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Buck-a-Gallon Gas for Life?

Max Baumhefner

Posted November 17, 2011

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Tomorrow, I’ll be at the Los Angeles Auto Show, where several of the up to 50 plug-in electric vehicle models coming to America’s streets over the next several years will be on display.  When you buy your next car, ask yourself this question – “How would you like to drive on a fuel that costs the equivalent of a buck-a-gallon gasoline for the next two-and-a-half decades?”

The blue, red, and green lines in this chart display the Energy Information Agency (“EIA”) forecasts for the price of gasoline in constant dollars under EIA’s “Reference,” “Low,” and “High” oil price scenarios. The purple, light blue, and orange lines display the EIA forecasts for the price of electricity under the same oil price scenarios, converted into “Dollar per Gallon Equivalent” prices (what the price of gasoline would have to be for the fuel cost of driving a 30 mile-per-gallon gasoline car to be equivalent to the fuel cost of driving an electric car with the efficiency of a Nissan Leaf).

Gas v Electricity Forecast.PNG

If you can’t make out the purple “Electricity - Reference” line, that’s because it’s obscured by the light blue “Electricity – Low Oil Price” and orange “Electricity – High Oil Price” lines, all paralleling the buck-a-gallon mark for the next 24 years.  All three lines are basically identical because the price of electricity doesn’t care about the price of oil.  Electricity is virtually oil free, made from a diverse supply of sources, and its price is heavily regulated.  In contrast, the future price of gasoline is basically anybody’s guess because it’s subject to the violent fluctuations of a speculative world oil market.  In reality, the price of gasoline won’t be nearly as smooth as any of the EIA predictions but will jump up and down on a monthly basis.

Here’s chart from the Edison Electric Institute which displays both the historical price of gasoline and electricity in dollars-per-gallon equivalent prices, as well as major world events.

Gas Elec Price History Comparison Final.jpg
Like the price of oil, the price of gasoline is a news junkie. Everytime there’s a war, a stock market crash, or a huricane, it freaks out.  In contrast, the price of electricity looks more like the steady heart beat of a long distance runner, following a predictable seasonal pattern and never straying far from the $1.00/gallon equivalent mark.  Which would you choose to fuel your car?

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Leaf driverNov 17 2011 11:55 PM

Racking up the miles... Debate on. My Leaf rocks.

mmfyNov 18 2011 12:19 AM

Waht drugs are you people taking. Plug in and drive an hour (maybe) and then plug in again. Just how far can you drive in these things.

Is that coal generated electricity?

Max BaumhefnerNov 18 2011 10:07 PM

You can drive plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt as far as you want because once you're out of electricity at around 40 miles (much more than the average American drives in a day), it switches over to gas and becomes an efficient hybrid. Pure battery electrics like the Nissan Leaf have ranges of between 70-100 miles, far more than the average American drives in a day.

When driven on the average American electricity mix, plug-in electric cars emit about half as much carbon dioxide pollution as the average car. In states where the electricity mix is 100% coal, driving on electricity still emits less than driving the average gasoline car (though you'd be a little better off in a very efficient hybrid like the Prius). When driven in states with cleaner grids, like California, electric vehicles emit about four times less. As the grid gets cleaner, so do the benefits of vehicle electrification. When driven on renewable energy, you approach zero emissions.

conusamNov 19 2011 12:42 AM

Oh goody a car that can go 100 miles and plugged in to COAL GENERATED POWER!

BeverlyNov 19 2011 04:50 PM

And, if you get solar panels and a plug-in electric, you can kiss both coal and gasoline goodbye, and drive on sunlight!

We made our solar array larger than we currently need so we will have enough electricity left over for the plug-in electric car we will buy.

Smiling as our meter runs "backwards."

ScottNov 19 2011 07:08 PM

Gas is a huge rip off, they make $10,000 of stuff from a barrel of oil. lol
If you didnt burn the gas up for them, they would have to pay for hazmat dumping of it.

The price of gas went up when supply was up and demand was down.

You want the electric type car for short commutes and then yes of course use some other car for a big road trip.

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