I recently posted about a former Prius exec’s comments on hybrid vs. electric vehicles and why I thought hybrids could only be a stepping stone on the way to all electric vehicles (EVs). And, that post got me wanting to know more about both hybrid and electric cars – what are their capabilities? How practical are they? How affordable are they? And, how much do they really cut down on emissions? Well, I did some digging, and here is what I found out:
Let’s compare the Tesla (most popular EV) with the Prius (most popular hybrid).
||265 miles max.
||595 miles max.
|Refueling time (assuming 40 miles/day)
||1 hour 22 minutes in 240V outlet – daily
||Five minutes at any gas station – every 2 weeks
||Electric charging stations
- 8,642 public charging stations nationwide
- 21,415 public charging outlets nationwide
|Annual refueling cost (assuming 40 miles/day)
||$480 (using $0.11/kwh national average)
||$926 (using $3.086/gallon national average)
|Annual CO2 emissions (assuming 40 miles/day)
||5,077 pounds CO2 (using AZ energy matrix, which most closely mimics national matrix)
||7,329 pounds CO2
|CO2 difference between average gas-powered sedan (emits approx. 12,702 lbs. CO2/year when driving 40 miles per day)
||7,625 pounds CO2 saved/year
||5,373 pounds CO2 saved/year
||$63,500 (after tax incentives)
||$30,000 (for Prius Five)
At first glance, the hybrid seems like the most reasonable choice. The hybrid goes farther and is easier to fuel, plus it costs significantly less to purchase upfront. The EV costs much less to refuel on an annual basis, but the upfront cost of the car would require 75 years of those savings to balance out overall spending. The EV emits fewer carbon emissions, but both vehicles offer a significant reduction from the standard gas-powered vehicle.
Yet, this chart doesn’t display the whole picture of this comparison because it doesn’t factor in driving habits here in the U.S. Do we really need to travel 595 miles before refueling? Turns out, most of us don’t!
- According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the average vehicle trip length is 9.72 miles, and the average trip length to work is 13.36 miles.
- According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average annual miles driven in the U.S. is 13,476 miles, which works out to a daily average of 36.92 miles (let’s call it 40 miles per day to make the math more straightforward).
So, if we’re only driving an average of 40 miles per day, the 265 mile range offered by the Tesla should be more than enough for most of us. We could plug in at home every night and be fully charged again with plenty of time for our next day’s travels. And, with charging stations popping up all over the country, traveling out of town is becoming easier as well. Tesla has over 100 “Supercharger” stations nationwide already, which can provide 170 miles of range in less than 30 minutes.
Plus, the EV will steadily grow more environmentally friendly. As the electric grid transitions toward more renewables, the carbon footprint of electricity will drop, while the carbon footprint of gasoline will remain constant. Already in states with more renewables, estimates indicate a tremendous CO2 savings with EVs:
- Virginia (38% nuclear, 29% natural gas, 27% coal, 4% biomass, 2% hydroelectric) – EVs going 40 miles/day emit only 4,183 pounds of CO2/year
- Washington State (69% hydroelectric, 10% natural gas, 7% nuclear, 6% coal, 6% wind, 2% biomass) – EVs going 40 miles/day emit only 1,142 pounds of CO2/year
- See how your state compares! (multiply pounds per day by 365)
And, admittedly, hybrid CO2 footprints will drop as engines become more fuel efficient, but there is no chance a hybrid could reach zero emissions – while that is a distinct (albeit somewhat distant) possibility for EVs.
When it comes to reducing CO2 emissions, which is what’s necessary for climate change mitigation, there is no question in my mind that all-electric cars are the way to go. When you consider that day-to-day vehicle use for the average person falls well within the range of an electric car, the only factor becomes cost. But, EV prices are becoming more competitive. Teslas remain at luxury prices for now, but the Nissan LEAF (which has an 80 mile range) is only $29,000 – on par with the Prius. Plus, now that Tesla has opened up its patents to the public, the cost of EVs is likely to go down as their technology becomes more widely available and increased interest spurs on innovation. And, as assigning a price to carbon becomes a reality (and it is likely in at least some way, shape, or form, even if it’s not a direct tax, per se), electric vehicles are going to grow increasingly less expensive relative to hybrid and conventionally-fueled cars.
So, the more I look at the facts, the more I’m convinced that electric cars represent a reasonable – and necessary – transition.