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It’s Time to Level the Playing Field Between Gas and Electric Vehicles

Note: This is a guest post from Phyllis Cuttino, director of clean energy at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Tesla’s repayment of a Department of Energy loan nine years ahead of schedule is welcome news and another indication that use of electric vehicles is growing – both here and around the globe. Domestic sales of these automobiles tripled between 2011 and 2012, with more than 100,000 sold. Hybrid and plug-in vehicles accounted for almost 4 percent of total new car purchases in the United States. The International Energy Agency projects that, worldwide, there could be 20 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. This is great progress. But there is more work to do to assure that EVs are part of our clean energy future – and many reasons why we need to succeed.

A Pew chart of EV vs hybrid sales
To begin with, increased sales of battery-powered and hybrid autos such as the Tesla help confirm that a healthy environment can strengthen the economy and spur exports. According to the Department of Energy, the advanced battery sector will grow to $50 billion annually by 2020. And as the global auto market reaches 2 billion by mid-century – up from 700 million today – the manufacture and sale of electric vehicles are certain to constitute a substantial portion of this international trade.

Tesla’s success also demonstrates the essential role of private-public partnerships in fostering innovation and bringing new products to market. For example, the cost of an advanced battery has fallen more than 50 percent since 2008 because of the Department of Energy’s investment in this technology. Similarly, pilot programs supported by local and state governments have increased the number of charging stations to more than 17,000 across the United States. As the number of stations grow, the incentive to innovate does too.
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