Hybrids, Electrics, and Power Grids - Oh My!

By Tia Brueggeman, staff editor With all the hype around green vehicles we should ask ourselves: is owning an alternative car a pragmatic solution to environmental problems or is it just a status symbol? Monetary incentives and social consciousness tell us we should reconsider our traditional gas-guzzling cars, but what are the alternatives?

As it stands, the Obama administration believes that electric cars are the solution. Under the proposed plug-in tax credit, up to $7,500 could be offered to those Americans purchasing electric cars as part of an effort to increase the number of electric cars to 1 million by 2015. Given the high initial price tag on these vehicles, it’s estimated that approximately only 20,000 will be sold this year.

Studies show that it takes up to 15 years to recoup the additional expenditure for a hybrid vehicle over the normally aspirated (basic engine) version of the same car when adjusting for gas and routine maintenance. Hybrid cars use very high tech transmission and engine components that virtually mandate returning to the dealership for even the most routine of services.

The bottom line is that electric cars being sold today are not a reasonable alternative for many buyers.  Even at that, lets imagine a perfect world where carmakers have created a viable electric car being sold at a reasonable price to the American public. Each evening 6 billion people plug in their electric cars. This “solution” will in fact ultimately burn more oil than traditional cars. Until alternative sources of energy, such as wind, are available and affordable to all, cars are plugged into generators that are fuelled by hydrocarbon and nuclear power plants. In addition to the energy expenditure used to run the car, there is wasted, inefficient energy used to charge the car.

Until a viable alternative is available, is the solution to drive smaller, more fuel-efficient versions of the cars we already drive? This option is not advantageous for politicians or big business, but it may be the best for the environment. One thing is certain; going green will cost the consumer lots of green.

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