One of the best things a person can do to reduce their carbon footprint is to use a zero emission electric vehicle (EV) instead of a vehicle with a fossil fuel-based internal combustion engine. The next best option for low emission driving is a hybrid.
A hybrid vehicle combines energy from a gasoline engine and an electric motor to increase efficiency. Some hybrid vehicles use biofuel/ biodiesel, or a biofuel-gasoline blend. Plug-in hybrids have internal combustion engines, but can run on their electric motors only. EVs run on electric motors entirely.
Benefits of hybrids and EVs
Hybrid vehicles have increased gas mileage compared to standard vehicles, while lowering CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) associated with vehicle use. The benefits of hybrid cars and EVs include a variety of short-term and long-term financial savings, even above and beyond savings on gas due to the increased fuel efficiency of hybrids. For example, the purchase of hybrid vehicles and EVs often includes manufacturer and retailer incentives and rebates, in addition to state and federal tax incentives (especially for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles).
A hybrid vehicle typically offers features with advantages over standard cars, such as regenerative braking, electric motor drive/ assist, and automatic start/ shutoff. Regenerative braking refers to energy produced from braking and coasting that’s normally wasted, which is instead stored in a battery until needed by the motor. During electric motor drive/ assist, the electric motor kicks into gear, providing additional torque for such things as hill climbing, passing, or quickly accelerating.
Owning a hybrid or an electric vehicle helps car owners when facing vehicle emission-based levy systems such as London’s congestion charge; as low emission vehicles usually qualify for reduced levies in low emission zone systems, and zero emission vehicles are often exempted from such fees. Following London’s lead, there are already mandated and implemented charges for polluting fossil fuel-based vehicles, and low emission vehicle zones, in France, Norway; and in major cities throughout the world. Even New York City is mandating levies on vehicles with high polluting tailpipe emissions, to create a low emission zone in the city; where clean, zero emission vehicles like EVs will benefit EV vehicle owners by avoiding fees (or getting greatly reduced fees in the case of plug-in hybrids).
Vehicles in the United States typically consume about 9 million barrels of gasoline per day, as a rough estimate of all vehicles’ gas use in the U.S. (per day). The U.S. transportation sector accounts for about 29% of the GHGs produced by the U.S. domestically; with about 60% of those GHG emissions just coming from passenger vehicles. Increased adoption and use of hybrid vehicles and EVs will decrease gasoline use, increase efficiency (both the cost- and fuel-efficiency) of vehicles on the road, reduce transportation-related GHG emissions, and improve air quality; thus improving overall public health, and even the financial well-being, of drivers in general.
Plug-in hybrid vehicles
Whereas a normal hybrid car simply combines an electric motor and a gas engine, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) can run only on electric power, when charged, and can be recharged without using the gas engine. PHEVs have high capacity batteries and charge by plugging into the grid, storing enough electricity to significantly reduce gas use. PHEVs typically use anywhere from 40% to 60% less gas than a vehicle with only an internal combustion engine.
There are two basic types of PHEVs: extended range electric vehicles and blended plug-in hybrids. Extended range electric vehicles work by having only the electric motor turn the wheels; and can run on electricity-only until the gasoline engine is needed to generate electricity to recharge the battery that powers the electric motor (or the gas engine can be eliminated entirely, on short rides). Blended PHEVs work by still having both the gas engine and the electric motor connected to the wheels, both propelling the vehicle most of the time.
Electric vehicles (EVs) drop the gas engine entirely, becoming zero emission vehicles. Both EVs and PHEV produce zero tailpipe pollution when running on electricity; however many PHEVs will switch to a gasoline engine when the range of the vehicle (see below), or capacity of the vehicle’s battery, is reached – while the 100%-EV has no gas engine at all. The higher the capacity of the battery in the EV, the higher the range (and also the initial cost) of the vehicle. Although EVs emit no tailpipe pollutants, it remains important that the source for the energy from the grid that charges the vehicle’s battery remains green (i.e. renewable energy) as well.
“EV range” based on a full charge for an electric vehicle refers to the distance an EV can travel on a fully charged battery. Most EVs on a full charge will last at least a couple of days or even a few days, for standard driving (20-90 miles/ day). As of 2019, there are several EVs that have a range of over 200 miles on a single charge, while most EVs have a range of between 100-200 miles. Tesla’s Model’s X, 3, and S, have the longest range of any EVs in the U.S. as of 2019 at 295, 310, and 335 miles, respectively. In the United States, Tesla also represents the most popular new car sales in the luxury sedan category.The top 10 countries for the sales of new EVs are: China, the U.S., Norway, Germany, Japan, the U.K., France, Sweden, Canada, and The Netherlands.
Hybrid cars take numerous different forms, including the types mentioned above, and then compete in the mass auto-sales market against standard gas and diesel vehicles. European sales of standard hybrid vehicles have increased; however roughly half the cars on the road in the EU are vehicles with fuel-efficient diesel engines. EVs, and PHEVs are the more popular new car sales in the EU, and throughout Europe, than just standard hybrids in Europe, or standard fuel efficient diesel cars, which used to be the most popular type of automobile for new car sales in Europe. Hybrid, PHEV, and EV sales have, and are expected to continue to, increase steadily in the U.S., China, and throughout the rest of the world.
Norway, Germany, the UK, France, and Denmark, are great examples of countries where EVs, and PHEVs, are taking off.
Also, please click here for information about the congestion charge in Oslo, Norway, and the attempts to eliminate fossil-fuel vehicles from the streets of Oslo.
Please see Green City Times’ article on Crit’Air in France. Crit’Air is a program that is designed to encourage greater use of low or zero emission vehicles in France by mandating that vehicles in Crit’Air zones throughout France have fuel-efficiency related color-coded stickers on their windshields. Crit’Air stickers identify the fuel-efficiency (or lack thereof) of vehicles; and are priced higher for more polluting vehicles, according to a vehicle’s tailpipe emissions test results.