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Can Hybrid Vehicles Make A Difference As India Awaits EVs?

Can Hybrid Vehicles Make A Difference As India Awaits EVs?

What is the biggest difference between hybrid and electric vehicles and can the Indian market adapt to support EVs?

With climate change and environmental consciousness at its peak, electric mobility or green mobility has become the need of the hour to make a difference in the fight against climate change and air pollution. When it comes to emobility, it is not just about electric vehicles. Hybrid vehicles are being seen as a temporary way to bridge the gap between traditional vehicles and EVs. And for a country like India where EV charging infrastructure is still not created, hybrid vehicles can make a difference in the short to medium term.

As the name suggests electric vehicles or EV) operate on an electric drivetrain, unlike the usual internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles, which burn petrol or diesel. With their low carbon footprint and environmental impact, EVs are clearly the future, but at the moment, it’s not a scalable option in countries like India which also needs to tackle climate change. In fact, the creation of the EV infrastructure will not exactly be eco-friendly either, but India is taking the step to ensure that the situation does not go from bad to worse.

Understanding Vehicular Pollution

Fuel-run vehicles produce air pollution throughout their lifecycle — vehicle operations and fuel production. Moreover, there are additional emissions as well, which are associated with the refining and distribution of fuels, and the manufacturing and disposal of the vehicle.

The pollution produced by cars is split into two types, primary and secondary pollution. Primary pollution is directly emitted into the atmosphere, whereas secondary pollution results from chemical reactions between pollutants in the atmosphere.

Even though heavy-duty vehicles like trucks make up only 5% of the total vehicles on the road, they generate more than 25% of the greenhouse gases that come from the transportation sector. They also produce a significant amount of air pollutants.

The impact of climate change and rising air pollution is not just felt on the health of an individual, but it has a severe effect on the well-being of entire communities as well.

A study by the researchers of the International Council on Clean Transportation in the US, states that the global cost of diesel-powered vehicles is estimated to be somewhere around $1 Tn between 2010 and 2015. In India alone, nearly 385K people have died since 2015 in pollution-related deaths. Out of these, the death of nearly two-third of people can be attributed to air pollution emissions from diesel-run vehicles, the report added.

Looking at this, the adoption of electric vehicles is not only a necessity to save the environment but to save human life as well. But since India cannot achieve complete electric mobility any time soon, hybrid vehicles can be an option.

What Is The Difference Between EVs And Hybrid Vehicles?

There are three main types of electric vehicles (EV) depending on the source of their power:

  • Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV)

Battery electric vehicles (BEV) are what we popularly call electric vehicles that come with rechargeable batteries. These batteries can be charged using external sources and EV chargers are classified according to the speed of charging — Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 or DC fast charging. While these are levels for charging speeds, the charging standard can differ based on the make and model of EVs.

Level 1:

The Level 1 charging systems use a standard household outlet with an output of 120 Volts. With this type of charger, an EV can be charged in over eight hours to run for 75-80 miles. The chargers have the capability to charge most EVs available on the market.

Level 2:

The Level 2 charging are special systems with an output of 240 Volts. These types of charging systems are found at workplaces and public charging stations. The charging systems can charge an EV in about 4 hours to run for 75-80 miles.

Level 3:

The Level 3 also known as the direct current (DC) fast charging systems are the fastest charging solution in the EV market at the moment. The chargers can charge vehicles to run for 90 miles within 30 minutes.

  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), also known as Extended Range Electric Vehicles, are the type of vehicles that have two modes of charging. Just like normal EVs, these vehicles can be plugged into an external source for charging.

However, these vehicles have inbuilt regenerative braking, which is an energy recovery mechanism that converts its kinetic energy to charge itself. The vehicle rely on gasoline engines to generate that electricity. The energy can be used immediately or be stored for later use, however, the engine will not have maximum output when running on the backup power source.

The vehicles use about 40% to 60% less fuel than conventional ICE vehicles, as the electricity produced is from domestic sources. Moreover, these vehicles also reduce dependency on petroleum and diesel.

  • Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV)

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) are equipped with both batteries and ICE that runs on fuel. The batteries in some way support the ICE by giving it the capacity of a conventional vehicle in terms of speed and run rate. These vehicles cannot be plugged into an external source for charging, hence, they completely rely on regenerative braking through fuels.

HEVs come in two variants — mild hybrid and full hybrid. Mild hybrids or micro hybrids rely on batteries and electric motors to power the vehicles to some extent. The ICE still plays a bigger role in powering the vehicle.

However, the vehicle also allows the engine to shut off completely when the vehicle stops for a brief period, therefore improving the fuel economy. On the other hand, full hybrids are installed with much larger batteries and electric motors that can power the engine solely for a short distance and low speed.

HEV is also classified in terms of the cooperation between the ICE and electric motors. The first category is a parallel hybrid, which is the more common design, where both types of power mechanisms are connected to the vehicle. Both ICE and electric drivetrains operate simultaneously. The second category is a series hybrid, which uses only electric motors to operate the vehicle.

Electric Vehicles Vs Hybrid Vehicles

  • Price:

    Looking at the technology of dual-engine-powered hybrid vehicles, anybody would expect the car to be more expensive. However, hybrid engines are as competitive as ICE vehicles in terms of prices. This is mainly because of the fact that the car is mostly powered by the regular internal combustion engines (ICE) and the electric engine is just a supporting element.

    On the other hand, electric vehicles come on the more expensive side even with their simple design. These prices are usually attributed to the expensive battery components, which are needed to power the whole vehicle. Due to the limitation in the innovation of the batteries, the vehicle ends up costing more.

  • CO2 Emission:

    As electric vehicles are totally run on electricity, the vehicle has minimum to zero emissions directly. However, one of the key shortcomings here is that the source of electricity. In countries like India where coal, oil, and natural gas are the three primary commercial energy sources, EV can never be 100% emission-free as the process of power generation is still not greenhouse gas emission-free. There are some players like TVS Motors in India, who are working towards sourcing the power from clean energies like solar and wind energies.

    Due to hybrid vehicles relying on fuel-run engines, these vehicles directly emit greenhouse gasses. However, in terms of CO2 emissions, hybrids are better than ICE vehicles as they produce 50-60% fewer pollutants.

  • Noise Pollution:

    Electric battery-powered vehicles — both EVs and Hybrid — are quieter than the ICE vehicles. Interestingly, the vehicles are so quiet that the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in September 2019 asked automakers to include artificial motor sounds in electric and hybrid cars when travelling at low speeds to alert pedestrians.

  • Fuel Efficiency:

    As the name suggests, electric vehicles do not require any type of fuel-based engine, making them very fuel-efficient and pocket-friendly in the long run. Even though the vehicle is a little expensive in terms of the purchase, in the long run, the saving in terms of fuel makes them a good deal.

    Given that an average travelling distance is 12K Km annually for an Indian car, an individual would end up spending INR 48,312 at current prices.

    Hybrid cars are obviously not as fuel-efficient as electric vehicles. However, in comparison to normal petrol or diesel-run vehicles, hybrid cars fare much better. The cars are about 20% to 30% better in terms of fuel efficiency. An average hybrid can go up to 48 to 60 miles per gallon.

  • All-Weather Operation:

    EVs are usually powered by lithium-ion batteries that have an ideal operating temperature of 25 degrees celsius.

    As the temperatures in the subcontinent are frequently above 30 degrees Celsius, often going into the high 40s, there is a higher chance of lithium-ion batteries wearing out faster, lasting only two or three years before needing a replacement. In addition, cold weather too has an effect on the range of electric vehicles.

    According to a report, EVs range is reduced by more than 40% in cold weather. Electric vehicles slow down in hot weather as well, but the range impact is much lower than cold weather.

    Even though hybrid vehicles have the same batteries, they’re not used extensively. Therefore the process of wearing out is much lower here.

  • Speed and Range:

    Just like mileages on a fuel-run vehicle, EVs also come with a range they can cover with a single charge. The range and the top speed of the vehicle depends on the power and strength of the electric engine. The key problem here is that since the vehicles take some time to charge the range is restricted. This coupled with the lack of charging facilities in India, just make EVs a little too inconvenient for long range.

    On the other hand, hybrids have a higher range and the top speed depends on the strength of the ICE. Since these vehicles have a regenerative braking system that powers the electric battery using the fuel. The vehicles are not strictly limited in the range aspect due to the availability of petrol pumps.

  • Charging Facilities:

    As India is still at an early stage when it comes to electric vehicle adoption, the charging infrastructure is not well developed as many companies would hope. Both government bodies and private players have taken up initiatives to improve the charging infrastructure in India, but there is still a long road ahead before EV charging points become as commonplace as petrol pumps.