Those of you that have been paying attention to the news will know that COP26 has been going on in Scotland over the last couple of weeks. This is one of the most important summits in the world, where leaders of countries gather to discuss climate change and what can be done about it.
Amongst the various topics and ideas, the concept of generating fewer emissions while driving was a big talking point. Many countries wanted to vote on a global deal to eliminate new car emissions by 2040, but it didn’t pass as some major car manufacturers wouldn’t sign up. Nevertheless, electric car technology was spoken about a lot, touted as the future of transport.
For many of us, confusions occur when talking about electric cars and hybrid vehicles. Are they the same thing? We know that hybrids have been around for a long time, with the Toyota Prius being the big mainstream name since the turn of the Century. Are hybrid vehicles electric ones? What are the differences between the two? There’s a lot to unpack, but this article will explain all you need to know.
What is an electric vehicle?
An electric vehicle is any vehicle that’s only powered by an electric energy source. It contains no components or parts that are powered by fuel, meaning it needs to be plugged in and charged instead of filled with gasoline or diesel.
In a traditional gas-fuelled car, there will be an internal combustion engine (ICE) that powers the machine. This is how the wheels move and the car goes forward or back, and it all happens by burning fuel, generating those ever-so-harmful CO2 emissions. With electric vehicles, the ICE doesn’t exist and is replaced by an electric motor/engine.
Of course, this electric motor needs to receive power from somewhere, so where does it come from? Well, like normal cars, electric ones will have batteries. The difference is that these batteries are much larger and can store more energy. The electric current passes from the batteries to an inverter that converts it to the right current for the motor. Just like that, the electric motor is powered on and the car can move.
Consequently, when the car is running low on power, it needs to be plugged into a charging point. Instead of a fuel cap, there will be a charging port on the side of the car that takes electricity and fills up the batteries. When you buy an electric car you often have to buy your own charging point to keep at home, meaning you can fill up your batteries using your own home electricity.
Electric cars can also use regenerative braking and other technology to convert other forms of energy to electricity. As a result, they have the ability to charge the batteries themselves, though you won’t be able to fully charge a car like this.
What is a hybrid car?
Hybrid cars are usually defined as cars that combine an electric motor with an ICE. As such, you get a blend of both electric vehicles and traditional fuel-powered ones. There are different types of hybrid cars, though they usually fall into two categories:
- Plug-in hybrid
Amongst the hybrid category, you have all the cars that use both an electric motor and ICE to power the vehicle. In some of these cars, both engines work together to move the car. The ICE also helps to charge the batteries of the electric motor, and the electric motor takes some of the strain off the engine. Let’s say you have a regular car, the engine accounts for 100% of the power. With a hybrid, even if the electric motor only provides 20% of the power, you’re cutting your emissions by 20% because you’re using less fuel. This type of hybrid is sometimes called a mild hybrid as the two engines work together rather than independently. A good example of this is the BMW i3 hybrid car.
By contrast, still in the same category, you have full hybrids. Here, the engines work the same and support one another, but you can also use them separately. It means you can use the electric motor on its own to produce zero emissions on some drives, then use the ICE when you run out of power. However, because the batteries are smaller than they are in electric vehicles, you usually struggle to only use the electric motor before it runs out of charge. A Toyota Prius is perhaps the most well-known example of a full hybrid vehicle.
This is where plug-in hybrids come into play. There are plenty of examples of great plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). As you can see on the Chapman Ford website, the new Escape PHEV falls into this category. With cars like these, you get bigger electric batteries that can be charged by plugging the car into a charging point. As such, you can drive using just the electric motor for much longer periods. If your commute is short, you might be able to only use electric power for daily driving, calling upon the ICE if you run out of charge on longer commutes. So, you still have the same components and concept as other hybrid cars, but the plug-in addition means you can get a better range on the electric motor, further cutting your emissions.
Which is better: electric or hybrid?
In terms of energy consumption and fuel emissions, electric cars are the best option. They don’t generate any fumes when you drive them, so they are much greener. However, hybrid technology is a great way of easing people into the world of electric driving. If you drive a lot of miles per day, you might struggle to have an electric car if there aren’t many charging points along your daily commute. So, having a car that lets you drive electric for as long as possible before switching to gas could be better for you.
In the future, electric car technology is definitely going to evolve and take over. It starts with changing the infrastructure to get more charging points across the country. Making it easier for people to drive electric cars will make these vehicles seem like a feasible option for everyone. From here, we can have cleaner air and a better climate.