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December 14, 2010

This article appeared in the Globe and Mail on 2010.12.13, under the by-line of Gwyn Morgan. The text in italics is from the original article, and my responses are shown in regular font. I submitted this to the Globe and Mail Letters Editor (via e-mail) today.

Paving the way ahead for electric cars

The long, hard road ahead for electric cars

Only one week after the much-hyped rollout of electric cars at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Canadian news media carried reports about how Ontario electricity costs are expected to double over the next 20 years.

That forecast must have Ontarians questioning whether buying an electric car is a good idea. But there are other questions all Canadians would be wise to ask about electric cars, and the electricity needed to power them. Let’s put those questions into perspective.

Does that perspective include the prospect of oil selling at $200 a barrel by 2020? Or gasoline priced at $2.50 a litre? These are credible forecasts in the oil industry today; more than double today’s prices within 10 years or less. That makes electricity at twice the price in 20 years look like a bargain.

Will there be enough electricity?

Even the staggering electricity rate increases announced by Ontario would not generate nearly enough power to handle a large auto-recharge load, nor could already stretched power grids handle it, either. Hydro-Québec recently said its distribution grid could accommodate a meagre 1,000 car plug-ins. In other provinces also, costly retooling of power generation, mainline transmission and local distribution grids would be required.

Actually, Hydro-Québec said they could easily accommodate 1,000,000 electric car charging outlets. With time, they can ramp that up if demand warrants. Much of the ‘costly retooling’ will be done anyway over a period of years as regular maintenance and implementation of the ‘Smart Grid’.

I have done the analysis for Ontario a couple of times in the past few years. Assuming that most electric car charging is done at night (to qualify for lower off-peak prices), the difference between daily peak and lowest demand in Ontario (weekdays) is sufficient to charge approximately 7,000,000 vehicles, with no increase in generating capacity needed. That is more vehicles than are currently licensed in Ontario. For a Canadian analysis, see the Electric Mobility Canada backgrounder I wrote.

Won’t wind and solar generate a lot of the power needed for electric cars?

Wind and solar generate less than 1 per cent of Canada’s power supply, and most provinces have subsidies aimed at increasing that portion. The most spectacular example of the sky-rocketing 16 times as much for solar power, and three times more for wind, as the current average electricity rate. Ontario’s 20-year power plan calls for $23-billion in subsidies to the wind and solar industry, supposedly allowing coal-fired power to be phased out. But its own numbers show that with wind and solar capacity available less than 30 per cent of the time, these costly projects still won’t bring about the end of coal. Meanwhile, electricity consumers will be hit with price increases of 46 per cent over the next five years, making Ontario industry uncompetitive with almost all provinces and American states. No wonder Premier Dalton McGuinty’s green dream is turning into a nightmare as an election looms.

Renewables (other than hydro) are the new kids on the generation block, but they are the fastest growing segments. Governments in Canada subsidize the oil industry as well, and they’re a mature industry making historic profits. Wind and solar are intermittent energy sources, but the fuel is free, zero emissions and does not require tailings ponds or billions of dollars to be spent on clean-up. With its large hydro resources, the Ontario grid is not at any risk by accommodating large amounts of wind and solar electric generation. In fact, solar generation is highly sought after, as it produces maximum supply at the time of maximum demand – hot summer afternoons. If Ontario has to buy electricity on the spot market at such times, the price is very high.

In the meantime, we will continue to import oil to keep the internal combustion fleet running in the eastern half of the country, while exporting western oil to the U.S. At least we produce electricity at home, creating jobs here instead of Venezuela and the Middle East.

Are electric cars really “green”?

That depends on how the electricity is generated. Water generates most of the electricity in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Manitoba and B.C., while Alberta and Saskatchewan generate nearly all power from coal and natural gas. Overall, about 75 per cent of Canada’s electricity comes from water and nuclear power, and 25 per cent from fossil fuels. When measured by fossil-fuel emissions, use of electric cars in Canada can generally be considered green. The situation is the reverse in the United States, where fossil fuels, mainly coal, generate 75 per cent of electricity. So operating an electric car there would account for more fossil-fuel emissions than a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle (thus making GM’s Chevy Volt a tougher sell to eco-conscious consumers, the target market for electric vehicles).

Studies (1,2,3) show that even in areas where electricity comes 100% from coal, electric cars are still better for air quality and greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline powered cars. It is easier to clean up 1 smokestack, than 100,000 tailpipes. Individuals have the option of making sure their personal electricity consumption is off-set by green generation.

Perhaps the natural gas used to extract crude from the tar sands in Western Canada should be used instead to help create greener electricity by using it to replace coal with natural gas as a fuel in the thermal generating plants throughout North America. Is it more lucrative for the natural gas industry to burn this relatively clean (compared to coal) fuel to produce crude oil?

Are electric cars practical in Canada?

Besides of their high price tag, limited range and the inconvenience of long charging cycles, there’s another factor that even the greenest Canadians need to consider before buying an electric car: our northern climate. Anyone who has had trouble starting a car in cold weather knows that battery performance plummets with temperature. In our dark, cold winters, we also need battery power to heat the car and run headlights. The combined result is a much shorter driving range than they’ll be touting in the electric-car showroom.

Practicality, like beauty, rests in the eye of the beholder. I have been driving electric vehicles since 1979 in Ottawa, where we know something about cold. We have a solution for keeping the batteries warm – insulation. Driving range is reduced somewhat in winter (about 10%), mostly because of additional drag due to snow and slush. Ironically, the way we keep the gassers ready to start in cold weather conditions is to plug them in (so the block heaters can keep the oil in the engine sump from turning to frozen sludge).

As for the high price of electric vehicles, that will come down with volume production, like it has for consumer electronics and advanced batteries that power portable devices. The limited range is a non-issue for typical urban driving. For occasional longer trips, people can rent a gasser or use a plug-in hybrid. Fast charging facilities exist, although they have not yet been installed in quantity. Personally, I find that recharging my car overnight (while I am also recharging) works very well, and eliminates the need for regular additional stops for gasoline fill-ups. How long does it take to recharge my electric car? About 10 seconds: 5 seconds to plug it in when I get home; and another 5 seconds to unplug when I’m ready to leave.

The green-car race is imploding as beleaguered citizens, struggling to deal with tough economies, see their electricity rates soar and expensive wind and solar power missing in action when most needed. Other jurisdictions are rapidly changing direction, but Ontario keeps whistling merrily in the wind, bound for uncompetitive green oblivion.

The current state of economic mismanagement has nothing to do with the desirability of cleaner cars. Other jurisdictions with plans to green their grids are doing just fine economically, e.g., Germany, Denmark. If Ontario can stop importing coal, that would likely be beneficial for the provincial balance of trade, not to mention health care costs associated with asthma and respiratory diseases.

Just last week, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the development of an electric-car battery to be competitive with the internal combustion engine might be five years away. “The storage capacity of [electric] car batteries needs to be increased by six or seven times, their lives need to be extended by 15 years, and their cost needs to be reduced by a factor of three,” he said at the UN climate conference in Cancun, Mexico. I think I’ll sell my GM stock while I’m ahead.

Actually, the current state of electric vehicle technology looks pretty competitive now. Range of 400 km or more per charge, fast recharging stations, maximum speeds in excess of any legal speed limit on the continent, less expensive to fuel, less expensive to maintain, can be charged at home while I’m sleeping, and no tailpipe. Even so, battery technology will continue to improve, as Secretary Chu says. All that remains is to find the courage to proceed. Innovators all over the world have worked on perfecting the technology, and somewhere in the near future, electric cars can possibly replace regular cars.

Darryl McMahon
Author, The Emperor’s New Hydrogen Economy
Member, the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa
Owner, electric car, electric tractor, electric boat, electric bicycle

1) http://www.electroauto.com/info/pollmyth.shtml
2) http://bakerinstitute.org/publications/Executive%20Summary%20final%20with%20cover%20secured.pdf
3) http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es702178s

June 1, 2010

Brian Turner Writes About EVCO EV Expo, Electric Motorcycle, etc. 2010.06.01

It's a pleasure to read an article by a good writer, that just lays out the facts and without an axe to grind. So, herewith, please enjoy [Site no longer exists: http://www.emcarnprior.ca/20100527/lifestyle/Electric+transport+has+arrived+in+the+region] Brian's article from May 27th where he covers several topics related to electric vehicles that appeared in some editions of the EMC weekly newspaper in Eastern Ontario.

May 12, 2010

Metro Writes up Steve Dallas' A2B Electric Prototype 2010.05.12

[Link has bit-rotted: http://www.metronews.ca/ottawa/live/article/523938--canadian-made-electric-car-charges-ahead--page0] Today's Metro Canada free newspaper features the Toronto-based A2B electric prototype in an article. This is a hot-looking, super-compact 2-seater electric, that will turn heads, and then give whiplash to onlookers as it blasts through urban commuting missions.

If you want to see a vibrant electric vehicle industry in Canada, producing vehicles that people want to buy, then you want to support the innovators that put cars like this together, and all the components and gadgetry that makes them possible, right here in Canada. Of course, if we took this car to an Ontario licence bureau this week, we would not be allowed to license it, simply because it runs on electric power.

May 7, 2010

Ontario's No EV Policy Now 3 Months Old 2010.05.07

Early in February 2010, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation stopped accepting registrations for electric vehicles in the province. There was no announcement, and no consultation with EV advocates or owners. The first few EV owners turned away at licence bureaus did not even get a reason for the refusal.

When pressed for information, MTO officials offered up some weak reasons. First, apparently large numbers of Ontarians were fraudulently claiming their vehicles were powered by electricity, so as to avoid Drive Clean tests. However, MTO's own data show less than 100 cars and light trucks are registered as electric in Ontario. (I can personally identify about 40 of those that are legitmately electric powered.) MTO has the authority to inspect anything they deem suspicious, and there are stiff penalties for false statements on registration forms, including fines and jail time.

Prior to the secret licensing ban, electric vehicles in Ontario were subject to exactly the same safety inspection, licensing and insurance rules as any other vehicle on the road. The question MTO still has not adequately answered is why this small population of clean-air, environmentally-friendly vehicles has been singled out for this degree of persecution, when street-racers actually have to commit an offence to suffer any penalty, and gross polluters can continue to operate on 'conditional' passes. For a government that claims to support green vehicles, this government has a very strange way of showing it.

Reasoned discussions with MTO officials since the secret ban was discovered have dragged out over many weeks, with little sign of progress toward getting the vehicles re-legalized in Ontario. The only incentive the Ontario government offers for buying or making an electric vehicle, small as it is, ends on June 30, 2010 with the introduction of the HST.

For more information on the Ontario electric vehicle licensing ban, visit the 10n10.ca Web site.

April 23, 2010

EV Demonstration Project Guidelines Report Released 2010.04.23

Natural Resources Canada has accepted the Final version of the Demonstrating Electric Vehicles in Canada - Project Guidelines report prepared by Electric Mobility Canada and the Centre National du Transport Avancé. This is a solid step forward in Canada's strategy to foster a domestic electric vehicle industry via the EV Technology Road Map.

April 22, 2010

230 MPG Volt? Busted! 2010.04.22

This AOL article examines the fanciful GM claim for fuel economy for the Volt design. By extension they also take on the Nissan equivalent claim.

Is the poor American consumer so dumb they really can't understand anything other than the frequently questioned EPA numbers?

In my experience, real-world EV drivers completely understand the concept of km/h per kWh, or in the U.S. miles per kWh. They also tend to have a very good sense of what a kWh costs them, including any green premium they are paying to ensure that electricity comes from a clean energy source. Without exception, they then do a simple division operation to arrive at a unit that any car owner understands: cents per km (or mile). Of course, that's a bit of math the gas-guzzler makers don't want us to do. Because if I can buy my electricity at night for $0.06 a kWh, and get 5 km to the kWh, my fuel cost in my EV is 1.2 cents per km. On the other hand, our fuel-sipping gasser, which gets about 8 litres / 100 km on its best days, with gasoline at $1.00 per litre, is sucking back 8 cents a km, in fuel cost alone. So, 1.2 cents a km with zero emissions or 8 cents a km with a witch's brew of toxins, carcinogens and greenhouse gases spewing out behind. If comparably priced, which do you think consumers will find more appealing?

Canadians don't need to worry about this decision anytime soon, as GM won't provide any commitment to Volt sales in Canada, and Nissan's most optimistic date is at least a year and a half away - leaving plenty of time to find another reason to not provide this solution to Canadians.

Happy Earth Day!

April 13, 2010

Canadian Government Releases its Electric Vehicle Technology Road Map 2010.04.13

Hot off the virtual press! You can visit the federal government's Web page to get your PDF copy of the document or just the executive summary.

A fascinating juxtaposition: the federal government publicly announces its electric vehicle strategy while the government on Ontario continues its covert campaign to make electric vehicles illegal.

April 4, 2010

E-bike Popularity in China Resurges 2010.04.04

Edmonton Journal article titled [link has bit-rotted: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/world/CHINA+BIKE+EXPLOSION/2762356/story.html] E-bikes win China back its reputation as The Bicycle Kingdom.

A refreshing and welcome news item after the news in December where the Chinese government was preparing to throw roadblocks in front of electric bicycles.

March 30, 2010

Canada Left Behind in Nissan Leaf U.S. Availability Announcement

Today, Nissan announced that it will put its Leaf electric car on sale in the U.S. in December 2010, and provided pricing. The MSRP will be US$32,780, before rebates. Available rebates include $7,500 from the federal government, and $5,000 for California residents - dropping the effective price to about $20,000. That compares favourably with hybrids currently on the market, and the rumoured price point for the GM Volt.

Sadly, for Canadians, a Nissan Canada representative indicated that sales of the Leaf in Canada will not begin until the autumn of 2011 at the earliest, and pricing for the Canadian market is not yet known.

March 9, 2010

GM Unplugs the Converj

The decision was apparently made in late January, but news is just getting out now that GM management has elected to cancel their plug-in hybrid project within the Cadillac division, based on the Volt technology platform. The decision was made on economic grounds - the same reasoning GM used to kill the EV-1 battery electric and previous hybrid technology projects. (GM execs were widely quoted around 2000 as saying that the Toyota and Honda hybrids were money losers and would drive those firms into bankruptcy. Yet, if I recall correctly, it was GM that required government bailouts to survive last year.)

The argument that the Cadelectric would be too heavy to perform well smells off to me. With an extra $30,000 per unit to play with, I'm sure real automotive engineers would have found a way to lighten the vehicle - say with carbon fibre shell parts, aluminum structural members, etc., to resolve that issue.

If GM stays true to its history, it still has time to kill the already much-delayed Volt, likely by many small measures. Holding out the possibility of real production for as long as possible will keep the competitors out the market longer, as investors will be skittish about going head-to-head with a government-financed venture with the resources of GM behind it.

Still, if the Volt does get short-circuited, there may be many orphaned LiFePO4 batteries looking for homes come early 2011. Of course, GM may also choose to simply use our tax dollars to eat the cost of scrapping everything related to the Volt. They did not hesitate to shred everything associated with the EV-1.

March 3, 2010

Dale Wendorff's CitiCar

I'm pleased to announce the resurrection of Dale's Web pages dedicated to the transformation of his CitiCar. (now hosted here) Check it out.

February 25, 2010

Coca Cola Hybrid Tractor Trailer

Coca Cola Hybrid tractor trailer
Coca Cola Hybrid tractor trailer - seen in Bells Corners 2010.02.24

I guess if you want free advertising on my Web site, this is the way to get it. It was nice to finally see one of these in real life. Coca Cola announced the vehicles late last year. Kenworth (the manufacturer) says the vehicles save 30% on fuel costs in urban operations.

Coca Cola also uses full-electric small trucks in places like Uruguay, but apparently has no plans to bring real EVs into use in Canada. Pity.

Save fuel - save money - save the environment. If a company as financially hard-nosed as Coca Cola can figure out it makes sense, why are so many others seemingly so mired in the hydrocarbon trap?

February 10, 2010

Ford's 2011 Electric Transit Van

Well, we finally got to see Ford's first real entry into the battery EV sector. Not surprisingly, it's a truck, and it's a captive conversion. This was the approach Ford took in the 1990s with its Ford Ranger EV (TDM). What does come as a surprise is that the conversion work and components don't come from Magna, but rather from Azure Dynamics (AZD), a much smaller player in the vehicle parts business. While AZD has facilities in Canada, the conversion work will be done in Wayne, Michigan. My suspicion is that reflects the pro-electric vehicle stance of the Obama administration (backed with cash and plans to buy vehicles for government fleets), whereas the Canadian government appears to continue to have an aversion to clean-air vehicles. Another missed opportunity for the Ontario automotive sector that continues to pretend to be hungry for the work and wanting to get into the green vehicle market.

As the only major North American automaker with an electric truck platform, they have to be seen as the front-runner for the contract to start converting the U.S. postal service to electric power - a huge contract that is on the table in coming months. Basing the AZD conversion work has to be a plus on that front as well.
Electric 2011 Ford Transit Connect Unveiled at 2010 Chicago Auto Show

February 9, 2010

Tyler Hamilton Gets It

As one who has been driving electric for over 30 years, I have long wished we could just put people into full-function electric cars for a day so they can actually experience it, and really get what they're about at a visceral level, not just as an esoteric theoretical "good thing to do". Tyler drove one for a day, and now he really gets it.
Zero-emission Tesla always draws a crowd

February 6, 2010

The Passing of Dr. Frederick Green, PhD

It is with a profound sense of personal loss that I write this entry. Fred was a dear and close friend, and fellow advocate for the electric vehicle cause.

Fred was the instigator for the acquisition of a Marathon C-150 3-wheeler at the Communications Research Centre at Shirley's Bay over thirty years ago. Since then, he has been the owner of a Marathon C-300 (now in the collection of the National Museum of Science and Technology), more on-road car conversions than I can remember, including a Fiero that I acquired from him, an electric tractor and a range of personal electric vehicles. More importantly, Fred had an infectious enthusiasm for EVs that he spread to others in a way I have never been able to match.

The world is a better place for having had Fred, and is poorer today without him. However, we can take great comfort in knowing that Fred is now reunited with the true love of his life, his wife Marian.

Fred Green's Obituary in the Ottawa Citizen

January 28, 2010

The Rise, Fall and Rise of the Electric Car

Today, I had the pleasure of addressing the Friends of the CRC about the history of the electric car, and why it is poised to make a major comeback on our roads. They were kind enough to record the presentation, and provide me with a copy. If you would like to view it, you will need RealPlayer. The presentation, The Rise, Fall and Rise of the Electric Car runs about 50 minutes. I hope you enjoy it.

January 27, 2010

Tesla Now Available in Canada

Tesla has announced the Tesla electric car is now approved for sale in Canada, and will establish their first Canadian dealership in Toronto in the spring of 2010.
Globe & Mail report on Tesla arrival in Canada

The Tesla Roadster is an all-electric car with a range of 244 miles (390 km) and a governed maximum speed of 125 mph (200 km/h). Come July 2010, it should qualify for Ontario provincial incentives, such as a purchase rebate, green plates, and use of HOV lanes even when the driver is alone in the vehicle.

Tesla Web Site

January 11, 2010

Whither ZENN for 2010? They have announced the end of production of ZENN LSV in the next few months. It appears that plans for a highway-capable EV have evaporated. The focus now appears to be EV drive trains based on the EESTOR technology. What's the outlook for EESTOR? This Autoblog Green article about EESTOR may well of interest.

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    About the Author:
    Darryl McMahon built his first electric car in 1978, and has had at least one electric vehicle EVer since. He was a founding member of the Electric Vehicle Association of Canada. He is the author of The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy and many articles about electric vehicles, related technology and history. He is currently a member of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa, Electric Mobility Canada, Historian for the Electric Auto Association, and President of Econogics.

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