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Green energy sells electric cars, not fossil-fuelled plug-ins: SFU study

Electric vehicles would generate more buzz if North American utility companies offered to power the cars with renewable energy instead of fossil-fuelled electricity.

It's an argument made in a new study from Simon Fraser University published in the latest edition of the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters.

Would-be car buyers were 23 per cent more likely to say they would switch to a greener ride if the car could tap into solar, wind or small-scale hydroelectric power, said Jonn Axsen, an assistant professor at SFU who conducted the survey of 1,500 Americans.

"This [survey] makes a good argument for a better connection between automakers and utilities in terms of how these two different products are marketed," Axsen said.

The study was partially funded by BMW, a German car maker that's already coupled its electric vehicles with sources of clean energy.

The auto company partnered with American clean-energy provider Green Mountain Energy to offer "renewable energy certificates" to an exclusive group of electric-BMW drivers in 2012.

The certificates ensure power for the ActiveE-line of BMWs comes from renewable sources, according to a news release from Green Mountain Energy.

Axsen believes other companies should also be addressing where energy for their electric vehicles comes from.

His research builds on previous work that shows Americans don’t typically think about sources of their electricity -- something he said could be extended to some parts of Canada as well.

"They mostly see a plug in the wall, and don’t think about where [the power] comes from," Axsen said.

Axsen is already working on a Canadian study that explores how smart-grid technology might be used to allocate renewable power to electric cars specifically.

Smart-grid technology allows utility companies to collect information about power use in real time, and use that data to deliver power more efficiently.

Axsen said he hopes to have results from the new study this summer.

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