Electric avenue | Environment | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Electric avenue

This year Canada expects its first mass-produced electric car, but will we be exchanging tail-pipe emissions for more smokestacks?

Electric avenue
Here in my (electric) car. The Nissan Leaf is fully electric.

When it launches later this year, the Nissan Leaf will be the first automobile in Nova Scotia to not require an internal combustion engine. Even fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles---the Toyota Prius and GM’s Chevrolet Volt---require at least some gasoline to run.

The Leaf, however, is completely electric. From the motor, to the air conditioning and the audio system, everything in the car depends on its lithium ion battery pack. The vehicle has no tailpipe.

But this car does have its limits. A fully charged battery gets you about 160 kilometres in perfect conditions. Instead of a fuel gauge you’re going to be looking at a battery range metre---how long you have left to reach a charger.

Many car critics have brought up “range anxiety” as one downside, which is mainly due to the fact that the charging infrastructure is not yet in place. Ian Forsyth, director of Corporate and Product Planning with Nissan Canada, says most Canadians will not have to worry about battery range: “Ninety percent of Canadians commute less than 100 kilometres a day. We don’t foresee that as an issue.”

Forsyth says that businesses and public areas are going to need charging stations. “Infrastructure support incorporates a lot of things,” he says. “One of those things is that the local bylaws and regulations allow very easy installation of what we call ‘the electric vehicle supply equipment’ in homes or offices. It’s not just public charging stations. Those are useful obviously, but one of the key issues is that you’re permitting---or local bylaws allow---for example, a 240 volt supply line to be put into a garage.”

Not everyone is excited about electric vehicles in Nova Scotia, not while we’re still using coal fired power plants to juice them up.

“If a lot of people buy this thing, it could represent a significant increase in demand on the electric grid,” says Scott Gillard, a member of the Ecology Action Centre’s Transportation Issues Committee. “That is support for a call for a new coal-fired plant.”

If the Leaf or other electric vehicles are widely used in Nova Scotia, it could present major problems for our power grid, explains Gillard--- we could see a situation akin to California’s rolling blackouts.

Nissan’s Forsyth considers that a grim assessment. “It’s unfortunate they feel that way because I’m not sure then what the solution is,” Forsyth says. “This is a zero-emission mobility solution. At the point of mobility, there is zero emissions. So if they can’t support it then, well I guess it’s lovely, they’re going to support Internal Combustion Engines and that’s fine. We’re quite happy to sell ICE’s; we’ve got no problem with that.”

David Swan is an engineer with DHS Engineering and has been working with renewable resources and electric vehicles for over 20 years. He says that Nova Scotia generates plenty of energy to supply a fleet of electric vehicles. “Look at the future,” Swan says. “The direction of where the grid is going versus oil. Oil refining is taking place off-shore, it’s no longer crude, it’s heavy crude and it’s tar sands oil. Yes I agree we shouldn’t put to much demand on our grid, but it can be used to displace something that’s worse, like fossil fuels.”  

Swan says if the province increases its use of renewable energy, it will save us money as taxpayers and consumers. But even now, with using coal, switching to electric vehicles “will either break even or be an improvement in terms of emissions. No question.”

The price of fossil fuels will only go up. But if we can harness renewable energy, it effectively kills two polluting birds with one stone, Swan says. No more coal in our lungs, and no more gasoline being burned in our cars. In order for electric vehicles to be a success, we need a clean and efficient electric grid to go along with them.

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