What’s More Climate-Friendly, Electric or Hybrid? Depends On Where You Live.

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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.

Climate Control Studies

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.

Coal & Natural Gas States

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.

Green Car

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.

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