grid. Operating a PHEV or BEV on the current average U.S. electrical grid, which relies heavily on coal power, results in well-to-wheel emissions that are similar to those of a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV). (See the well-to-wheels CO2 emissions values on the Comparing Electrification Technologies page.)

In some regions of the country, however, where electrical power is derived largely from cleaner and/or renewable sources, the emissions benefits of PHEVs and BEVs can be much greater, because renewable energy sources produce significantly fewer emissions than coal and natural gas. We believe that, over time, the emissions benefits of PHEVs and BEVs will continue to improve as states undertake efforts to improve the emissions profiles of their electrical grids. Already, many states have portfolio standards that require the use of renewable sources of electricity. “Smart grids” that include grid-to-vehicle communications would enable utilities to make even more-efficient use of electricity supplies, potentially reducing emissions and electricity costs. (See MyEnergi Lifestyle for an example of how connected technologies can improve the efficiency of vehicles, homes and electric power generation.)

To help customers think through the relative lifecycle carbon emissions of different vehicle options, Ford has developed a carbon emissions calculator. Currently used by Ford’s National Account Managers with their fleet customers, this calculator helps customers assess the well-to-wheels emissions benefits and fuel costs of alternative fuel vehicles. The calculator allows the customer to input factors such as vehicle type (e.g., hybrid, battery electric, diesel, flex-fuel), electricity source by U.S. region or fuel (e.g., coal, nuclear, renewables, natural gas) and likely driving patterns (e.g., stop-and-go city traffic, highway driving or a mix). These key factors help determine the relative environmental benefits the customer may achieve with each type of vehicle and fuel. For a customer deciding where to place an EV in their fleet, the calculator shows that the Focus Electric emits about 70 g CO2/km using electricity from the low-carbon California grid but more than twice as much, about 150 g CO2/km, in the more coal-intensive Southeast U.S.

Energy Security Benefits of Electrified Vehicles

The current energy demand for transportation is almost exclusively met by petroleum. Globally, approximately 94 percent of transportation energy demand is provided by petroleum. The near-complete dependence of a vital economic sector on what in many places is an import-dominated energy resource is clearly an issue of concern. One of the major benefits of increasing the proportion of electrified vehicles is that it will diversify the transportation energy demand and provide increased energy security. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) reduce petroleum demand by increasing efficiency. PHEVs reduce petroleum demand by increased efficiency and also by switching some of the energy demand from petroleum to other sources. PHEVs offer flexibility in fuel choice, while BEVs remove entirely the need for petroleum.

The U.S. currently imports just under 50 percent of its petroleum consumption, though this figure is declining as U.S. oil and gas production increases. The increased electrification of the U.S. vehicle fleet will decrease petroleum demand and accelerate the transition to a more energy-secure future.

Maximizing Vehicle Efficiency

Electric vehicles are inherently more efficient than gasoline vehicles. Electric motors are approximately 3–4 times more efficient than traditional internal combustion engines. In addition, electric-drive vehicles do not consume energy while at rest or coasting, and more than 93 percent of the braking energy is recaptured at each stop.

Ford has made it a priority to further maximize the efficiency of our electric vehicles. We optimized every system in the vehicle to ensure it would be as efficient as possible. In addition to using the latest technology for the battery and the rest of the electric-drive components, we have maximized efficiency through improved aerodynamics and low rolling resistance. And, we used our knowledge from two generations of hybrid electric vehicles to enhance the Focus Electric’s range and efficiency through regenerative braking.

Maximizing Driving Efficiency

Our in-vehicle information systems also help drivers to increase the distance they can go on a single charge and reduce the overall costs of operating an EV by helping them drive as efficiently as possible. Our electric vehicles can coach drivers on how to maximize efficiency by focusing on the “ABCs” of efficient driving: acceleration, braking and cruising. These tools also help drivers to maximize their driving range. See Living the Electric Lifestyle for more information.

Maximizing Charging Efficiency

As mentioned above, the most important strategies for maximizing the efficiency and environmental benefits of electric vehicle charging require changes to the electrical grid and the fuels used to power it. While these issues are mostly beyond Ford’s control, we are working with utilities and municipalities to make the most of electric vehicles’ advantages, as discussed below. (See also the Collaborating with Partners section.)

Using Renewable Energy: As the power-generation sector continues to improve its fuel mix, the environmental impact of driving a plug-in vehicle will diminish substantially – perhaps even toward zero. But adding more renewable fuel sources to electrical grids will take time. As this evolution takes place, smart vehicle-to-grid communication systems can help utilities better use the renewable energy sources that are accessible. For example, such systems can allow vehicles to charge when wind power is most available (usually at night) or during the day from solar arrays, depending on the renewable source available and its output.

In addition, home-based solar power is becoming more affordable. Solar power in general has dropped from approximately $6 per watt of capacity in 2011 to $2–3 per watt in early 2013. In states with home solar power incentives, customers may be able to lease solar energy systems at a price that is lower than their current monthly electric bill, with no upfront cash.

Ford is working with utility partners to develop home-based solar recharging stations that will allow EV owners to obtain the power they need to charge their vehicles from renewable sources, even if the overall electricity grid has not changed. Specifically, we have partnered with SunPower Corp. to offer customers the Drive Green for Life program, which includes a home rooftop solar system that can provide enough clean, renewable energy to offset the electricity used to charge the car. The 2.5 kW rooftop solar system is backed by a 25-year limited warranty and produces an average of 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The high-efficiency panels generate approximately 50 percent more electricity than conventional panels and utilize a smaller footprint on the roof. The system is sized to provide the electricity needed to drive about 1,000 miles per month or 12,000 miles per year. We worked closely with SunPower to ensure the unit would be available below a $10,000 price point (including incentives), which makes it the most affordable rooftop solar system of its kind and allows us to make the benefits of solar charging available to more of our customers.

“Smart Grids and Smart Charging:” The development of smart grid technologies, which can provide utilities and customers with real-time information on energy use and energy prices, is a key enabler of the efficient integration of electric vehicles and grids, and an important strategy for maximizing EV efficiency and environmental benefits. Smart grids will help make the electrical grid and electrical vehicle charging more efficient by channeling vehicle charging to times when electrical grid resources are currently underutilized. Since demand for electricity fluctuates (generally peaking in the afternoon and dropping off at night), utilities typically use a mix of fuels and power plant types to meet demand. That means the environmental impacts of electric vehicle use will vary depending on where and when the vehicles are charged. During certain seasons and particularly at night, utilities generally have excess generation capacity – unused resources that create financial inefficiency. Charging PHEVs and BEVs during these off-peak hours, when this excess capacity is available, can increase the overall efficiency of the electric grid – potentially reducing CO2 emissions, as well as the cost of electricity. If PHEVs and BEVs are charged at peak times, that could create increased CO2 emissions from power generation and also create demand for additional power plants. Utilities have a role to play in educating electrified-vehicle users and providing them with incentives to charge their vehicles at the most beneficial times.

Smart meters are a key element of smart grids. Smart meters allow two-way communication between homes and their electric utility, and also between “smart” equipment in customers’ homes (such as plug-in vehicles) and the utility. Smart meters facilitate “smart vehicle charging” during lower-cost, off-peak times. Approximately 45 million homes in the U.S., or about one third of households, were equipped with a smart meter as of December 2012, and experts predict that 65 million households will be equipped by December 2015.

Value Charging: Value Charging, which is available on Ford’s electrified vehicles in the U.S., also helps to maximize the efficiency of charging and the environmental benefits of EVs. This system contains information on local utility rates and off-peak times to charge, which helps to prevent the need for infrastructure upgrades to support added energy demand and reduce the production of additional CO2. Ford will to continue to work with utility partners and municipalities to help further develop systems to maximize the effectiveness of electric vehicles and their interaction with the electricity grid.

A Holistic Environmental Approach

Reducing emissions and maximizing vehicle efficiency are just some of the elements of our strategy to maximize the environmental benefits of EVs. We are also using green power and green technologies to manufacture our EVs, as well as green materials in our electrified vehicles and charging stations.

The Michigan Assembly Plant, for example, which produces the Focus Electric, C-MAX Energi and C-MAX Hybrid, in addition to the standard gas-powered Ford Focus, is powered by one of the largest solar arrays in the state of Michigan. We partnered with DTE Energy to install this solar panel system at the plant. We are also working with DTE Energy to develop a stationary battery energy storage system that will store excess power produced by the solar array until it is needed in the plant. This battery storage system uses electric vehicle batteries that have reached the end of their useful lives in vehicles. This approach provides a second life for vehicle batteries, which reduces waste and maximizes the efficiency of solar power. The Michigan Assembly Plant also uses power generated from the methane released from decaying trash at a nearby landfill, which reduces emissions of this potent greenhouse gas. And the plant uses battery-electric-powered tugs, converted from diesel power, to move vehicles and parts around the plant. The tugs are powered directly from the solar array, and when not in use the remaining energy stored in the tug batteries is discharged into the 750 kW battery bank.

The Michigan Assembly Plant – which produces the Focus Electric, C-MAX Energi, C-MAX Hybrid and gas-powered Ford Focus – is powered by one of the largest solar arrays in the state of Michigan.

Ford is also using green materials in our HEVs, BEVs and PHEVs, as well as many of our other vehicles. For example, our existing HEVs use recycled-content seat fabrics. Since 2011, all of our U.S. vehicles, including our electrified vehicles, have used soy foam. For more information about our use of green materials in vehicles, please see the Sustainable Materials section.


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