In mid-September, Harvey Soicher earned a spot on the CTV National News by driving his electric vehicle (EV) from St John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, B.C., in less than five days.
His co-pilot, Kent Rathwell, is CEO of one of the companies that installed EV chargers at stations along the Trans-Canada Highway. Rathwell’s knowledge of the EV charger infrastructure map, would be — other EV drivers say — a great advantage.
In fact, finding a place to re-charge was a major concern for retired Unitarian minister Frances Deverell and her husband Ron Wilson last July, when they drove their EV 2700 km from Nanaimo, B.C. to Eagle Lake, Ontario, in the Haliburton Hills.
“Why is the charger station the best kept secret in every town?” Deverell wailed on her blog, “Range Anxiety.”
Electric vehicles are mostly city run-abouts, usually recharged at home by plugging them into regular outlets overnight. When travelling, however, after about 320 km, the car runs out of energy, and can’t travel any farther until it’s re-charged, preferably by a fast electric re-charger (which looks like a stove cable). A full re-charge to about 80 per cent of the car’s battery usually takes about 30 minutes.
Fill-ups are cheap; Deverell and Wilson usually pay $15 to $20 per stop, or $211 in fuel costs for the whole Nanaimo-Haliburton trip — compared to the $1000 they paid for gas on the same trip with their previous car. Soicher paid a total of $400 in fuel costs to travel across Canada’s breadth, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
Even without all the infrastructure in place, EVs are about to benefit from a big push to get urban transportation (especially) off fossil fuels. The federal government has accelerated deadlines for business and passenger vehicles alike to transition away from gas-burning trucks and cars, and towards “Zero Emission Vehicles” (ZEVs), a category which right now includes electric vehicles, hybrids and hydrogen cell cars. In fact, by 2035, manufacturers will be prohibited to make or sell new gas-burning trucks and cars.
Predictably, fossil fuel industries have responded with their own demands and campaigns. POLITICO reported in 2019 that, “Groups backed by industry giants like Exxon Mobil and the Koch empire are waging a state-by-state, multimillion-dollar battle to squelch utilities’ plans to build charging stations across the [U.S].”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030. Switching all road transportation to ZEVs would take Canada more than halfway to that goal.
“Transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada,” according to Transport Canada, “accounting for a quarter of Canada’s total GHG emissions, with almost half of these emissions coming from cars and light trucks.” Worse, transportation emissions increased 54 per cent between 1990 and 2018, while other sector emissions have decreased.
“Smog” is another name for emissions. Smog and dirty air affect human health, as well as causing climate change. “Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year,” the World Health Organization (WHO) reported last week: “WHO data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants, with low-and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures.”
In Canada, “Cutting our transportation emissions is one of the most readily achievable and economically beneficial paths Canada can take on the road to net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson.
“We’re investing in consumer rebates, charging stations, business tax breaks and industry transition costs,” he said “to make the shift to zero-emission vehicles as seamless as possible for drivers, workers and entrepreneurs.”
Automakers also are ready for the change. Motortrend Magazine‘s survey of 65 auto companies globally, from Audi and BMW to Volkswagen and Volvo, found that all but two carmakers have plans to make EVs, have developments in the works, or are actually producing and selling EVs — including several brand new companies. Major league carmakers Ford and Audi are already airing EV ads on television.
Federal and most provincial governments are offering to share the cost of changing over. Buying an EV in Canada could bring a cash rebate of up to $5,000 from the government of Canada, plus a similar provincial rebate if you live in B.C., Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and Newfoundland — but not the three oil-producing prairie provinces.
Public transit buses, along with commercial and delivery vehicles, will be among the first to become electrified. Last March, the federal government announced an eight-year $14.9 billion program to help municipalities convert their transit vehicles to EVs, including buying 5,000 ZEV buses over the next five years.
For years, Energi-Media publisher and editor Markham Hislop has been expecting EV sales to take off in a hockey stick curve. He has said that electric vehicles are ready to revolutionize transportation during the 2020s because they are more efficient, lower-cost and far less polluting. Also, the cars themselves are fun to drive.
“An EV has way more torque [than a gas-burning car] and they actually handle pretty well,” he said. In addition, “EV s are [also] cheaper to drive, and the more you drive the cheaper they get.”
Deverell echoed that EVs are fun to drive. “I have not talked with an EV owner who does not love to drive their car,” she wrote. “EV’s are peppy. They are responsive. They have extremely good handling and control. They are a delight, and they have the added advantage that they cost very little to service and maintain.”
A recent Consumer Reports article confirmed EV’s low maintenance costs. With a huge battery pack instead of an internal combustion engine, CR reported, EVs typically cost about half as much for repairs and maintenance as gas-burning cars.
EVs do have drawbacks, such as their silent operation. Pedestrians can’t hear them coming. Also, everything affects their mileage, from outside temperatures to running the windshield wipers. Of course, we can expect EVs to overcome some limitations as they evolve. And, new ZEVs may emerge in the future.
Meanwhile, EVs are the tools we have now. Taking gas-burners off Canada’s roads as soon as possible will significantly improve the world’s chance to avoid the worst of the growing climate crisis. Cities are re-configuring their streets to encourage bicycles, scooters, and other non-vehicular traffic. And for the next few years, governments and car manufacturers are going to do everything they can to persuade car owners that EVs are the vehicles for them.
Award-winning author and journalist Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local column in Calgary for four years. She was editor of Straightgoods.com from 2004-2013