Hybrid and Electric Cars: The Good, the Bad, and the Surprisingly Wasteful

If you charge your electric vehicle from our nation's grid, "Hidden Emissions" is likely more accurate than "Zero Emission."

As evidenced by their numbers, the Toyota Prius is by far the most popular, with over one million cars sold in the United States to date. Many of these purchases are driven by environmental and/or monetary concerns; you can buy a new Prius for just over $20,000—the price increases depending on how much you want to pimp the car out. Undoubtedly, hybrid cars are a step in the right direction as far as personal modes of vehicular transportation go, but there are some compelling statistics one should investigate before purchasing.

Considering many hybrid vehicles evidenced by their numbers, the Toyota Prius is by far the most popular, with over one million cars sold in the United States to date. Many of these purchases are driven by environmental and/or monetary concerns; you can buy a new Prius for just over $20,000—the price increases depending on how much you want to pimp the car out. Undoubtedly, hybrid cars are a step in the right direction as far as personal modes of vehicular transportation go, but there are some compelling statistics one should investigate before purchasing.

Considering many hybrid vehicles run on an alternating combination of electricity and gasoline, it makes sense to assess where the electricity for the vehicle is coming from. This is because electricity is not always cleaner than gasoline.

Over 45% of the electricity in the U.S. is generated by coal-powered plants. The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that if a plug-in hybrid vehicle is charged with coal-generated electricity it could emit up to 10% more greenhouse gases than a conventional vehicle and up to 60% more than a standard hybrid. It is important for hybrid drivers living in the Pacific Northwest to note that just over 14% of our electricity is coal-generated. Therefore, charging the batteries in electric vehicles and electric hybrid vehicles here results in far fewer CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions than, say, charging up in the Midwest. But think twice about plugging in your electric car in much of Corvallis—while our main electricity provider, Pacific Power, is the second-largest owner of wind energy resources in the nation, about 60% of our electricity still comes from fossil fuels (mostly coal).

Speaking of charging those battery packs, the ever-toxic batteries that power our modern, cordless life are (understandably) larger and more complex in hybrid vehicles. With more hybrid vehicles on the road, there is a concern that these batteries will soon be accumulating in landfills. While it is true many of these batteries, especially the lithium-ion batteries, are being intensively recycled, we are still talking about a toxic accumulation of parts.

How often will you have to replace the battery pack in your hybrid? They tend to last longer than you might think.

Companies like Toyota are issuing lifetime warrantees for the battery packs in, for example, the Prius hybrid. Depending on the emission laws in the state you drive in, this means 8 to 10 driving years or 100,000 to 150,000 driven miles. One now has the option to recondition the battery pack in a vehicle—costing less than $1,000 and adding up to six years to the life of the battery. This is a welcome option considering a replacement battery could cost thousands of dollars.

In addition to their impact on landfills, hybrids cars, like conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions both during their production and use. A study put together in 2011 for the UK’s Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership showed hybrid and electric vehicles produce more CO2 emissions during production than traditional gasoline vehicles. This is largely due to their more advanced components like a second motor and heavy battery packs.

Don’t let this dissuade you from ditching your conventional gasoline car or truck, though; hybrid vehicles still produce less total emissions over their lifetime.

In addition to lower overall emissions, there are some tidy incentives offered to those purchasing or currently driving hybrid vehicles. Many states such as Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, and California issue passes for hybrid vehicles to take advantage of carpool lanes no matter the number of people in the vehicle. In Oregon, tax incentives are offered for both business and personal purchases of hybrid cars.

Still concerned that buying an electric-gas hybrid isn’t your best choice of vehicle? Another option to consider is clean diesel fuel. This is especially attractive to those who do not use their vehicles in urban areas. Fuel economy in these rigs has shown a 30% increase with a near 30% decrease in CO2 emissions.

All things considered, hybrid vehicles are here to stay, and with any luck, they’ll continue to improve both their emission and performance profiles.es run on an alternating combination of electricity and gasoline, it makes sense to assess where the electricity for the vehicle is coming from. This is because electricity is not always cleaner than gasoline.

Over 45% of the electricity in the U.S. is generated by coal-powered plants. The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that if a plug-in hybrid vehicle is charged with coal-generated electricity it could emit up to 10% more greenhouse gases than a conventional vehicle and up to 60% more than a standard hybrid. It is important for hybrid drivers living in the Pacific Northwest to note that just over 14% of our electricity is coal-generated. Therefore, charging the batteries in electric vehicles and electric hybrid vehicles here results in far fewer CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions than, say, charging up in the Midwest. But think twice about plugging in your electric car in much of Corvallis—while our main electricity provider, Pacific Power, is the second-largest owner of wind energy resources in the nation, about 60% of our electricity still comes from fossil fuels (mostly coal).

Speaking of charging those battery packs, the ever-toxic batteries that power our modern, cordless life are (understandably) larger and more complex in hybrid vehicles. With more hybrid vehicles on the road, there is a concern that these batteries will soon be accumulating in landfills. While it is true many of these batteries, especially the lithium-ion batteries, are being intensively recycled, we are still talking about a toxic accumulation of parts.

How often will you have to replace the battery pack in your hybrid? They tend to last longer than you might think.

Companies like Toyota are issuing lifetime warrantees for the battery packs in, for example, the Prius hybrid. Depending on the emission laws in the state you drive in, this means 8 to 10 driving years or 100,000 to 150,000 driven miles. One now has the option to recondition the battery pack in a vehicle—costing less than $1,000 and adding up to six years to the life of the battery. This is a welcome option considering a replacement battery could cost thousands of dollars.

In addition to their impact on landfills, hybrids cars, like conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions both during their production and use. A study put together in 2011 for the UK’s Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership showed hybrid and electric vehicles produce more CO2 emissions during production than traditional gasoline vehicles. This is largely due to their more advanced components like a second motor and heavy battery packs.

Don’t let this dissuade you from ditching your conventional gasoline car or truck, though; hybrid vehicles still produce less total emissions over their lifetime.

In addition to lower overall emissions, there are some tidy incentives offered to those purchasing or currently driving hybrid vehicles. Many states such as Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, and California issue passes for hybrid vehicles to take advantage of carpool lanes no matter the number of people in the vehicle. In Oregon, tax incentives are offered for both business and personal purchases of hybrid cars.

Still concerned that buying an electric-gas hybrid isn’t your best choice of vehicle? Another option to consider is clean diesel fuel. This is especially attractive to those who do not use their vehicles in urban areas. Fuel economy in these rigs has shown a 30% increase with a near 30% decrease in CO2 emissions.

All things considered, hybrid vehicles are here to stay, and with any luck, they’ll continue to improve both their emission and performance profiles.

by Lisa Tedder

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