Charging of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle
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Are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles really eco-friendly?

Boasting a 368% growth in Europe in the third quarter of 2020, plug-in hybrids are definitely all the rage. Backed by government grants during the health crisis, PHEVs are gobbling up market shares. However, while they are hot on reducing CO2 emissions, this advantage can be wiped off the slate by driver behaviour. So let’s set the record straight on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and see how you can maximise the advantages they offer.


Hybrids and plug-in hybrids are exactly the same thing

Wrong. Confusion reigns as to how these vehicles are actually powered. So what is the difference between a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid? 

What exactly is a hybrid vehicle?

Hybrid vehicles, or HEVs, are equipped with an internal combustion engine, an electric motor and a small battery. The battery only charges when the vehicle is driving along mainly thanks to the internal combustion engine but also by recovering the kinetic energy generated during deceleration and braking. So charging from an outside source doesn’t enter the game. However, the vehicle can only run in all-electric mode for a few kilometres at a time. 

Therefore, when you are behind the wheel of a hybrid, it is a good idea to adopt eco-driving techniques. That way, you regenerate the battery faster, more often and minimise CO2 emissions. 

And what about plug-in hybrids?

A rechargeable hybrid, plug-in hybrid or PHEV is also fitted with a combustion engine and electric motor, but the on-board battery is much larger. This more powerful battery means the vehicle can run for up to 60-70 km in all-electric

In terms of charging, the battery also recovers energy when driving along. Above all, it can be plugged into the electric mains supply. To achieve zero-emission driving, the vehicle can be charged from a home socket, wallbox or at a public charging station

Driving a plug-in hybrid reduces pollution levels

In theory, yes. In practice, not always. The ecological impact of PHEVs is only beneficial if their drivers play the charging game. If you buy a PHEV but don’t charge it, then you might as well stick to a simple hybrid. 

What’s more, a PHEV in combustion mode is likely to consume more than an ordinary combustion-engine vehicle. It has more component parts and is therefore heavier. 

A recent report by the NGO International Council on Clean Transportation denounced inefficient usage of PHEVs, pointing their finger at company vehicles. It revealed that, on average, company PHEVs only conduct 20% of journeys in electric mode against 37% for private PHEVs. 

A plug-in hybrid is less expensive to run

Once again, it depends on how you use your vehicle. Grants and incentives currently in force in many countries encourage to switch to e-mobility and opt for a PHEV. And this type of vehicle is a sound investment. But, as demonstrated in the previous paragraph, it would be a shame to miss out on its prime advantage of being able to cover daily journeys without guzzling a single drop of petrol

In the long haul, the cost of ownership is not always as low as expected if the car is not charged frequently. By driving in all-electric more often, you will significantly reduce your petrol bill

And we can never say it enough – taking your foot off the accelerator and opting for eco-driving will benefit your wallet (not to mention your personal well-being and the planet’s health).

The handyman’s guide to charging your plug-in hybrid 

PHEVs offer sufficient range for you to cope with your short-distance, everyday journeys without needing to switch to the combustion engine. Here are some charging options to help you drive in all-electric mode as often as possible.

Charging at home and at work

If you can, the most practical, money-saving option is to plug your vehicle into a mains socket at home (garage, parking space, shared charging points for residential blocks etc.). 

In the best-case scenario – especially if your home-to-work commute is quite long, your company can be fitted with a wallbox or at least allow you access to a mains socket. Once back home, you can plug in your vehicle overnight and tranquilly set off again the next morning. 

Helpful hint: if you don’t have a charging point at home or nearby, check out whether grants are available in your region. For example, the French scheme ADVENIR has been set up to provide solutions where they are needed close to home. 

Charging outside the home environment 

Most people charge at home. But not everyone has the advantage of having a garage or shared parking space equipped with charging solutions. If this is your case, then you should check out public charging stations near your home and along your travel routes. 

The Chargemap mobile app lists hundreds of thousands of charging points throughout Europe. It also gives you access to a number of search filters. For instance, you can post up the free charging stations that are compatible with your vehicle and mask out-of-order charging pools

If the concept of public charging is new to you, you can consult our learn-as-you-go articles. We advise you to start with the one on the anatomy of a charging station.

Settling your charging bills

Only a few charging stations are equipped with a credit/debit card reader. Currently, the most common payment solution for public charging infrastructures is a charging badge. Each charging network has its own card. To avoid the hassle of having a fistful of cards covering every network, mobility operators such as Chargemap propose multi-network cards. Today, the Chargemap Pass is compatible with more than 100,000 charging points across Europe.

You’ve got the message – the golden rule to getting the most out of your plug-in hybrid is to use the all-electric mode whenever you can. There’s no secret behind this – your vehicle simply has to be charged on a regular basis. This implies that you need to take on board new reflexes and look into the most sustainable, economical operating mode for you: at home, at work, on the public infrastructures or a mixed bag of solutions.

Plug-in hybrids may not be the perfect solution, but when they’re used intelligently, they nonetheless represent a step in the direction of zero-emission driving at a time when it has never been so crucial to reduce our carbon footprint. Who knows, once you have mastered charging your PHEV on the public networks, you may be ready to go 100% electric… 

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20 November 2020 17 h 17 min

Hybrids are stupid – plug-in hybrids only slightly less so. Because it cumulates the problems of both power trains, and barely covers their strengths.
Why is it stupid? Because you need to have 2 separate traction systems, while ever only needing one at a time.
BMW’s system of a gas-powered range extender is much better : you have one gas-powered power plant running at its most efficient rate producing electricity at a constant rate; no transmission, no need for high torque at low RPM, no gearbox. You get extended range with easy fill-up on the way, yet you can use it as a pure EV all the time. The battery gets charged when your power needs are lower than the range extender’s, or it’s used to provide the extra oomph when more is needed.
If only it weren’t so expensive and of such low quality… But, well, that’s BMW for you : the only thing bigger than the prestige of owning one is the bill you get after repairs.

Tamas Nietsch
Tamas Nietsch
21 November 2020 21 h 14 min
Reply to  Mitch074

In most of the cases critics about PHEV come from those persons who have not seen such cars closer than 100 metres. I have been driving my Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV for almost 3 years. I have my charging point in the garage where I live and another charging point in the garage where our family company has its business. Whenever possible, I charge my PHEV as well as in the town, when the distance of my trip is longer than the car’s only electric capacity – I do not charge only if a charging point is not available in about 10 minutes walk distance. On the other hand I cover my long distance trips within the country with the help of a modern, up-to-date petrol engine. My full electric consumption covers well over 50% of the distance which I have driven with this car – I have detailed statistics on my records. PHEV is a viable solution today from every aspect. I have a car which does not pollute the town with busy traffic, lots of traffic jams, at the same time it is a full size one with enough space for our family needs, including the space for luggages during our regular travels when Covid allows us to travel at all. All in one, you should not call something stupid if you do not know anything about it.

23 November 2020 13 h 57 min
Reply to  Tamas Nietsch

Yeah – “most”. Except I have several colleagues with different EVs (so I’m not the only one), one with a BMW i3 with the range extender, and one with a PHEV – we did spend hours discussing our vehicles, advantages and drawbacks, we’ve all been driving our vehicles for years… and he agrees with me. So does the guy with the i3 (good idea, but the bill when the charge computer fried was mind-boggingly huge considering the vehicle was barely 2 years old, and the insurance tried to weasel out of paying for it).
So I stand by my conclusion : EVs are nice when you don’t need the range, a range extender is a nice option provided it’s done well when you do, and hybrids are a fake ‘good idea’.

20 November 2020 17 h 31 min

The answer is absolutely yes … with my bmw 225xe I traveled 32,470 km, of which electric 20,233 km. savings of 1010 liters of fuel. It seems to me not bad!

20 November 2020 19 h 05 min

Does all of this take into account the cost and weight of the battery, which is greater for EVs than for PHEVs?

23 November 2020 13 h 12 min

Doesn’t that in turn assume an abundant renewable energy supply and longer journey distances? Is it correct to say that EVs always have a smaller carbon footprint once they’re on the road?

21 April 2021 13 h 20 min

I think you are right according to my experience on plug-in for hybrid electric vehicles.

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