Why Should Cities Embrace
Electric Drive and Tools?
Last updated 2008.07.10
Good question. Why should you spend taxpayer money on vehicles
with limited range and tools that need recharging?
Municipal Organizational Benefits
Electric tools and vehicles can be used on low air quality days
when devices powered by gasoline or diesel should not be used.
The municipality can be seen as an innovative organization
making the health and comfort of its residents and staff a priority, and showing residents that EVs work.
The same electric tool or vehicle can be used indoors as well as
outdoors, potentially reducing tool inventory.
Aggressive (expensive) forced air circulation and ventilation
is not required when electric tools and vehicles are used in
enclosed areas, unlike gasoline and diesel engines which produce
noxious exhaust gases and particulates.
If your municipality has a carbon or greenhouse-gas reduction plan
or target, switching to electric vehicles and tools can be a major
step forward in reaching greenhouse-gas reduction targets.
If your municipality is trying to encourage residents to use public transit to help reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions, low-cost, low-speed electric vehicles can help address the "last mile" issue that is a barrier to many people using public transit, especially if combined with park-and-ride depots that provide regular electrical outlets so the vehicles can be recharged while parked. This permits residents to run individual daily errands (e.g., dropping off and picking up children at day-care, picking up incidental items at the store) as part of their trip to and from the transit depot. Such EVs could include electric power-assist bicycles (PABs), electric limited-speed motorcycles (LSMs), low-speed electric vehicles (LSVs, when permitted by the provinces), city-class electric cars (capable of speeds up to 80 km/h, but not intended for highway use), and highway capable electric cars, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).
If your municipality provides health care services (e.g., fire department first responders, paramedics, ambulance service, clinics, hospitals, urgent care transport to larger medical centres), electric vehicles will improve air quality, resulting in fewer cases of respiratory distress and therefore in related emergency services call-outs and health-care provider visits. The Ontario Medical Association says that air pollution causes 9,500 premature deaths a year in Ontario. Vehicle emissions are a key contributor to poor air quality, especially in urban areas.
And in the summer of 2008, there is the matter of those soaring
fuel bills. Switching to electricity and charging at
institutional rates, especially at off-peak times, will bring a lot
of relief from soaring gasoline and diesel prices ($1.35 and $1.48
per litre respectively on June 6, 2008).
Employees benefit from electric tools, because they are quiet
(no hearing protection required), and do not spew
carcinogenic, toxic fumes. Especially noticeable in applications
like chain-saws, pole-saws, lawn mowers and line trimmers
Reduced burn hazards from hot engine surfaces and flammable
Reduced heat in the working environment as electric motors
produce much less waste heat than gasoline or diesel engines.
In fleet use where both electric and gasoline vehicles have been
available (e.g., United States Postal Service), employees have
jockeyed to get to use the electric vehicles in preference to the
Benefits for Residents
Noisy engines are removed which
improves the urban soundscape.
The removal of polluting engines improves air quality. The worst air quality areas in Canada are in our urban centres, primarily because that's where most of our gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles operate, and idle at traffic lights and when caught in traffic tie-ups. Moving even a portion of the urban fleet (not just municipal vehicles) to reduced and zero-emissions vehicles will result in improved air quality in municipalities - where over 80% of Canadians live.
Reduced fuel handling leads to reduced gaoline and oil spills,
improving soil and water quality.
Using more efficient electric tools and vehicles produces less
waste heat, thus reducing the urban heat island effect on summer
afternoons, reducing demand for air conditioning (and strain on local distribution grids).
Reduced operating and maintenance costs reduce strain on municipal
budgets, and reduce property tax bills.
Canada imports a lot of the oil used here, while electricity used
here is generally made in Canada, possibly creating employment for
Addressing Perceived Issues
While electric vehicles and tools introduce different hazards, in
general they are safer than gasoline engines. Flammability and burns
from hot parts risks are reduced. With low voltage systems, risks of
electric shock are minimal, and safeguards are built in for higher
voltage systems. In general, the shock hazards are similar to those
encountered when plugging in a cellular telephone for recharging.
For transport missions, many municipal vehicles travel relatively
short distances on a daily basis, which is ideal for the
tried-and-true, highly affordable lead-acid (PbSO4)battery.
More energy-intensive mission profiles can benefit from
higher-capacity (and higher-priced) battery technologies such as
nickel-cadmium (NiCd), nickel-metal hydride (NiMH),
lithium-iron-phosphate (LiFe), lithium polymer (LiPo), etc.
Unlike the U.S., in Canada the majority of our electricity is not
produced from fossil fuels. At night (when most EVs are likely to be recharged to benefit from off-peak electric pricing), very little electricity
produced in Canada is produced from fossil fuels, because of the high
fuel costs. Zero-emissions wind power is the fastest growing
electrical generation sector in Canada today.
Hybrid vehicles are also available to meet needs up to and
including buses, electric rail, garbage trucks and more. Did you
know that the giant earth-movers used on the tar sands are
diesel-electric hybrids, and have been for years? Does the ability
to move 100 tonnes per load meet or exceed your typical hauling
requirements? Hybrids aren't used in that niche for their
environmental benefits; they're used there because they are reliable,
reduce operating costs and they work. Hybrids are not always the
best solution, it depends on your specific usage requirements.
Battery electric garbage trucks have been used in European cities.
Batteries can be sized to accommodate a full day of work before
needing recharging, or to benefit from opportunity recharging while
employees are on lunch break, or to use multiple, swappable packs
(where tool weight is an issue). Corded tools can also be part of the
solution by utilizing portable battery banks with inverters that can
be carried to the work site.
Electric vehicles work very well in the cold. I have personally
driven them at -38 degrees Celsius. Simple insulation techniques can
keep lead-acid batteries at desired operating temperatures, and in
extreme cases, low-wattage heating blankets and fan-cooling systems
can control temperature even more precisely.
There are a wide variety of electric tools, corded and cordless,
to meet most needs today. For a sampling, visit our Tools
If you want to discuss the potential benefits of moving your
municipal fleet of gas-guzzlers (from weed-whackers to trucks) to
environmentally superior, zero-emissions battery-electric or hybrid
to us. We have more than 30 years of experience with electric
vehicles on-road and off-road, winter and summer. We would be happy
to analyze the opportunities for your municipality to clear the air
regarding electric and hybrid vehicle myths and kick the gasoline
habit. With our guidance, you can get your EV implementation right the first time.
Here are a few of our electric vehicles.
1976 EVA Metro electric car
1984 Pontiac Fiero electric conversion
1973 Porsche 914 electric conversion
Our electric Porsche appeared on the CBC TV National News on Thursday, July 4th, 2008 in an article titled 'Tinker Boys'.
CBC TV Tinker Boys clip (requires Windows Media Player, the electric Porsche appears about 2 minutes, 10 seconds into the clip)
1975 Auranthetic electric motorcycle
1975 General Electric E-12 electric tractor
Spincraft Voyager solar electric boat
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