Addressing climate change: Emissions from transportation ~ Hugh Holland

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In the early 1900s, transportation produced a different kind of pollution. Cities wallowed in massive amounts of horse manure and urine. In both 2010 and 2017, 24 per cent of Canada’s total carbon emissions came from transportation, compared to 14 per cent globally. There are reasons for that. Canada is a big, cold country. We drive farther and in colder weather than people in most other countries.


49 per cent of our emissions from transportation come from passenger cars and light duty trucks, 34 per cent from heavy trucks, and the other 17 per cent comes from air, rail, marine and other.

Canada’s most immediate goal is to reduce our total carbon emissions by 30 per cent from 2010 to 2030. What can we average Canadians do to reduce today’s emissions from transportation? We can use public transportation more often, although the economics of that are also affected by our vast geography. We can do ride-sharing. We can plan our trips more efficiently to avoid making two trips when one would do. We can buy a hybrid vehicle that will decrease emissions by 33 per cent, or we can buy an electric vehicle that will decrease emissions by 100 per cent.

Here is a comparison of three types of vehicles (Cost and range data from Natural Resources Canada).


2019 EV (electric vehicle) sales remain under two per cent of total sales due to price, range anxiety (charging convenience, charging time and cold weather performance). According to Bloomberg Finance, EVs are expected to reach price parity with ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles by the mid 2020s due to dramatic reductions in battery cost. As a result, global EV sales are expected to equal ICE sales by 2040. Electricity costs for EVs are about 70 per cent lower than gasoline costs for regular vehicles, and Ontario has plenty of clean electricity for EVs. Some tax will have to be shifted to pay for road maintenance.

All vehicles have reduced fuel economy and shorter range in cold weather because of increased mechanical friction and rolling resistance of the tires. But range is further reduced by electric heaters and defrosters in electric vehicles. When buying an EV for cold weather locations, Consumers Report recommends buying an EV with double the range needed for normal use. (I.e. buying a Chevrolet Bolt instead of a Nissan Leaf) since you get 60 per cent more cold weather range for eight per cent more price. But if your daily commute is 88 km to Bracebridge, a Nissan Leaf would work fine with an energy cost of $2.13 per day.

The cost of motor and brake maintenance for an EV is much lower than the cost of engine, transmission and brake maintenance on a gas-powered vehicle. Currently the cost of owning an EV breaks even with an ICE vehicle after eight years. But EVs are expected to have an overall cost advantage by the mid 2020s.

The key to increasing the penetration of zero-emission electric vehicles is the building of convenient universal charging infrastructure. The latest models can take an 80 per cent charge in 40 minutes. Most private and business owners will purchase an EV with batteries sized for the required daily range and will charge them once a day at home base during off-peak (low cost) hours. But additional convenient charging will be needed at shopping malls, hotels, public parking areas and highway service centers.

Tesla is building an extensive charging network with 5,000 stations in North America. There are also 2,200 universal charging stations providing coverage in most Canadian cities and on the Trans-Canada Highway. All the above can be located on Natural Resources Canada and the CAA websites.

Natural Resources Canada endorses the Energy Star-labelled universal chargers. As was done for the 400-series highways and the US interstate highways, each province and state must engage the best available experts to develop a master plan for a universal charging network and then engage the private sector in financing, engineering, building, operating and maintaining the public parts of the network.

China is building the world’s broadest coverage with 167,000 EV charging stations connected to the state grid with the most advanced technology. They planned for five kilometers between suburban charging stations and one kilometer between urban stations. China diverted half the funds from their EV purchase incentive program to fund the charging network. Ironically, while every auto company in the world is moving as fast as possible to electric vehicles, the Ford government cancelled incentive programs for EV charging stations along with EV the purchase rebate.

The transition from horse-drawn transportation and horse feeding stations to internal combustion engines and gas stations took 50 years. But electric vehicles and equipment are coming on much faster. Heavy truck and bus manufacturers are now testing electric versions with range up to 200 kilometers.

To avoid the worst effects of the climate “crisis”, the transition from oil-powered to electric vehicles must be 50 per cent done in 20 years and 80 per cent done in 30 years. Air, rail and marine transport and the 20 per cent of light vehicles that operate in remote and extreme-cold weather service will continue to use petroleum fuels for much longer. Hopefully, the transition to electric vehicles and equipment can be done before the world’s proven reserves of oil have been depleted. A global energy shortage on top of a climate crisis would be even more catastrophic.

This is the first of a four-part series focusing on SOLUTIONS that Canada could adopt to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change. 

Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.

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8 Comments

  1. As yet I have never heard of just how we are going to generate all the power needed to recharge all these electric cars and I can see the people from Toronto stopping one or two times on a fri night on there way up north to charge there car. There is a lot to think about before we jump into all these electric cars.

    • Hugh Holland on

      Ray as the article says, most EVs will be charged at home base when demand is lower and hydro electricity is currently being dumped. Most EVs can easily make it from Toronto to Muskoka or vice versa, even in winter.

  2. EV cars are not zero output they just move the point of polution from where the vehicle is to where the power is generated. Range is a big problem for anyone rural. The low end nissan leaf was rated at 100 miles under optimum conditions, but in the cold of january and february can be down to 30 percent according to auto writers and take 12 to 16 hours to recharge is not plugged in to a super charging system. Plan your life around the charging stations. If electric vehicles are so great you should not need tax dollars to get people to by them. Tesla it is noted puts in charging station on their dime, not the tax payers, as other manufacturers want done

  3. Paul Whillans on

    Hugh, I appreciate your highlighting the issue. While you would think that the large land mass and cold temperatures are the main reasons for Canadians being the most polluting country per capita…..But it turns out that it is even more odious (and presumably soluble) Canadians generate the highest CO2 levels per km driven in the world (rights ahead of those “entitled” Americans)….according to research by Blake Shaffer, PhD, University of Calgary. Specifically, Canadians chose SUV’s and trucks over light fuel efficient vehicle (Just look around Huntsville). If every there was a reason for a 4 cent per litre disincentive on fuel, this would be it. There is no reason why Canadians need more heavy personal vehicles than Russia; Sweden; Norway; Finland etc.

  4. After the federal rebate, the capital cost of EV’s are $17,000 or $18,000 more than the conventional vehicles in the chart above. Using data in the chart, fuel and maintenance savings for the EV’s are $1000 to $1550 over conventional vehicles. However, the loss of investment income on the additional cost of the EV’s ($18,000 @ 4%), and the unpredictable battery life, limited drive time, lack of charging infrastructure away from home and poor serviceability in cold weather currently makes them unattractive in my view.

    • Hugh Holland on

      Peter, you are right, but all of those negative factors are rapidly changing and as the article says, EVs are expected to reach price parity and have an overall advantage vs conventional vehicles by the mid 2020s.

  5. Roger Poirier on

    Where do the millions of batteries eventually go? Why would a farmer want an electric truck when its in constant use? Who pays for upgrading hydro in commercial establishments? Condos, apartment buildings, farms etc. What happens to windmills and solar farms (I have one) after the FIT contract expires? Why are the politicians flying around this vast country polluting the air at 98kg per passenger? A better catalytic converter, jet engines etc?
    There’s no pat answer.

  6. Hugh Holland on

    Roger, the materials from batteries and electric motors from EVs will be recycled the same as materials from today’s motors and transmissions are recycled. As for farmers, they sleep too and would change their equipment at night when power demand and prices are lower. We all pay for electricity infrastructure to be replaced periodically. With good planning it can be replaced with the latest version without adding too much to the cost.

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