Let’s get this straight: the most efficient mile you can drive is a mile you don’t drive. Despite technological advances, cars are still 3,000 pounds of steel moved around by (mostly) fossil fuels. That said, there are some exciting new technologies which promise more efficient driving, which can help both the environment and your pocketbook.
Eight years after the Prius was first introduced, hundreds of thousands have been sold, far outpacing all other hybrids, and it is a cultural symbol. After-market plug-in modules for the Prius are now available to the public (such as hymotion.com), allowing 20 miles of driving from a 120 volt outlet for about a quarter per charge. Rumors swirl that Toyota will have a plug-in option for the 2010 model year. With solar panels or wind power, this can lend a dramatic boost to green driving.
All-electric cars are not far off, either. Right now they are limited to the high-performance (and high-priced) such as Telsa (teslamotors.com) or the ZENN (zenncars.com) neighborhood electric vehicle (cheaper but speed- and range-limited). Nothing is set in stone, but in the next few years we could see more affordable 200-mile range, highway-rated cars from new players like ZENN and Think (think.no) as well as cars like the Smart Fortwo (smartusa.com) and Mini Cooper with all-electric drive trains.
A 200-mile range may be insufficient for a road trip, but it is ample for commuting. Of environmental concern remain the sources of electricity (often from dirty coal plants) and the potential issues with mass production and disposal of large batteries.
One big wild card in the technology race is the practicality of alternative fuels. Corn-based ethanol has been all but debunked as a green technology and reclaimed biodiesel (think french fries) has only so much supply. Sugar- or switchgrass-derived ethanol and hydrogen are just some of the fuel sources which may help to slow carbon emissions in coming decades.
Most likely, the best solution for you is to drive as little as possible, and when driving, to drive as efficiently as possible.
Here are some tips:
If you are not pressed for time, walk to the corner store for a few items.
If you have several errands to run, plan the shortest route between them (called “trip-linking” in transportation circles), and ride a bike if you can.
If you’re not in a hurry, slow down on the highway; driving 55 can increase mileage 20% or more.
If you don’t drive often, consider selling your car altogether and joining a car sharing organization (in the Twin Cities: hourcar.org).
Driving green is important to severing our dependence on fossil fuels, but it is an inherent contradiction. Until we have solar-powered, fully-recyclable cars driving on pervious surfaces, energy efficiency is only part of the battle.
HOURCAR has had the first plug-in hybrid in Minnesota since 2006, and now charges it from solar panels.
It is the first solar-powered shared car in the world.