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Electric Cars

Are electric cars really better for our environment?


     Here we are almost in the middle of summer and the dog days of August are approaching. I can’t help but think of a steamy hot summer day in the future when the majority of people will be driving electric cars. They all start coming home from work around 4 to 5 pm and as they put their cars into the garage and plug them in, the electric power grid is overwhelmed and the city goes black.

Although none of us want to deplete the fossil fuels from this earth, we have to realize that the sources of electric power, in many cases coal, are just as hazardous to our planet as oil.

About 4 years ago, just when the hype about electric cars was revving up, Dalton McGuinty was one of the first Canadian politicians to jump on board. The former Ontario premier stood next to the charismatic Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi, who envisioned making battery charging and switching stations as ubiquitous as gas stations. Dalton McGuinty was so excited he put up a million dollars for a demonstration project in Ontario.

A year later he was still a believer and took a trip to Israel to test drive one of Mr. Agassi’s electric cars. As he drove one of the electric Renaults around the country, Mr.McGuinty predicted that the majority of cars on the road by 2020 would be electric and that it would be a great boost to the environment.

Last fall, after charming politicians on several continents, Mr.Agassi was ousted from the company he founded, Tel Aviv based Better Place. After losing almost $500 million (U.S.), the firm just announced that it’s pulling out of every global market except Israel and Denmark, leaving a trail of unused charging stations to gather dust from Australia to Hawaii.

Personally I am very sceptical about electric cars simply because it is the nature of industry to make the maximum profit while utilizing the lowest costs and so far oil is the cheapest way to go and we keep on finding more and more ways to extract it from the ground. But politicians keep moving forward either because they believe in the new technology or because they think it will please the public and help them get re-elected because they seem to care more about the planet.

Environment sceptic Bjorn Lomborg says that the carbon produced to build an electric car, which involves lithium mining and battery manufacturing, is double the amount generated in making a conventional car. Over 80,000 kilometers, both cars spew the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere. And if the electric vehicle is charged with coal based power (which will happen in China for sure), its carbon profile is worse.

Yet, here in Ontario you can still get a rebate of as much as $8500 on the purchase of an electric vehicle, subsidizing Teslas for those well-heeled sports car lovers who have $100,000 to spend. There is also a $1000 rebate here in Ontario on the installation of a home or business charging station. Some restaurants, eager to look green are installing chargers in their parking lots and Tim Horton’s just put up an outlet in one of their Oakville locations.

The Ontario government still is hoping for 5 per cent of all vehicles to be electric by the year 2020. But the new premier may not be as forceful as Dalton McGuinty especially after the scandal of the coal fired gas plants.

The fact is that at the present time electric vehicles accounted for 0.1 per cent of all Canadian car sales in 2012 according to Green Car Reports. The proportion is even lower in Ontario, since more than half of electric vehicle sales occurred in Quebec, which also offers an $8500 rebate. In total there are less than 3000 electric vehicles on Canadian roads.

It makes sense to me. My biggest fear would be losing the charge in the battery and not finding a charging unit. Or even if you did find one, how many hours  would it take to charge up your car? Electric cars have no pickup unless you buy a Tesla and they cost a lot more than conventional cars.

In Europe they have it right in my opinion. The majority of cars are small 4 cylinder diesel-fueled with turbochargers to increase speed and acceleration. Many of these cars get more than 1000 kilometers on a tank of gas and the fuel is readily available. Not only that, diesel cars require much less maintenance than conventional automobiles.

Now that the electric car sales are waning, there has been more interest in hydrogen fuel cells and compressed natural gas. If we switched completely to compressed natural gas in North America, we have enough to supply all our automobiles and would never have to import oil again. But, once again, we have learned how to make our cars really good at good prices and any new alternatively fueled car would be a lot more expensive. The truth is that as much as we say we want to help the environment, when it comes to paying more for a car the majority of us will revert to the cheaper car and say heck to the environment.

Some day in the future another man or woman with the foresight of a Steve Jobs may come along and invent an entirely new form of transportation that may not even be a car as we know it and this may be the future.