New study is optimistic about increasing EV fuel economy

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Photo Credit: Peter Douglas

There is now widespread agreement that our ability to electrify road transportation offers an enormous opportunity to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A joint study by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council goes on to argue that the benefits of electrification could be increased significantly by maximizing the fuel economy of the emerging electric fleet. The researchers predict that efficiency optimization “could effectively cut energy consumption per mile in half over the next 30 years.” The study attempts to quantify the main benefits that could be secured if a steady transition away from internal combustion vehicles was paired with a deliberate effort to maximize electric fuel economy.

Dramatic improvements in EV efficiency could theoretically be achieved in a number of ways, according to the study. The main strategies include boosting powertrain efficiency, reducing aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance, improving the efficiency of auxiliary equipment used to heat and cool the cabin, and reducing vehicle mass. The authors believe that notable weight reduction could be accomplished without resorting to vehicle downsizing or compromising safety. Their analysis suggests that total vehicle mass could be cut in half by replacing steel with carbon fiber and employing batteries with higher gravimetric energy density.

The study recognizes the monumental challenges associated with the electrification of road transportation and identifies numerous advantages of optimizing EV efficiency. They estimate that the additional electricity needed to power EVs in 2050 “could be as much as 65% of today’s total demand.” Minimizing this additional load would conserve energy, reduce upstream greenhouse gas emissions, and lower the cost of upgrading the electrical grid. They project that the installation of fewer generation facilities, transmission lines, and distribution lines could deliver annual utility savings of $170 billion. The researchers also emphasize that “society would reap further savings from needing less charging infrastructure (regardless of who provides it) to charge a given fleet of autos with a given range.”

For consumers, efficiency gains would mean significantly lower fuel costs. The study predicts that the efficiency of battery electric vehicles could increase more than twofold, with today’s average miles per gallon equivalent figure of 106 MPGe rising as high as 250 MPGe. The hybridization of internal combustion vehicles could yield similar rewards, boosting average fuel economy from 28 MPG to 92 MPG. The researchers estimate that U.S. consumers spent over $500 billion on auto fuel in 2020 and that their combined savings could be as high as $238 billion per year by 2050.

Enhanced efficiency would also help EVs compete with their gas burning rivals, reducing convenience drawbacks that many motorists find unacceptable. Limited driving range is a major concern, and improving fuel economy is a far better solution than increasing the size of the battery. Tedious refueling is another convenience challenge, and a frugal EV delivers more driving distance for each minute it spends at a charging station.

The optimistic study quantifies the possible benefits of electrification, and the numbers are quite compelling. If the difficult transition away from gasoline is to achieve its full potential, we need to build electric vehicles that are as efficient as they can be.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.