Electric Vehicles Cut US Gas Consumption by a Measly 0.54%

Electric vehicles have has never been so popular. Almost every automaker is in the midst of an electrification effort, spurred by looming government regulations around the world aimed at reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. But does movement have an effect? Here in the United States, plug-in vehicles are selling better than ever, despite supply chain shortages and frequent heavy markups from dealerships.

According to Argonne National Lab, between 2010 and the end of 2021, more than 2.1 million plug-in vehicles were sold in the United States, including 1.3 million battery electric vehicles. That sounds like a very impressive number, but keep in mind that’s a total national fleet of nearly 276 million cars and trucks. Argonne estimates that despite all these plug-ins, national gasoline consumption was only reduced by 0.54% in 2021.

In total, Argonne calculates that US plug-in vehicles have traveled nearly 70 billion miles since 2010, consuming 22 terawatt hours of energy in the process. This replaced the use of more than 2.5 billion gallons of gasoline and 19 million tons of greenhouse gases, Argonne reports, although for context the United States consumed about 369 million gallons of gasoline per day in 2021. For 2021 specifically, plug-in vehicles saved approximately 690 million gallons of gasoline – approximately two days of consumption – and reduced CO2 emissions of 5.4 million metric tons, consuming 6.1 TWh in the process.

The strongest growth in plug-in sales occurred in 2021, having more than doubled from the previous year, from 308,000 vehicles to 634,000. That’s probably not too surprising, given the number of new electric vehicles that came to market last year. In fact, BEV sales increased 92% to 457,000 vehicles in 2021, with plug-in hybrid EV sales increasing 150% to 175,000.

Argonne assumed that plug-in drivers behave much like their gas-powered counterparts, but applied a utility factor to PHEVs based on battery size and a mileage adjustment factor based on estimated range by the EPA for BEVs, the benchmark being an internal combustion engine vehicle driving 13,500 miles (21,727 km), with a mix of 57% highway driving and 43% city driving. Proportional reductions in annual mileage due to Covid-19 have also been applied for 2020 and 2021.

Given that plug-in vehicles make up nearly 1 percent of all light-duty vehicles on the road in the United States, it’s disappointing that the reduction in gas mileage was just over half a percent.

However, Argonne provides evidence against naysayers who believe EV adoption will crash the electric grid – in 2021, EV charging accounted for just 0.15% of all electricity consumption in the United States. Interestingly, Argonne found that while BEV efficiency has decreased slightly since 2018, PHEV electric range efficiency actually dropped dramatically between 2019 and 2021, which Argonne attributes to the increase. size and weight of electrified SUVs.

This report is not an argument against people buying electric vehicles, of course; any gas saved is an improvement over turning that gasoline into air pollution that makes climate change worse. But it should be clear by now that electric vehicles alone are not a panacea to our transport-related climate problems, and the future will require many more people to walk, cycle or take the bus to get where they go.

This story originally appeared on Ars-Technica.

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