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Hybrid or Electric? Climate-Friendliness Depends on Where You Live

hybrids foreverThere’s a lot of hype about all-electric cars, but one study shows that in most states EVs aren’t the most climate-friendly car choice. They are better for the environment than the average-mileage gas-powered vehicle, according to ClimateControl.org, but that’s not always the case when compared to popular high-mileage hybrid cars. It depends on how cleanly electricity is generated in the state in which these cars operate.

For example, an electric car that physically produces no emissions still requires energy to be powered. If that energy came from electricity generated from coal and natural gas, more greenhouse gases are generated from charging an EV than driving an efficient gas-powered car or hybrid.

charging an EV can generate more greenhouse gases than driving an efficient gas-powered car or hybrid.

But if the electric car was charged in a state that relies mainly on nuclear energy, hyrdopower and renewables, it is most likely more climate-friendly than its hybrid counterparts.

Which-is-more-climate-friendly conundrum?

Referencing the report “A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars,” written by researchers Eric Larson and Alyson Kenward from ClimateCentral.org, let’s discuss the idea of finding the most climate-friendly car per state, instead of classifying either hybrids or all-electrics as the most eco-friendly car in general.

The Players

Discussion points will be based around the all-electric Nissan Leaf, the plug-in electric Chevy Volt and the hybrid electric Toyota Prius. Among the three, the Toyota Prius produces the least amount of greenhouse gases in all but 14 states, according to the study.

The Reasoning

That’s because when plugging in to recharge in those states drivers are tapping into electricity mainly generated by burning coal and natural gas. The largest contributor to the high-carbon footprint, coal, happens to be where most of the U.S. garners its electricity, according to ClimateControl.org.

The Examples

Montana, Nevada, Texas, Tennessee, Ohio and Florida are among the 36 states where electric cars are not the most climate-friendly vehicle choice, as recorded in the report.

For example, in Texas seven hybrids release fewer emissions than the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. Among those are the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Prius V. Nearly 500,000 Americans bought a green-energy car last year, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association. As a Texan, if you were among those car-buyers, hopefully your purchase was a hybrid. New or used cars in Dallas and consider a trade.

But if you live in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Vermont or New Hampshire, the all-electric Nissan Leaf or plug-in Chevy Volt is the right choice for you. According to the study, these cars produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions per mile than their hybrid counterpart — the Toyota Prius. The reasons is — yes, you guessed it — because of how electricity is generated. In Oregon 64 percent of electricity is generated through hydropower and renewables; in Vermont its 72 percent and in Idaho its 85 percent.

The Results

Technology is changing and improving. Before assuming one type of green technology is better than the other, factor in if the electricity is generated cleanly.

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