Jan 12, 2012

Hybrids save fuel? Just askin'

I was reminded today about the value of hybrids when I caught this article from Industry Week: Detroit unsure over the future of green cars. Because really, do they save fuel? So it has a battery -- how do you recharge it?

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It's a coal- or natural gas-powered car. When you plug it into the wall, the juice comes (mostly) from an electric utility, and its power plant probably burns coal or natural gas, generating waste. It might be nuclear energy, generating fear along with radioactive waste. What's worse, the loss of energy in transmission is waste.

You can make a couple of arguments here. Some energy can be generated by capturing diverted energy when the driver brakes -- not an engineer, so can't describe that well, but I think it can be done.

You can generate some of the power from solar or wind farms. Or generate it from your solar-paneled roof or garden wind turbine. Frack a gas well and run your own generator. Realistically, though, how much electricity can you get that way?

Yes, you save on fuel made from imported petroleum. If everyone bought an electric car.

This sounds like alternative-energy bashing, which it's not. It's bashing promoting a let's-pretend world. Maybe burning coal or natural gas is the right way to fuel mobility, but if it is, let's be clear that we are making that choice.

Just sayin'.


Matt Wrye said...

There isn't much else to say but AMEN!

Jamie Flinchbaugh said...

If you are buying a car for the purpose of saving emissions (not quite the same thing as saving fuel, but obviously related), here's the math that I've seen:

If you live in the midwest of the US, it is actually increasing pollution. The reason is that the midwest is still very dependent on coal. While coal has gotten cleaner and cleaner, we're still not where the IC engine is today.

If you live on the east or west coast, there are enough other sources of energy on the grip, including hydro, that the net pollution levels decrease with a plugin car.

As consumers, we have to ask the question. Just because it sounds like we're helping, doesn't mean that we are. The same problem exists with buying American. At least a few years ago, there was more US-content in a Honda Pilot than a Ford Mustang.

It's about more than reading the label.

Karen Wilhelm said...

Jamie and Matt,
Thanks for the comments. Jamie, you point out that "averages" are dangerous. Data is usually bumpy rather than evenly spread and it does take asking questions to really understand. I'd also add the complete derivation chain: coal mining and its environmental issues, natural gas fracking or pipelines, oil tanker disasters, uranium mining and processing. The average consumer can't do this investigation, but it would be a good subject for a PhD in environmental science. As they used to say, there is an ecology, what we like to call a system to understand.

Rich Stape said...

I own a hybrid Honda called an Insight. It is the best car I have ever owned. What I like most about it is the 60-70 mpg it consistently delivers. It just rolled over 100k and has been trouble free since new. I'd buy another if they still made them like this one.

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