There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about hybrid (HEV) and electric vehicles (EV) in terms of their benefits to the environment and their monetary benefits, which, to me, was a surprise. My initial thoughts were, “Well how could there even be a debate? Anything to start moving us away from our dependence on fossil fuels, especially our dependence on the oil industry.” My view was idealistic, and I’d say it hasn’t changed. In general it’s a good idea to move away from our irritable, messy oil neighborhood and into a cleaner place where we can breathe. But when buying a hybrid or electric vehicle there are some things to consider if you want to make the most environmentally-conscious decision.
1. Where Do You Live?
When buying an electric vehicle one of the main things to consider is where you live. If you’re buying one of the new plug-in electric vehicles, for example, the well-to-wheel emissions are going to differ based on your location.
Well-to-wheel emissions are the total amount of emissions that result in the effort to power your car. If you’re like me, you live in an area where the majority (%49.61) of electricity is generated through burning coal.
In this case if I were to buy a plug-in here the annual emissions (62 pounds of CO2) are going to be higher than if I bought a regular EV (54 pounds of CO2) or even a hybrid (57 pounds of CO2). So although that new plug-in might be appealing, the EV or HEV is going to be better for the environment.
2. What About Your Wallet?
In the case of hybrid vs fully electric cars there are some variable considerations as well. I checked out this article about the comparative difference in money saved over time, and the basic synopsis is that the fully electric vehicle is going to pay off the difference in price quicker than the hybrid will. By this, I mean a regular car costs less out of the gate, but over time the hybrid or electric saves you money on gas.
Since you don’t have to pay anything for gas to power an electric, you’re going to make back the extra money you spent faster with an electric than you will with a hybrid. Those figures come from when gas was on average $3.52 per gallon.
Now that the national average is $2.20 per gallon, my calculations (doing the same type of calculations as the article cited above) show that you would have to drive about 116 thousand miles to make up the price difference between the Nissan Leaf (EV) and the Toyota Prius (HEV), and that’s if gasoline’s average price remains at $2.20. So in this case the HEV is going to be less expensive, and, in terms of well-to-wheel emissions, if you live in a coal-powered area the Prius (HEV) will spew out 57 pounds of CO2 vs the Leaf’s (EV) 54 pounds. In the short term, that 3 pound difference might be enough to tip some scales toward the hybrid.
3. In the Long Run?
The EV is the way to go because of the recent regulations on coal emissions, which stipulate that plants have to cut their CO2 emissions up to 30% by 2030. That means EV’s will have to rely less and less on coal-generated power by 2030; if we can move further into an age of wind and solar energy, and as long as EV’s can run longer than 116 thousand miles, you’ll earn your money back and benefit the environment.
But will consumers be able to look past immediate monetary factors and into the more distant future? The current gas prices make it easier for someone who’s strapped for cash to go out and purchase a high-performing 30 mpg vehicle like the Corolla for about $10K less than you’ll spend on the Leaf. And instant gratification is what got us into this climate change mess to begin with. So let’s hope the long-term benefits of the Leaf, as well as the $7,500 tax credit, can tip the scales as the 2015 auto-buying year plays out.