At Good Energy, we talk a lot about electric cars because we see them as being the future of transportation in a low carbon energy system. But what about hybrid cars, where do we stand on those?

For us, any technology that actively reduces the amount of carbon created can only be a good thing. However, we don’t believe that hybrids are sustainable in the long run as they still run on fossil fuels but they’re a stepping stone on our way to zero carbon. 

Are hybrid cars good for the environment? 

This entirely depends on how you drive your hybrid car and where you source the electricity you need to charge the battery with plug-in hybrids. 

If you frequently do short journeys using just the battery power and charge it using 100% renewable electricity then yes, your hybrid is much better for the environment than a regular car as you’ll be effectively emitting zero carbon into the atmosphere.

However, using your hybrid’s combustion engine produces the exact same emissions as a normal petrol or diesel car and therefore won’t be any better for the environment than a comparable fossil-fuel vehicle.

Hand plugging an EV charger into a car.

When do hybrid cars use the electric motor? 

Typically, the electric motor is used for slow-speed or urban driving which can help to reduce inner-city pollution. In fact, this is one of the key areas where hybrid cars thrive and the reasons are pretty obvious:

  • On-street parking makes it tricky to charge full electric vehicles
  • Some cities have bans or taxes on diesel and petrol cars
  • Lower emissions vehicles have less of an impact on air quality. 

It’s not all about urban driving though, the electric motor can also help to provide additional power for tasks like going uphill which eases the load that the petrol engine takes on. You’ll also find that the electric motor also assists with accelerating and takes over in stop-start traffic, again reducing the amount of petrol being used at these points.

How do hybrid cars charge the electric battery?

Not all hybrid vehicles are the same, there are three different classes of hybrid:

Standard hybrids have a very small battery (by car standards) which is charged when braking, and and therefore a shorter range and therefore tends to work in conjunction with the petrol engine. A benefit of this is that the battery can be replenished by driving, rather than needing to be plugged in. This is done through “regenerative braking” where the motor essentially reverses when the car is slowing down to convert the kinetic energy from the car’s motion to charge the battery. 

Plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) – This is a vehicle that may be plugged in, and has a small battery and a large fuel tank (albeit with a slightly larger battery, and therefore longer electric range than a standard hybrid). These typically have a  range than their traditional hybrid counterparts. The engine kicks in once the battery power is depleted.

A Range Extended electric vehicle (REX) is the inverse of a plug-in hybrid, in that it is a plug in vehicle with a large battery and a very small fuel tank, designed to be used only occasionally. Rather than driving the wheels this engine is used to charge the battery. While this can be more efficient than other hybrids and does eliminate ‘range anxiety’, they do cost more to run than pure EVs or plug-in hybrids and the generators can be noisy.

Which type of hybrid you decide to choose depends largely on your own personal circumstances, how far and often you drive, and what you can afford.

At Good Energy we launched a scheme in Oxford that aimed to install around 100 electric vehicle charging points on residential streets, helping to make owning an EV more appealing. Hopefully we will see more chargers being rolled out by other county councils across the UK.

A good step on the road to a renewable future

Overall, hybrid cars mark a very important step towards a zero carbon, 100% renewable future. As these vehicles develop and gain popularity, along with true electric vehicles, we’ll see more infrastructure being built and even more car manufacturers coming to the market with new and innovative hybrids and EVs. 

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