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Reader Steve C thinks I missed the point in my previous posts on hybrids being green - Are Hybrids Green (Part I) and Are Hybrids Green (Part II).

While it's undeniable that hybrids use less fossil fuel to operate, the real question is how much extra fossil fuel the manufacturing of a hybrid and its components use?

I'm no scientist, but I continue to read some sources that say that when you consider the additional energy consumed in building battery systems and other high-tech components of a hybrid car (and the potential environmental issues with their proper disposal), hybrids may in fact be (at best) an energy "wash", meaning there is no net saving of anything over the long-run.


I never claimed that Hybrids were a net gain (today)... In my first post I specifically addressed this :

Advances in technology take time, and early generations are always inefficient. It was probably cheaper to own a horse than buy a Model T, 100 years ago. But not many people drive horses to work today. Someone has to be the spearhead, and since it doesn't cost me anything to take that role, I choose that destiny freely.
and again in my second post
In essence, the first generations of a new technology are ALWAYS inefficient, and more expensive than what they replace - but that doesn't mean they aren't worth pursuing. This went hand in hand with the horse argument, but I can think of lots of other examples, most of which have nothing to do with being green. IE The first electric lights probably cost more (and provided worse light) than the oil lamps or gas lights they replaced, but the were still the wave of the future.

I could certainly have been more explicit, but my intent was to refer to both the efficiency in terms of actual dollars, and in terms of energy cost (to which the solar cells example was more relevant). To reiterate - A hybrid is cheaper for me personally, right now (undisputable). I believe the hybrid is probably a wash for society, in terms of energy cost, and monetary cost. But I believe that equation will change in the future. Fiscal costs, and ecological costs will both drop in the future as the technology advances, and economies of scale kick in. Even if there was a net loss ecologically today, I would still argue that hybrids are a “green“ choice, because they are an investment in the future technology. If nobody buys until the future, then the market goes away, the investment is never made, and the more efficient inventions and refinements never come about.

Interestingly, if both of my assumptions on cost are true (its a benefit to me, and a wash to society as a whole), that does mean that somewhere in society, my gain is being subsidized. This is probably directly due to the tax credit, which effectively means US taxpayers are collectively investing in the technology. No different than any other transfer. However, this is not an open ended coercion of investment, the tax credits are being phased out as demand is rising enough, and prices are falling enough, to generate the investment without the subsidy.

Pickens also asked about break even solar cells. I think he is missing my point, which is not that Solar Cells are a viable large scale energy source, but that later generations are of technology are more efficient and cost effective than earlier generations. But to address his question, I did find this independant study : One should always take studies with a grain of salt, since methodolgy and phrasing of the initial questions in the study can have a wide effect on the results. I am not a solar expect, and make no claims to the accuracy of the study, but it would place the burden of proof on Pickens to either disprove this study, or provide a counter-study.  In any case, I would think Pickens would easliy admin that even if solar cells are not currently break even, their efficiency has improved over time, and will continue to improve over time - which was the real purpose of my example.

Pickens also was specifically talking about Solar Cells in New Jersey. Of course, location will have a tremendous effect on the viability of any green eneregy source. Solar will work best near the equator. Hydro will only work near a river, etc.  Petroleum based energy has the same restriction really... having a coal fired power plant where there is no coal wouldn't make sense.



Posted on Thursday, July 13, 2006 11:14 AM gadgets , politics | Back to top

Comments on this post: Are Hybrids Really Green? - Part III

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green? - Part III
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I've been reading all your responses to J. Pickens and have agreed with all your arguments. I love the way you address these issues with a clear and common sense driven reasoning. My guess is you are either a programmer or an engineer. Your blog about the Camry Hybrid have convinced me to order one today. Good work!
Left by TruBlue on Nov 17, 2006 10:43 AM

# re: Are Hybrids Really Green? - Part III
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Think of the amount of fossil fuel that needs to be burnt to make these cars and transport them thousands of miles across the globe to our showrooms. Would a locally-made product, which doesn’t have to travel on a container ship from Japan, not make much more sense? Of course it would. I’m not saying we shouldn’t explore the hybrid route because the environment seriously needs our help, but we need to stop looking at cars for the answer.
Left by Haulage Contractor on Apr 06, 2011 11:14 PM

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