Why Plug In?



Being Green

In general, plug-in cars produce less tailpipe pollution, and less pollution overall, compared to most conventional vehicles (see ACEEE’s Green Book for a list of the top-scoring green cars of 2015).  But even all-electric vehicles still generate some pollution from the electricity they use to charge their batteries. Pollution levels vary according to how and when that electricity is produced.  Clean energy sources like wind and solar power produce zero emissions, whereas coal-fired power plants produce air and water pollutants that harm public health, the environment, and impact global climate change.  How do you know where your power comes from?

Utility customers in Northern Illinois receive electricity generated from a range of sources including coal, natural gas, nuclear, and wind. During the day, when demand for electricity is high, most available generating units are utilized. But at night, when energy use is lower, the power plants that are the most expensive to operate and easiest to power down (old coal, natural gas) get turned off, while other “must run” plants with inexpensive operating costs (nuclear, wind) remain on.

So, when electric car owners in metropolitan Chicago charge at night, they are charging with relatively clean electricity. And that cleaner, night-time energy can be cheaper, too–Illinois offers Real Time Electric Rates to encourage consumers to charge at night when the power mix is cleaner.

When daytime charging is unavoidable, offsetting traditional electricity sources with solar energy is a good way to avoid additional pollution.  In Chicago, I-Go Car Sharing is installing 18 solar canopies to power the electric vehicles in the company’s fleet.

Read about where your electricity comes from by looking up your electric company’s Environmental Disclosure Statement.


Saving Money

Over its lifetime, an electric car will generally cost less in total to own, operate and maintain than a car with a conventional gasoline engine, even though the initial purchase price is somewhat higher. Instead of relying on increasingly expensive gasoline, electric cars can “fill up” on low-cost electricity, especially at night when energy demand and prices are low.  With gas at $4/gallon, fuel savings alone would save electric car owners more than $1,500/year (see table below).  Electric cars may also be less costly to maintain, as regenerative breaking extends the life of brake pads and rotors, and pure battery-electric vehicles have no need for oil changes, filters or mufflers.

Estimated Annual Fuel Costs Per Vehicle
Type of Vehicle $2/gal $3/gal $4/gal
All-Electric $577* $577* $577*
Plug-In Hybrid $744 $924 $1,103
Conventional Automobile (25 mpg) $1,078 $1,617 $2,156
Assumptions: (1) All vehicles travel 13,476 miles per year, based on the average; (2) All-electric car has efficiency of 105 MPGe or 32 kWh/100 miles, (3) Variable electricity cost of 13.38 cents/kWh (*If real-time pricing of 7.8 cents/kWh, the annual cost would be $300), (4) The plug-in hybrid runs on its electric battery for 2/3 of annual mileage.

Last updated: August 2015


Creating Jobs & Energy Security

The burst of energy and investment around cleaner, higher-performing car technologies is a bright spot in the Midwest’s manufacturing belt.  GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant is ramping up to expand its production capacity from roughly 16,000 to 60,000 Chevy Volts per year.  Ford is scaling up production of the Focus EV at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, MI, to prepare for widespread market release in 2012.  Advanced vehicle battery plants are employing thousands of people throughout the region.  Strong consumer demand for electric cars will ensure that these jobs are here to stay.

Beyond direct job development, electric cars will have indirect benefits for the Illinois economy.  When we buy gasoline at the pump in Illinois, we’re really enriching oil companies and fueling the economies of other states, countries and continents.  Because Illinois does not produce oil, the vast majority of every dollar spent on gasoline in Illinois exits the state.  When we spend less on gasoline, we can use the savings to spend more on food, clothing, entertainment and other local goods and services.

Finally, electric cars reduce our reliance on foreign oil and increase our energy independence.  The less gas we require from overseas, the less likely it is that we will have to protect our access with military power and lost lives.


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