Solar panels, wind turbines, smart grids — while these and other green technologies play an important role in our effort to reduce the impact we humans have on the earth, just as important are the vehicles we drive every day. With gas prices fluctuating and harmful emissions burning through the ozone layer, more and more drivers are looking to green cars such as hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs) as a means of doing their part to reduce their carbon footprint.
As of late, the green vehicle scene has experienced an explosion of interest. How could one not take notice? Announcements from automobile manufacturers concerning new green vehicles and technologies are made almost daily. But with that interest comes a tidal wave of information that can be difficult to sort through. What exactly is a hybrid vehicle? How do EVs work? Should one buy a hybrid or EV, or is it a good idea to stick with petrol-based cars a little while longer? Where can one even begin researching hybrid and EV technology to make an informed purchasing decision when the time comes to go green?
The answers to the aforementioned questions, as well as many others, can be found right here. Life in the Green Lane is your one-stop beginner’s reference guide to hybrids and EVs, with five key considerations to keep in mind when you feel the time is right to invest in green transportation.
Consideration #1: Defining Hybrid and EVs
To most easily understand the differences between hybrid and electric vehicles, consider the Venn diagram: three circles, all of which overlap to share common elements, yet still contain unique attributes. Keeping in the context of green vehicle education, we will label these circles as petrol-based cars, hybrid cars, and electric cars. Petrol-fueled cars are widely understood: their gas gives them decent mileage and is widely available, but is finite in nature: one day, our gas supplies will run dry. Gas also emits high quantities of pollution and is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Completely independent of petrol, meanwhile, is the electric vehicle. As explained by How Stuff Works, “an electric car … has a set of batteries that provides electricity to an electric motor. The motor turns a transmission, and the transmission turns the wheels.” In some cases, an EV may utilize more than one electric motor. Regardless of the quantity of motors, the EV operates by having the electric motor(s) turn the transmission, which then turns the wheels. Recharging is simple: most EV cars plug into standard outlets, and some come with onboard charging systems that regenerate the batteries while the car is in use.
Hybrid vehicles are, as their name implies, a mixture of petrol-based and electric vehicles. Just as in most conventional vehicles, hybrid cars include a fuel tank that stores gasoline, and that gasoline is supplied to the engine. The engine supplies power to the transmission, which turns the vehicle’s wheels. There are two primary types of hybrid vehicles: full and mild. A full hybrid employs one to three electric motors that “drive the car under full electric power,” explains CNET. “Typically, full hybrids run under electric power at low speeds, up to 25 mph. The electric motors also contribute power when the car accelerates, assisting the gas engine.” In low-speed areas such as traffic jams and neighborhoods, a full hybrid’s petrol engine will shut down, reducing emissions to zero.
Mild hybrids do not operate in an electric-only mode, instead using equal parts petrol and electric motor to power the vehicle. A mild’s petrol engine will not disable in slow traffic, but will disable when the vehicle comes to a complete stop, such as at a traffic light.
There are also what are called “plug-in electric hybrids,” defined by Wikipedia as being “a hybrid vehicle with rechargeable batteries that can be restored to full charge by connecting a plug to an external electric power source.” PHEVs, as they are also called, share advantages and disadvantages of both pure hybrid and electric platforms and are considered by some as the next possible logical step to bridge drivers into pure electric vehicles.