When comparing gas-powered cars and electric-powered or hybrid cars for efficiency, the end products make it appear as if it is an easy choice. What most people do not think about, however, is where the electricity they are charging their car with comes from. Most of the time, this energy comes from fossil fuels. So although it is “clean” and “emission-free” energy you are putting in that car, it was probably made by burning our non-renewable resources. So the next question is really this: do electric and hybrid cars use those fossil fuels more efficiently than gas cars?
According to Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope, while traditional cars use fossils fuels at somewhere in the order of 15% efficiency, electric cars use fuels at 20-25% efficiency. This efficiency, in turn, means that the fuel for the electric cars is cheaper than traditional cars, although this does not take into consideration any price differences between the two types of cars themselves. This also means that electric cars use less fossil fuels per mile driven than traditional cars, but not by much. I think that while a 5-10% increase in efficiency is good, it still means that we are burning fossil fuels to run our cars with at least a 75% loss of energy.
In my view, the real promise of electric cars is that they can use energy from any source. So, if we continue to move toward more renewable energy sources, like wind or solar, that we could eventually leave fossil fuels out of the equation entirely. This is not to say that there are no benefits of electric cars now, just that we can and should do better than mildly improved efficiency. It isn’t just that we can and should do better, but that we must. Even if we ignore the negative effects of burning fossil fuels on our climate, it is the very nature of non-renewable energy sources like coal and gas to run out eventually. So, in the end, we will need to change. Isn’t it better to change when we can instead of when we are forced?