Electricity Basics

Photo of a plug-in hybrid vehicle fueling.

Electricity is considered an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Electricity can be produced from a variety of energy sources, including natural gas, coal, nuclear energy, wind energy, hydropower, as well as solar energy and stored as hydrogen or in batteries. Plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs)—the collective term for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and all-electric vehicles (EVs)—are capable of drawing electricity from off-board electrical power sources (generally the electricity grid) and storing the energy in batteries. Though not yet widely available, fuel cell electric vehicles generate electricity from hydrogen onboard the vehicle.

Powering Vehicles with Electricity

In PEVs, onboard rechargeable batteries store energy to power one or more electric motors. These batteries are charged using electricity from the grid and energy recaptured during braking, known as regenerative braking. Vehicles that run only on electricity produce no tailpipe emissions, but there are upstream emissions associated with the production of electricity.

Powering PEVs with electricity is currently cost effective compared to using gasoline, but PEVs typically cost more to purchase. However, initial vehicle costs can be offset by energy cost savings, a federal tax credit, and state incentives. Electricity for charging vehicles is especially cost effective if drivers can take advantage of off-peak residential rates and other incentives offered by many utilities. Electricity costs can vary by region, type of generation, time of use, and access point. Learn about factors affecting electricity prices from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Electric Charging Stations

Many PEV owners choose to do the majority of their charging at home (or at fleet facilities, in the case of commercially owned fleets). Some employers offer access to workplace charging. In many cities, PEV drivers also have access to public charging stations in a variety of places, such as shopping centers, public parking garages and lots, hotels, and businesses. Charging infrastructure is rapidly expanding, providing drivers with the convenience, range, and confidence to meet their transportation needs.