Since the dawn of the automobile, the vast majority of the vehicles produced have run on the dirty, non-environmentally friendly fossil fuel known as gasoline. Most consumers nowadays are used to making trips down to their local gas station in their gas guzzlers, with no thought to their environmental impact or even the cost of having to fill the tank regularly. On the contrary, in recent years developments in the automotive industry on the topic of cleaner energy and better efficiency have led to the creation of hybrid and all-electric vehicles. Because of their reduced or eliminated emissions, while maintaining efficiency comparable to most gasoline vehicles, hybrid and all-electric vehicles will likely replace gasoline entirely given time and further development.
Internal combustion engines (ICE), or better known as gasoline engines, “have been in existence for over 100 years”, according to an academic article written by C. C. Chan, a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Chan continues with discussing the exponential increase in demand for personal transportation in the last decade and how this in turn increased the demand in oil significantly. As more gasoline cars hit the streets, the greenhouse effect started to take a noticeable toll on the environment. One of the first solutions to this oil demand and greenhouse effects was production of a battery-powered electric vehicle. However, “the high initial cost, short driving range, long charging (refueling) time, and reduced passenger and cargo space have proved the limitation of battery-powered EVs” and hybrids were created as an alternative to overcome the disadvantages of both conventional and electric vehicles.
These hybrid electric vehicles (HEV’s) use a small gasoline engine to recharge the battery powering the vehicle once it is depleted. This means “the ICE [internal combustion engine] can be stopped if the vehicle is at a stop, or if vehicle speed is lower than a preset threshold, and the electric motor is used to drive the vehicle along.” This combination of electric motors with a gasoline engine create a super-efficient vehicle with decreased emissions.
In the case of all-electric cars, Tesla is a constantly growing company with their focus on 100% electric vehicles that can compete with gasoline cars and hybrids. An EnergySage.com news article states that “the current Tesla car line (Model S, Model X, Model 3) ranges in cost from $35,000 – $124,000 before tax incentives for electric cars.” However, the Model 3 is closer to the lower end of that price range, as shown below on some of the different sub-models and packages available for the Model 3.
Sourced from EnergySage.com article
Even at a semi-affordable price with tax incentives for buyers, why would consumers want to switch to this new technology when their normal vehicle works well and has decades of experience to back up its reliability?
One of biggest points in consumers making the switch to greener energy is the lack of emissions when switching to an all-electric or hybrid system. An analysis by Ramteen Sioshansi, a scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Paul Denholm, a professor at Ohio State University, contains experiments in which they are testing the efficiency of hybrid electric vehicles. In this experiment and discussion of emissions impacts and benefits of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), data shows that making the switch to hybrid electric power will reduce overall emissions from power generators to produce the product, and the emissions from the vehicle itself. For example, in Texas the introduction of PHEV’s to the market lowered generator emissions of NOx (nitrogen oxide), which is especially important in the ‘ozone season’ where NOx emissions tend to be the highest. Another study the discussion highlighted which was conducted in Colorado, where 80% of the charging energy is from natural gas, stated that net SO2 (sulfur dioxide) emissions from PHEV’s are significantly lower than conventional gasoline vehicles. With the introduction of hybrid vehicles to certain markets, there has been recorded reductions in emissions wherever hybrids are being used. However, electric vehicles may not be fully practical in saving all emissions even though the vehicles themselves produce no pollution.
In another comparison study conducted by Mikhail Granovskii, Ibrahim Dincer, and Marc Rosen, who are all professors at the University of Ontario in the Engineering and Applied Science department, take into account, “the production and utilization stages of the vehicles”. In other words, the economic efficiency and environmental impact of these hybrid and all-electric vehicles compared to conventional gasoline fueling. The results from this study revealed a couple of key pieces of data. Overall, comparing hybrid, electric, gasoline, and hydrogen fuel cells concluded that “hybrid and electric cars exhibit advantages over the other types”, however when it comes down to the battle between hybrid and all-electric, “use of an electric car depends substantially on the source of the electricity.” If the electricity powering your all-electric vehicle comes from renewable sources of energy, such as natural gas generators, then owning an electric car becomes more feasible. When this energy source becomes non-renewable such as generation from fossil fuels, the hybrid becomes more economical and yields less pollution than the electric car.
From an environmentally friendly standpoint, hybrids and electric automobiles are much more efficient and cleaner than conventional gas cars. But let’s say you are a consumer who doesn’t give much thought about your carbon footprint and need another reason to make the switch to hybrid or electric. The second study touched on economical benefits briefly, but that shouldn’t lessen the importance of this aspect.
Image from EnergySage.com
Cost to operate is a massive factor in the majority of vehicle purchases, no matter the type. Some can afford to own vehicles that aren’t very efficient, however it can be assumed that most if not all consumers like to save money as much as possible. According to an article on EnergySage.com titled, “Cost of electric cars vs. hybrid cars”, depending on consumers daily commute distance, hybrid and electric compete with each other on cost effectiveness, with gasoline vehicles consistently holding third place. One important thing to note when considering a hybrid is “although they do have an electric battery, it is smaller than the battery in a completely electric vehicle, and can only support a limited range of electric driving.” If you have a shorter daily commute, owning a hybrid will save you money by reducing the amount of times you have to visit the gas station. At shorter distances hybrid vehicles are superior in cost savings, while use for longer distances eliminates the practicality of traveling using battery power alone and trips to the gas station happen just as frequently.
Another article posted on CleanTechnica.com authored by Steve Hanley, mentions this same issue with the semi-short range of plug-in hybrid batteries. “Most plug-in hybrids have a battery-only range of 10 miles to 53 miles. The longer the range, the greater proportion of daily driving that can be done with zero tailpipe emissions.” The issue with increasing the range of the onboard battery means “bigger, more costly batteries.” However, for shorter commutes where daily driving is within the limit of battery range, the owner could go weeks or even months without visiting the gas station. Even more so in the case of electric automobiles with battery range of “at least 200 miles of range.” This is true in the case of Tesla, which was mentioned in the earlier article, who have developed electric vehicles with ranges varying anywhere between 200-400 miles on a single charge.
Overall, the general fear from this new technology is just that; it’s unknown territory to new buyers. As they exist now, hybrid and electric vehicles are superior to gasoline vehicles in emissions and efficiency, as well as cutting down on total cost of ownership. As battery technology progresses and our nation begins to make the switch to renewable energy sources, we will see a rise in electric car and hybrid car ownership, as current sales project a rise in demand for these products. In the end, making the switch truly depends on your lifestyle and finding out for yourself if owning a hybrid or electric vehicle will benefit your life by saving you money, which will in itself help lead us in the right direction towards a cleaner, eco-friendly society.