Apr 25, 2005 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This helpful followup, prompted by a Letter to the Editor, also serves a response to similar questions raised in the April 2 story in The New York Tlimes. Find links to original Businessweek and NYT stories at
MAY 2, 2005
The Juice For Hybrids Has To Come From Somewhere
In "Giving hybrids a real jolt" (Environment, Apr. 11), the impression given is that there is no environmental downside to the scheme of plugging in a hybrid vehicle. But caution is advised when phrases such as "dramatically reduce pollution" get thrown around without considering where those electrons might come from. No doubt, for those of us in Southern California there would be a noticeable improvement in air quality should such a scheme be widely adopted.
However, I am curious as to what the effect would be on other regions' air quality. Would there be a net increase in global greenhouse-gas emissions? For example, how much total energy does it take to create and transmit electricity from a coal-burning plant in Arizona to Los Angeles?
Newbury Park, Calif.
Editor's note: For more on this topic, see "Developments To Watch".
Developments to Watch Edited by Adam Aston
Powering Plug-Ins: Not To Worry
The idea of hybrids that can be plugged into an electrical outlet is winning fans among both conservatives and environmentalists (BW -- Apr. 11). Such cars could store enough juice in their batteries to cover most daily commutes and only use their gasoline engines on longer trips. But since most of America's electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, critics worry that any cut in tailpipe emissions would be offset by dirty air from increased coal burning.
A collection of studies, however, makes clear that while power-plant pollution would rise, car emissions would fall by a much larger amount. Total energy use per car would drop by up to 45%, calculates the Electric Power Research Institute. EPRI and the California Air Resources Board also calculate that replacing regular cars with plug-in hybrids would reduce pollution and carbon dioxide emissions up to 50% overall. Emissions would fall even more as the cars become capable of traveling farther on batteries alone and as new, renewable sources of electricity come on line.
Of course, power prices might tick up with a large-scale switchover to hybrid cars. But most recharging would be done at night, and "there's so much off-peak capacity that there's not expected to be an increase in price," says EPRI's Mark Duvall. Plus, electricity would have to get much more expensive to catch up with the cost of gas. At today's average prices, fueling up with electrons would cost about one-fourth what it costs for gas.
By John Carey