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Nov
23 2011

I Love My New Battery-Powered Car

Syndicated from: Steve Paikin

How mad do you get when you drive by a gas station and see what’s happened to prices over the past few years?   I used to.   But not anymore. And here’s why.   Several months ago, when The Agenda was doing a program at the Canadian National Exhibition, I stumbled upon some folks from General Motors and the environmental group, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, who were test driving a new battery-powered car.     The car was the Chevy Volt, and someone asked me if I wanted to test drive one. Having a few minutes to spare before I needed to be on set, I agreed.     Plain and simply, I was blown away by the Volt. I loved the fact that it drove so quietly, had plenty of pep, looked nice, and seemed plenty roomy for a guy who's 6'2" tall.     I also loved the fact that it operated solely on battery power for the first 60 km, then automatically kicked over to a regular, gas-burning internal combustion engine.     Their timing was good. I'd been thinking about getting a new car, and trying to find a way to pollute less.  But would the Volt really be any different?     I decided to take the plunge and buy one, to find out for myself. With my trade in, plus an $8200 rebate from the Government of Ontario to encourage the purchase of non-fossil fuel burning vehicles, it made the purchase much more affordable.     I've now had my Volt for seven weeks and you know what?  I haven't visited a gas station once.   Not once.   It seems my driving patterns are perfect for this new car, since 95% of my driving is less than 60 km a day. In fact, I've only burned gas once in all that time --- to visit my hometown of Hamilton, a trip of obviously more than 60 km. But still, I didn't use nearly as much gas as I might have because most of the way there was covered by battery power.     Are there savings with a Volt?  So far, it seems yes.  I've stopped paying $75 a week for gas, and instead, pay $1 a night for electricity.  That's right. It costs a buck to recharge the battery overnight.   Is The Volt a perfect car?  No, it isn’t. Now that the weather is getting colder, I’ve noticed its battery is like any ordinary battery --- it doesn’t perform quite as well.  Now an overnight charge seems to be good for 50 km. And, of course, as I use the heater more often, the battery drains faster.   There was also this development, which raises some questions about how perfected battery-powered technology is.   But bigger questions abound.  The implications of this kind of car catching on are massive.   If the majority of Ontarians were to drive battery powered cars, we'd certainly as individuals  pollute less.  But presumably we'd all be using a lot more electricity.  Does the province have enough capacity to handle that many more electricity users?  And, let’s say in other jurisdictions, if that electricity were generated through coal fired generating stations, we really wouldn't be any further ahead, would we?     In Ontario, however, we are shutting down coal plants. More than half of our energy mix is nuclear, which doesn't put any smoke up a stack (although nuclear, of course, has other problems).  Ontario, as the last election campaign proved, also appears to be doubling down on renewable energy (hydro, solar, wind, etc.), which is clean and green. It's reasonable to assume as green power takes up an increasing part of the mix, that more battery powered cars on the road won't have much adverse affect on our environment.     Just for the record, no one at General Motors knows I'm writing this. I'm not receiving any benefit from GM for writing this. Same for the Government of Ontario, whose policy to offer a rebate for the battery-powered car I neither endorse nor reject. The policy exists, so I took advantage of it.  These are simply the musings of a guy who, at the moment, is very happy with his purchase, mostly because every time I drive past a gas station, I smile.   Other Views:   This comment comes via Bernard Fleet, Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University –Faculty  of Environmental Applied Science &  Management   I have published a number of reports on Electric Vehicles (EVs) - for the federal government (lead author on Roadmap study,) for Ontario - Ministry of Economic Devt and Trade (strategies for developing an EV industry in Ontario) and I also teach a graduate course at Ryerson on "Our Energy Future and the transition to the low carbon economy. The problem with EVs as you are well aware is the high cost of the battery and the real question is where battery prices will level out as economies of scale kick-in and the Chinese, as they are doing, become a big player. This battery cost will be offset against the increasing cost of gasoline as Peak Oil kicks in.    There are other economic factors - like all EV components are only low volume which adds to cost.  But two points - when we look at 10-year cost of ownership - EVs - pure battery, better than hybrids come out better than internal combustion vehicles.  Also, we need to get off oil to reduce GHG emissions and meet our Kyoto targets.    As for technology and markets - it is a rapidly moving target.  Lithium batteries seem to be the way ahead - fuel cells are dead, also industry needs to freeze a design - in order to bring it to full production.  Market forecasts of predicted rate of EV uptake are all over the map - depends on assumptions, oil prices, level of government subsidy etc, etc.  But bottom line is that in order to meet Kyoto (80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050) - this means to me (apart from the extra 3 billion population plus another billion in India, China etc that want to drive a car)  - that the vehicle mix in 2050 will be 80% zero emission (EVs powered by renewables) and the balance may be high-efficiency ICEs powered by hydrogen (from new solar cells) or biofuels?  

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