The plug instead of the pump: Will the electric car put money in your pocket?

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By Elisa Wood

April 15, 2010

For consumers, discussion of electric cars tends to focus on how long the vehicle travels before needing a recharge and what it will cost to buy. But a new report backed by several large corporations takes a broader view of what the electric car will mean to our overall finances.

And the news is good.

Fueling our cars with electricity instead of gasoline – this one change – could avert a lot of economic pain, according to “Economic Impact of the Electrification Roadmap” by the Electrification Council.

The council, which includes NRG Energy, CISCO, PG&E, Nissan Motor, Fedex and other major companies, wants to see us drive electric cars by 2040 for 75 percent of the miles we travel.

In pursing this target, we could reduce our federal debt by $336 million, increase cumulative household income $4.6 trillion, improve our trade balance by $127 billion and add 1.9 million jobs by 2030, says the report.

How can an electric car do all of this? Our use of oil would fall dramatically, and we’d be spared the sharp financial blows we now experience when oil prices spike.

“Probably the single most important conclusion of the study is that by substantially reducing America’s oil dependence, the economy will be much better prepared to withstand a future oil shock such as those that contributed to recessions in 1973–74, 1980–81, 1991, 2000–01 and 2007–09. That is, the policy package can be thought of as a self-financing insurance policy that will make the economy more robust in good times and more resilient when subjected to energy shocks,” says a letter introducing the report by Robert Wescott, president, Keybridge Research and Jeffrey Werling of  the University of Maryland’s Department of Economics.

The report envisions electric vehicle use reducing US foreign oil imports by 11.9 billion between 2010 and 2030. To put this number in perspective, the nation’s total proved reserves are slightly less than 30 billion barrels.

World demand for oil would fall, leading to lower oil prices, putting more money in our pockets. It’s also a lot cheaper to run a car on electricity than gasoline, about 2.5 cents/mile for an electric vehicle compared with 10 cents/mile for a combustion engine, says the report.

David Crane, NRG Energy president and CEO, says the electric vehicle represents the “next great tectonic shift in our economy, one that will transform the way we use energy both in our homes and on the road.”

The report doesn’t bring up the bad news. Bad news, that is, if the goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The US now gets about 50% of its electricity from coal, and the US Energy Information Administration does not forecast much change in coal’s dominant position over the next two decades, even with today’s rapid injection of renewable energy into the system.

The full report is available at

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.