A new study released by the UC Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology found that electric cars could account for up to 64% of light vehicle sales by the year 2030. However, for this growth in electric cars sales to occur, the car batteries must be owned separately from the car itself, the study found. This subscription model is roughly equivalent to a cell phone contract, where users own their car but lease their batteries from a third party on a pay-per-mile basis. Because customers do not have to own the batteries, the upfront costs of purchasing electric cars are reduced, making them more attractive investments.

Better Place, a leading electric vehicle service provider, is developing a business model similar to this system. In their model, Better Place owns the car batteries, and the customer pays a subscription to use and charge the batteries. The subscription gives drivers access to Better Place’s system of charging stations. This system makes battery charging easily accessible, both in the customer’s home and public places. Better Place’s service further includes battery swapping stations to make long distance travel possible with current battery technology.

The UC Berkeley study’s author, Thomas Becker, predicts that such a change in car ownership could create 350,000 new jobs and reduce total emissions to 62% of 2005 levels—assuming electric vehicles are powered by clean sources of energy—while saving $205 billion in health care costs related to harmful emissions pollution from combustion engines. Furthermore, the estimated total cost of owning such a car is 10¢ to 13¢ a mile cheaper than a gasoline powered car, saving consumers thousands of dollars over the lifetime of their vehicle.

This report nicely compliments a recent study conducted by Professor Mark Jacobson at Stanford. In his report, Jacobson found that wind power is the energy source best suited to power the U.S. vehicle fleet. His research showed that a country-wide fleet of electric vehicles powered by wind energy would reduce carbon and pollutant emissions from the auto fleet by 99%, saving 15,000 lives a year from vehicle-exhaust-related deaths.

Even with excitement about upcoming plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius, sales of plug-ins and hybrid plug-ins are expected to make up significantly less than one percent of total vehicle sales for the next few years. It’s clear that the country has a long way to go to achieve energy independence, but it’s no less clear that a country-wide fleet of electric vehicle would be an incredible step forward toward that goal. If only 24% of light vehicles in the United States were battery-powered, oil demands would be reduced by 3.7 million barrels a day, equivalent to the amount of oil imported from Venezuela and the Persian Gulf every day. Were wind power to provide the energy for every American vehicle, our oil demands would again drop many times over.

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