While many people concerned about global warming prefer to ride their bikes to work in order to save the planet, some inevitably live too far to pedal. In many cases, they choose hybrid cars because they still want to commute in a way that doesn’t generate as much carbon.
How do hybrid cars operate?
Hybrid electric cars are those that run on an internal combustion engine as well as an electric motor that is powered by batteries. Rather than plugging the car in to charge it, the batteries are charged by the internal engine and regenerative braking, which is where the energy usually lost when braking is captured and stored by the motor into the battery.
To put it simply, hybrid cars run on both gas and electricity, reducing the amount of fuel, thus emitting a lower amount of greenhouse gases.
How am I reducing my footprint by driving one?
Matthias Alleckna, energy industry analyst at Energyrates.ca, writes about efficient living and electric vehicles.
“On average, a hybrid car can emit 46 percent less greenhouse gas than a regular vehicle. By combining the electric battery with traditional fuels, such cars can be an attractive option for consumers who want to start the energy transition without taking risks,” Alleckna said.
Electric vehicles drive cleaner than gasoline vehicles; the average vehicle driving on electricity produces global warming emissions equivalent to a gasoline vehicle with a 68 MPG fuel economy rating.
Not only are you using less gas if you are driving an electric car, you are also using less products like that overall; i.e., motor oil. As mentioned previously, the cars also run on regenerative braking. When the car is braking and idling, it is self-sustaining itself.
Where you buy and drive your electric car can have an effect on their carbon emissions. If you are in a heavy coal-production state, such as West Virginia, then fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicles are still the best option for lowered emissions. However, if you are in a state that has steered away from coal power generation like Vermont, your best option is a hybrid electric vehicle for lower emissions.
What are the drawbacks?
“Beyond discussions around costs, infrastructure etc., it is important to keep in mind that electric cars use a significant number of resources,” François Le Scornet, president of Carbonexit Consulting, said.
Electric vehicles use cobalt, lithium and nickel; the demand for cobalt can be disruptive, and of course any mining for resources comes with its own damages whether they are environmental or social. They also use some rare metals for parts, such as neodymium, and the extraction and refinement of rare metals can cause immense environmental damage.
Ian Cogswell, consultant for Superior Honda in New Orleans, is well-versed in green driving and constantly addresses concerns around hybrid vehicles.
“It does require more energy to create the hybrid batteries, but the long-term environmental impact is still less than conventional gasoline vehicles,” Cogswell said.
Cogswell mentioned that hybrid vehicles are typically more expensive than fuel-powered vehicles. The vehicle itself is priced higher and repairs can be expensive as well; some hybrid batteries run as high as $3,000. However, the savings in gas will make up the difference in the long run, and there are also tax write-offs offered to those that purchase hybrid vehicles.
So, is it worth it?
When looking at the bigger picture, the pros outweigh the cons for hybrid electric vehicles. The benefits for the environment are far too great to shrug off this investment.
As long as people continue to buy and drive hybrid electric vehicles, there will be a significant decrease in carbon emissions across the world. Within the U.S. specifically, the trend could further reduce coal-powered energy production, moving toward a greener country in general.
Like Cogswell said, “In all possible metrics, hybrid cars are better for the environment than gasoline-only vehicles.”
Taylor Mabrey is a freelance journalist covering issues related to energy, the environment, and politics. Her work has appeared on various news sites. Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.