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  • Choosing Between Hybrid and Electric: It Matters Where You Live

    by Thomas Young on January 16, 2013 · 1 comment

    Close up view of a hybrid car

    With the growing number of hybrid and electric vehicles on the road, it’s easy to see that driving green is becoming more than a passing trend. As of 2012, more than 13 million hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles have been purchased in the United States, according to Electricdrive.org, a transportation association. But before you jump on the bandwagon (or Prius, for that matter), Climatecentral.org, an organization of scientists that research and report on changing climate, has some news for you. An all-electric vehicle may not be the most climate-friendly car choice for the area you are living in.

    Size 3 Carbon Footprint

    That may be news to the many Americans who think there is no better way to reduce emissions than drive electric. But, according to a study, “A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars,” by scientists Eric D. Larson and Alyson Kenward from Climate Central, electric cars are not the most climate-friendly car choice in most of America.

    In fact, as of April 25, 2012 (when the study was published), only five states were found to support electric vehicles as the most climate-friendly car choice: Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Vermont and New Hampshire. In nine states, California, Arizona, South Dakota, Illinois, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maine, some, though not all, electric cars are more climate-friendly than gas-powered cars, according to the report.

    Coal Miner’s World

    So what is preventing all-electric vehicles from being the most climate-friendly options in those other 36 states? There are two reasons: first, “coal is the largest contributor to the high-carbon footprint of our electrical grid today,” according to the study. In other words, generating the electricity needed to charge an electric car can produce more pollution than driving a fuel-efficient gasoline powered car if the state relies heavily on coal and natural gas. Second, because there is a more climate-friendly alternative option available – the Toyota Prius.


    The two scientists compared the emissions associated with the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt to the Toyota Prius and other high-mileage hybrid and conventional gas-powered cars. They found that in 36 states, the Prius produced less greenhouse gases than the LEAF because the LEAF recharged its batteries using electricity that was generated largely by burning coal and natural gas in those states.

    For example, in Texas, where 45 percent of electricity is generated from natural gas, 37 percent from coal, 10 percent from nuclear and 8 percent from hydropower and renewables, there are eight better cars for the climate than the all-electric LEAF. Included in that list are the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius – which is recorded as having fewer emissions than all eight cars listed. So, if looking for a Toyota in Ft. Worth, Austin or Dallas, a Prius or Prius V (fourth on the list) would be a smart climate choice.

    Though considered a hybrid electric vehicle, the Prius uses regenerative braking and energy captured from the engine to power its batteries, not coal or natural gas. So while driving an electric car is better for the climate than the average-mileage vehicle, that isn’t the case when paired against a high-mileage hybrid, according to the study.


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