As electric and hybrid vehicles become more of the mainstream and less of a fleeting trend, American drivers are asking themselves which technology suits them best. Many assume that when compared, hybrids win in the range category, and EVs come out ahead in climate friendliness. But according to an April 2012 study, this isn’t always true.
In “A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars,” researchers Eric Larson and Alyson Kenward of Climate Central, an organization of scientists that research and report on changing climate, discuss findings that suggest in 36 states all-electric cars aren’t the most climate-friendly vehicle choice. The analysis is based on the emissions associated with the all-electric Nissan Leaf and plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, compared to hybrid and gas-powered vehicles.
Based on how cleanly electricity is generated, in most states charging electric cars can create more greenhouse gases than driving efficient gas-powered cars, according to the study. That includes hybrid vehicles that use regenerative braking to recharge batteries without dipping into dirty electricity.
In states that rely heavily on coal and natural gas to generate electricity such as Nevada, Kansas and Ohio, EVs aren’t the greenest, greatest way to go. But in areas where mainly hydropower, renewable and nuclear are used to producing electricity – such as in Idaho and Vermont – electric cars are the most climate-friendly car choice.
So how do you make the decision to drive hybrid or electric? It depends where you live. Last year in America 435,695 hybrid, plug-in and electric vehicles were sold, according to Electric Drive Transportation Association. If you’re planning on joining the ranks, consider this:
In California, some, but not all, electric vehicles are more climate-friendly than gas cars. In this state, the all-electric Nissan Leaf is better for the climate than any gas-powered car, according to the study. It releases fewer greenhouse gas emissions (.38 lbs/mile) than the Toyota Prius (.52 lbs/mile) and Chevy Volt (.55 lbs/mile), which follow closely behind. In the Sunshine State, 53 percent of electricity is generated from natural gas, while hydropower, renewables and nuclear split the other half.
In Texas, 45 percent of electricity is generated using natural gas and 37 percent is from coal, Climatecentral.org reported. The study lists eight cars including the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Lexus CT 200h and Toyota Prius V that are more climate-friendly than the all-electric Leaf and the average gas-powered car.
In New Hampshire one of the five states that boasts electric cars as the most climate-friendly option the Leaf and Volt are more friendly for the environment than any other vehicle tested. Forty-nine percent of power is generated using nuclear, and only 14 percent is generated through coal, according to the study. The Leaf produces .29 lbs/mile of greenhouse gas emissions, while the average car produces 1.3 lbs/mile.
Though in many states gas-powered cars, including hybrids, are currently better for the climate than electric cars, the study doesn’t devalue the importance of electric technology and its future possibilities. So when making your hybrid decision, consider how your state generates electricity.
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