8 Apr 2014

Are hybrid cars cleaner?

Ka Fung Cheung writes:*

Greenhouse gas emissions is one of the most concerned environmental problems among our society. In many cities, the largest contributor of GHG emissions is the usage of vehicles. In respond to this, car companies develop hybrid vehicles. The global sales of the Toyota Prius reached 3 million in June 2013. However, some research suggests that the production of a hybrid car requires more energy than a conventional car. As a result, the production of hybrid cars generate more GHG. But, when we look at the life-cycle of a hybrid car and a conventional car, the overall carbon footprint of a hybrid car is still less than a conventional car’s. Toyota introduced a plug-in hybrid in 2012. The car has a larger battery and can drive 10-20 miles more with zero carbon emissions. However, this plug-in hybrid requires electricity, and the carbon footprint of the car depends on how the electricity is generated. If the electricity is generated from coal rather than natural gas, the hybrid car actually leaves more carbon footprint than a conventional car.

Bottom Line: Government should motivate the use of hybrid vehicles in order to reduce GHG emissions. Also, they should set up policy to shift the coal-based electricity generation to natural gas or other sustainable energy source.

* These guest posts are from students in my resource economics class at Simon Fraser University. Please leave feedback on their logic, ideas and style and suggestions of how to improve.