Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A brief thought.

Lyn Cockburn had a great editorial in the Sun yesterday, about California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. How he has actually impressed people since taking over that state, and how he is so far ahead of Canada in terms of environmental responsibility. Her main point was one I've been wondering about for a long time. Why don't we have electric cars? The technology was always there. The electric car was actually built years ago, then destroyed and covered up - there's a terrific documentary about it called Who Killed The Electric Car? that's well worth watching. But there ARE electric cars. In California. Cockburn's column came on the heels of a "big fat" California tax break to Tesla Motors, to keep the company in the state. Tesla manufactures an electric car. One that apparently costs 60 grand, but one that goes 360 km between chargings. And uses...NO gas. So, how come we don't hear about this one all the time? How come we don't see these all over the road? At 60 grand, these would be a bargain for any of us looking to buy a new car, right?

Well, no. The Canadian government has had a real problem with electric cars, and it's virtually impossible to get one and to drive one here in Canada. We even manufacture one, in Quebec, but can't drive it. (A much cheaper one with a lower top speed and less range.) And why? Why can't the government do the obvious, easy thing and make it legal across the board in Canada? More to the point, why aren't these being pushed and promoted all across the country? And why are they being manufactured only by specialty companies like Tesla and Zenn, and not by the big ones? Like GM? Or Ford? With auto plants closed all over the place, perhaps they could be put to good use? Or are these companies incapable of admitting they made a mistake when they got rid of the electric cars years ago? Is that really what it is, that they're too ashamed to bring back their old technology? Because otherwise, it doesn't seem to make much sense to me.

Anyway - great column from Lyn Cockburn. And for another great column, you Steely Dan lovers who have been sending me so many angry emails - check out Dennis Armstrong's review of the same Bluesfest show - http://www.ottawasun.com/Showbiz/Columnists/Armstrong_Denis/2008/07/06/6077666-sun.html - apparently I wasn't the only one who thought they sucked.


  1. Just so you know, there isn't any difference between the carbon footprint of an electric car vs. a gas one. Just in case it makes anyone feel any better about not having electric cars. (The same goes for hybrids) It takes a certain amount of energy to get you and your car to work and so far all that energy comes from sources that are harmful to our environment. If you want to help, its as easy as slowing down your driving, your car can go twice as far on a tank of gas if you just SLOW DOWN.


  2. How? How is the carbon footprint exactly the same with an electric car rather than a gas-powered car? I've heard people say this but I've never seen any actual stats, and the ones I've seen are a pretty big stretch. Even if it's true, what's the idea? We just keep driving our regular gas powered cars slower until the powers that be come up with alternative fuels and energy sources? Judging by the latest to come out of the G8, that suggests that Stephen Harper, and by extension Canada, is an "obstacle" to progress in the environmental arena, we just keep driving gas-powered cars until 2060? I go 90 km/h into work every day, and home every day, because I know it saves on gas. But I'd sure feel better doing it in an electric car.

  3. That argument keeps getting trotted out and is true ONLY if your electricity is generated by equally carbon-generated methods.

    For example, if you live in an area where you electricty is generated by older-generation coal or oil-powered generators.

    In that case, you also have to assume that the plant has third-world quality lack of polution controls, and ignore the amount of fuel wasted while your car idles.

    In other words - it's a crock of sh*t.

    Especially in Ontario where, for example, the Ontario Power Generation Corp produced only 29 TeraWatt Hours of electricity via fossil fuel burning plants, but a combined 76 TWh through hydro-electric, wind, solar and nuclear generation.

    Yes, it takes a certain amount of energy to get you from point a to point b. But if you ain't wasting energy idling, and your source comes from about 70% clean generation, and the other 30% comes from a plant with lower emmisions per watt generated than a normal car's tailpipe - then you HAVE reduced your carbon footprint.

    And you can still slow down and reduce it even further.


  4. The Big 3 would never admit to mistakes. And they'll never produce electric cars. That would mean we wouldn't need to replace our car parts whenever they break.

  5. Well, there is truth to both arguments. Generation of electricity has traditionally been pretty "dirty". And all of a sudden even the environmentalists are calling nuclear "clean". Anyway, there have been hundreds of types of electric cars, but no one would buy them. The range has always been the issue. Only now is battery technology making range acceptable for most folks. There was no conspiracy. Now tell me if you think the current electric infrastructure in any country could support a rapid switch to electric cars. You can't just start plugging them in you know.

  6. No, clearly we have capacity issues on the grid. If everyone bought electric cars tomorrow, we'd have a blackout that would make that one a few summers ago seem like a picnic.

    That is where the hybrids, at least, have a certain advantage. They are a closed-loop system that charges the batteries by reclaiming energy during braking. In a gas car, braking is a mechanical process of wasting perfectly good built-up kinetic energy.

    In this regard, they lower the carbon footprint without moving the energy generation onto the grid.

    A small step in the right direction at least. And as long as "dirty" energy generation is still "cleaner" than your tailpipe - it's still a net gain.

    But yes, we need a more drastic shift into tapping other renewables sources for the grid before the electric car can really be deemed to be a green solution.

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  8. It seems to me that even if the only way we were getting electricity was from the dirtiest methods, it would still be cleaner and more efficient than a car's engine. And although switching every single car on the road to electric overnight certainly wouldn't work, that isn't likely to happen anyway, is it? California has more electric cars per capita than anywhere else in the world, and they seem to be doing OK - and that's a state that has had some serious electricity problems in the past decade - all those brownouts and blackouts - thanks Enron!

  9. Gas engines are about 25% efficient - they lose energy in the form of heat - while electric motors are about 95% efficient. That's quite a difference.

    If there was an affordable elctric car on the market today that could do the 50 km return trip to work, I'd seriously consider it. In fact, there's an electric vehicle club in Ottawa where people have built their own EVs.

  10. Electric motors are efficient. But getting the electricity to that motor is not near as efficient. Pushing electricity any distance over a wire creates loss. And batteries are certainly not efficient. They are getting better, but thats the breakthrough thats needed. But electricty is dirtier to produce. Both in terms of CO2 and worse pollution. Dust to dust (from the time the materials are mined to the time they return to the earth), a Hummer creates less CO2 and uses less energy than a Prius. Anyway, food for thought. There is no single answer. Maybe electric is not the best choice now but will be after 10 or 20 years of development. I'd like to see effort go into making traffic flow more freely. Now they seem to intentionally slow and stop traffic constantly to prevent people from driving too fast. Thats probably 15-20 reduction right there.

  11. I think electric cars would be great for cities like Ottawa. Not necessarily the suburbs, where morons have to drive 20km/h over the limit in case they, god forbid, miss out on their Tims coffee. But surely there is a market for people in more central areas or even inner city (is that still a negative word?) dwellers who don't need to go more than 50km/h and only drive 50kms a week. Hell, this must be better than suffering OC Transpo.