From the Sierra Club Insider

Plug-in electric vehicles (EVs), which require no gasoline and emit no pollution from their tailpipes, present a critical opportunity to slash pollution, create American jobs, and improve national security.

Each year, American passenger cars and trucks spew 1.4 billion tons of carbon pollution into the air by burning 138.6 billion gallons of gasoline. Our dangerous dependence on oil has resulted in catastrophes like the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and every day, we send more than $500,000,000 abroad to pay for oil, increasing our national debt and dependence on many nations hostile to our policies.

The federal government has spent billions of dollars in EV programs, such as tax credits for purchases of EVs and charging units, grants to EV battery manufacturers, and charging infrastructure in pilot cities. Federal investment has spurred significant state and private industry investment as well. President Obama has set a goal of one million EVs on US roads by 2015, which would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 2.4 million tons a year.

Solar-powered electric vehicle charging station in central Florida.

Emissions Comparison
According to a range of studies, an electric car leads to 35 to 60% less carbon dioxide pollution from electricity than the CO2 pollution from the oil of a conventional car with an internal combustion engine. In some areas, like many on the West Coast that rely largely on wind or hydro power, the emissions are significantly lower for EVs. And that’s today. As we retire more coal plants and bring cleaner sources of power online, the emissions from electric vehicle charging drop even further. Additionally, in some areas, night-time charging will increase the opportunity to take advantage of wind power — another way to reduce emissions.

A caveat to consider, according to some studies, is that when coal plants supply the majority of the power mix in a given area, electric vehicles may emit more CO2 and SO2 pollution than hybrid electric vehicles (but EVs are cleaner than almost all traditional non-hybrid vehicles, regardless of the power source). Learn where your electricity comes from, what plans your state or community has for shifting to renewables, and whether you have options for switching to greener power.

What is a plug-in electric vehicle?
A fully electric vehicle uses electricity to power a battery -typically one made of lithium ion. No gasoline, no dirty oil changes, no internal combustion engine. Most new fully electric vehicles can drive 80-140 miles on one charge. An extended range electric vehicle and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle run on electricity for a certain number of miles, and as its battery runs out of juice, a gasoline powered engine or generator kicks in.

Where and when do I buy an electric vehicle?
While EVs are not yet available for purchase in every state, they are quickly becoming available in many. The fully electric Nissan Leaf is being sold to customers in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and Tennessee. The Chevy Volt, an extended range electric vehicle, is currently being sold at select dealerships in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Washington, DC. Customers in nearly all US states are expected to be able to purchase a Leaf, Volt, or plug-in Toyota Prius by late 2011 or early 2012. The Tesla Roadster, a fully electric luxury sportscar, is available in several locations throughout the country. By 2012, many other models will become available throughout the country, including the Ford Focus EV, Tesla Model S, and the Mitsubishi iMiev. Presumably, the greater consumer demand, the greater availability of EVs.

How do I charge an electric vehicle?
Using a 220-volt outlet and charging unit, installed by an electrician, a plug-in hybrid recharges in about 100 minutes, an extended range plug-in hybrid electric in about four hours, and a pure electric vehicle in six to eight hours. A regular 110-volt wall outlet will significantly increase charging times, but for plug-in hybrids and extended range electrics, this basic outlet may be sufficient. Most people will charge at home. However, some businesses and public entities are beginning to install 220-volt public chargers. Along highways and at stores and offices, some businesses and agencies are installing fast-charging stations that can re-charge a car to 80% of battery capacity in less than 30 minutes.