This to me, this LEAF electric car ad (vs plugin hybrid VOLT) is funny in a kinda ironic/steampunk kinda way, I think because it is truth-telling the degree to which we take our extreme energy use — and I am certainly include myself in the “extreme” category — for granted. If our appliances were blowing smoke in our faces, we’d maybe think twice. (One would like to think!)
The other thing is that, for major uses (like home heating, cars) it is not actually a total no-brainer that electricity is going to be better than the gas/fossil fuels. That’s because it depends on 2 things 1) the efficiency of how electricity is made and 2) the efficiency of how the fossil fuels can deliver power right at the source)
So with home heating, one can get 90%+ efficient boilers/furnaces. It’s not quite as simple as that, for a variety of reasons which Marc touches on a bit here, but still 90% is a high bar when one considers that the power plant is only 33% efficient at making electricity. So if you have a air-source heat pump operating at roughly 3 COP than that undoes the 33%.
Anyway, back to cars. With electric cars the equation apparently works out quite well because the internal-combustion engine is NOT efficient, so even with 100% coal powering your electric car, one comes out ahead in both carbon and dollars. The 2011 Solar Today article on hybrids and electric cars … and spreadsheet tries to explain this, but there is a bit too much there to follow quickly.