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 oil, coal, nuclear energy, hydropower, natural gas, wind energy, solar energy, and stored hydrogen. 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 it in batteries. Though not yet widely available, fuel cell vehicles use hydrogen to generate electricity onboard the vehicle.

Powering Vehicles with Electricity

In PEVs, onboard rechargeable batteries store energy to power one or more electric motors. Vehicles that run only on electricity produce no tailpipe emissions, but there are upstream emissions associated with the production of electricity.

Fueling 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 fuel cost savings, a federal tax credit, and state incentives. Electricity for charging vehicles is especially cost effective if drivers are able to take advantage of off-peak residential rates 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 charging at the workplace. 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 more of their transportation needs with PEVs.