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This Just In: Hybrids Will Not Save Us

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Thursday January 14th, 2010 | 11 Comments

We nominate two analysts from financial services firm Raymond James for the Downer of the Year (so far) Award. The analysts, J. Marshall Adkins and Pavel Molchanov, did some number-crunching that revealed hybrids aren’t making much of a dent in our demand for oil, reports the New York Times.

The research does not rocket science make, and the analysts admit as much, calling their findings “blindingly obvious.” They took the numbers of hybrids sold domestically and globally in recent years, extrapolated out to 2020 and determined that even if hybrids’ market share (including plug-in hybrids) continues to rise aggressively, the amount of oil savings they’ll represent will remain minuscule when compared to demand.

The point of the research does not seem to be to show hybrids and plug-in hybrids in a poor light. In fact, it makes clear that they represent an incremental negative for oil consumption. But it puts the incremental improvement into perspective, both here and globally. The analysts determined that in the US in 2009, fuel consumption savings from new hybrids were about 5,500 barrels per day (BPD).  But demand for oil in 2009 was about 19 million BPD. To call the savings that hybrids represent a drop in the bucket “is too generous,” the analysts write.

If hybrid sales between now and 2020 become sluggish, oil savings they’ll represent will increase to 60,000 BPD. If sales are moderate, the savings will be 109,000 BPD in 2020, and in a favorable sales scenario, they could save 202,000 BPD (and these figures account not just for hybrids sold during 2020, but all of those sold between now and then). Still, even the best scenario–a savings of 202,000 BPD–represents barely 1 percent of current U.S. oil demand.

Depressed yet? You shouldn’t be. Who thought hybrids were the answer, anyway? That might be what hybrid advertisements would have you believe, but low-emissions vehicles are just one element to be considered when it comes to reducing oil consumption. And when considering the long history and predominance of conventional combustion engines, it’s clear that they aren’t going anywhere.  But the price of oil will impact demand. Improved rapid transit systems will impact demand. The use of alternatives to petroleum in manufacturing and other sectors outside of transportation will impact demand. Will these changes impact demand enough to make a difference? I’m guessing Adkins and Molchanov would say no. But what do you think?

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  • wk

    Dream on, Nano antennas to convert heat into electricity is the one effective solution to energy in US,
    With 80% efficiency without the 20% the current solar get from sun light, no matter what and millions in funding, they will not get their unless they use nano technology, that will lower cost in manufacturing and material thus making it more efficient but still… Nano antenna already addressed this problem but Obama give no further funding, better to Al Gore foundation on fuel cell research that you need energy to produce energy sound stupid, but the platinum needed is owned by bill Gates and Muffin and probably Gore and all of the riches. This special interest will finally break America, look at Banks TARP money, the didn't pay it back and got no regulation, Obama going against that will not get any money from them or “Big Oil” or “King Coal” to run for election.

  • tomschueneman

    Good post. I think a lot of people may be looking for a “silver bullet” – one thing or idea that will cure all the ills caused from a fossil-energy-based economy. CFL lightbulbs, hybrid cars, a windmill or two. I guess the point is that solutions necessitate something more systemic and fundamental. We're just taking the first baby steps.

  • dionroy

    While hybrids aren't the answer, I certainly don't want to give any more of my money to terrorist regimes in the middle east. If I can cost them even a dollar, its worth it.

  • mrsthing

    So if autos aren't the biggest oil guzzlers, what IS?

  • Lemac the cameL

    Hybrids are an efficient step in the right direction.
    But many people are too quick, lazy or ignorant to look very far beyond marketing hype and sound bytes. The PRIUS is a very efficient car because in addition to being a hybrid, it is light weight,aerodynamic,has a CVT (continuously variable transmission) low rolling ressistant tires, Electric functions instead of mechanical ones, such as power steering, water pump, air conditioning, heat and Reverse gear. I believe it is the first commercially produced car engine with NO exterior mechanical functions.
    Energy efficiency is NOT just one thing like some magic “hybrid” term. Diesel-Electric “hybrid ” trains have been in use for about 90 years and have dominated that market since the 1940's because they are more efficient.
    Nor is hybrid a new invention, it is over 100 years old.
    However if we continue to push EFFICIENCY on all fronts we WILL eliminate imported oil just like we have done in the early 1980's after the Ironian revolution.

  • mcoc

    mrsthing: the transportation sector is the largest consumer of oil. but my point was that it's not the only one.

  • tomschueneman

    Good post. I think a lot of people may be looking for a “silver bullet” – one thing or idea that will cure all the ills caused from a fossil-energy-based economy. CFL lightbulbs, hybrid cars, a windmill or two. I guess the point is that solutions necessitate something more systemic and fundamental. We're just taking the first baby steps.

  • dionroy

    While hybrids aren't the answer, I certainly don't want to give any more of my money to terrorist regimes in the middle east. If I can cost them even a dollar, its worth it.

  • mrsthing

    So if autos aren't the biggest oil guzzlers, what IS?

  • Lemac the cameL

    Hybrids are an efficient step in the right direction.
    But many people are too quick, lazy or ignorant to look very far beyond marketing hype and sound bytes. The PRIUS is a very efficient car because in addition to being a hybrid, it is light weight,aerodynamic,has a CVT (continuously variable transmission) low rolling ressistant tires, Electric functions instead of mechanical ones, such as power steering, water pump, air conditioning, heat and Reverse gear. I believe it is the first commercially produced car engine with NO exterior mechanical functions.
    Energy efficiency is NOT just one thing like some magic “hybrid” term. Diesel-Electric “hybrid ” trains have been in use for about 90 years and have dominated that market since the 1940's because they are more efficient.
    Nor is hybrid a new invention, it is over 100 years old.
    However if we continue to push EFFICIENCY on all fronts we WILL eliminate imported oil just like we have done in the early 1980's after the Ironian revolution.

  • mcoc

    mrsthing: the transportation sector is the largest consumer of oil. but my point was that it's not the only one.

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