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November 21, 2011

Electric Cargo Ships on the St. Lawrence?

An article in today's Maritime Executive by Harry Valentine raises the possibility that advanced batteries and electric propulsion are better suited to economic water-surface cargo transport than today's conventional diesel ships. Imagine what it would do for the air and water quality in that stretch of water as well. I expect the real barrier will be the need for updated regulations and inspection that will permit this technology to actually see service in Canadian and U.S. waters.

November 17, 2011

Frank Stronach's electric Kool-Aid

Canadian Business magazine has written another negative article regarding Frank Stronach, Magna and EVs in general.

Of course, the fact that Stronach is in favour of electric vehicles is just more reason for the Harper government to shun them. Magna got that memo, and moved its EV RD&D work to Europe and the U.S., ensuring Canada will benefit even less from the shift to electric drive than it would have otherwise.

In fact, CB was so intent on trashing Frank and EVs, they almost lost the original point of the story - the introduction of the SeaScape electric-assist pedal-boat, waterborne brethren to the BionX electric bicycle line.

While CB says the SeaScape won't sell due to its high sticker price, take a look at it yourself before taking their word for it. Once you see what the SeaScape really is, you will realize CB's statement is akin to saying Cadillacs will never sell because they cost 10 times the price of 2-year-old Nissan Versa.

Sorry, Canadian Business. Once again, my money's on Frank - he's got a pretty good record so far.

November 11, 2011

City of Ottawa Acquires Electric Ice Resurfacers

Last night, I was at the annual Ecology Ottawa fund-raising dinner, and the keynote speaker was Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. In the course of his speech, he announced the City now has 4 electric ice resurfacing machines (Zambonis) at a couple of its hockey arenas. This acquisition has been announced a couple of times before, going back to at least January of 2011.

I can remember suggesting these machines (actually, more the Canadian-built Olympias) many years ago to City staff, but there was no interest. Let's hope other arenas are taking note. Many years ago, the City of Truro converted a tractor to electric to pull an ice resufacing unit for one of their rinks, so the option has been around for a while. Still, kudos to Ottawa for taking this step.

[Link has bit-rotted: http://ottawastart.com/story/15430.php] October 24, 2011 OttawaStart announcement
January 13, 2011 article in the Ottawa Sun

November 10, 2011


It has been many months since I posted here. It's not because my interest in EVs has waned, or the battle for zero-emissions vehicles has been won. On the contrary, I was elected President of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa (EVCO) at the end of January, and have focused on distributing my (almost daily) EV messages via the EVCO e-mail distribution list.

January 20, 2011

The Insidious, Persistent anti-EV Messaging Campaign

For many years now, I have noticed that each time EVs are on the cusp of making a serious dent in the on-road vehicle market, an insidious, whispering counter-campaign ramps up. I'm not talking 'conspiracy theories' here, just observed behaviour. There is no doubt that there are vested interests that would not welcome a vehicle that uses much less or no oil products, requires less maintenance, improves the urban soundscape and threatens established markets.

However, while EVs are not perfect, they are paragons of virtue compared to the impacts of their fossil-fueled brethren. That makes it hard to attack them based on facts. As a result, those with a counter-agenda use other means to attack and undermine electric vehicles. A number of approaches are used. Due to the appreciable resources available to large, very profitable industries, their tactics seem minor and almost trivial when examined on an incident by incident basis. They rely on their relentless small advances on every conceivable front to have the desired effect on a cumulative basis. Thus, those of us who want cleaner air, less polluted water, quieter cities, less oil-funded terrorism (rest of EV advantages taken as read), actually have to be on the lookout for these incremental bits of anti-EV message creep and address them. It's a daunting task because the EV industry doesn't really even exist yet, and it still tends to be populated by those naive enough to think that a better solution can emerge victorious over the entrenched and powerful solely on its merits.

I raise the matter here today because a couple of things have been passed my way since my rebuttal of the Gwyn Morgan column in the Globe and Mail, in itself a classic example of the problem.

In recent weeks, a few folks have posited that WikiPedia is being manipulated to erase and undermine the pro-EV message of recent years. WikiPedia is in fact easy to manipulate, if you have the time and ability to be persistent. In effect, he who makes the last change wins. Because WikiPedia is seen as a reliable source of information, and is increasingly relied upon by the technical crowd as a key information source, the revisionism takes its toll on the accuracy of the record over time.

In another example, this article was passed to me long after its best-before date. The URL reads "http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/08/31/battery_cars_destroy_the_world/". That's a pretty clear indictment of EV technology. The actual headline for the article reads "Diesels greener than battery cars, says Swiss gov report". Pretty damning stuff - except that the actual paper being reported upon says nothing of the kind. Pretty cool twisting of the message, don't you think? It works because the phrase in the URL is almost subliminal, but it sets the tone for reader. Then the headline suggests that an authoritative source (the Swiss government) has done a study that determines diesel engines produce less environmental damage than using an electric car. Which would be fine, if that is what the paper actually said.

The study in question, Contribution of Li-Ion Batteries to the Environmental Impact of Electric Vehicles is actually a study of a specific battery technology. On that subject, the report says: "The Li-ion battery plays a minor role regarding the environmental burdens of E-mobility irrespective of the impact assessment method used. Transport services with an ICEV (internal combustion engine vehicle) cause higher environmental burdens than with a BEV (battery electric vehicle)." Doesn't quite align with "battery_cars_destroy_the_world", does it? So, there must be a smoking gun elsewhere in the paper to justify the URL phrase and headline. Let's look at the concluding paragraph from the paper.

"All the facts taken together, the results of the LCA (life cycle analysis), the various sensitivity analyses, the modeling applied for EOL (end of life), the assumption for the used electricity mix, etc., suggest that E-mobility is environmentally beneficial compared to conventional mobility. The Li-ion battery plays a minor role in the assessment of the environmental burden of E-Mobility. Thus, the Li-ion battery in an [sic] BEV does not lead to an overcompensation of the potential benefits of the higher efficiency of BEV compared to an ICEV."

Hmmm, the paper concludes that the BEV is environmentally beneficial compared to the ICEV. Again, how do we get from there to "Diesels greener than battery cars", or "battery_cars_destroy_the_world"? Not based on the content of the paper, which means that someone has completely obfuscated the truth of the paper, hoping that most readers will not read beyond the disinformation article to find out the facts presented in the paper.

In summary, whenever you encounter an article suggesting EVs are environmentally inferior to fossil-fuellers, be on your guard for disinformation. Dig in, and root out these bits of insidious message manipulation. This example was particularly crass - most message manipulators are more subtle. In particular, watch out for assumptions about energy sources (e.g., supposing the electricity is generated 100% from coal using 1930s generating technology, vs a rational measure of the electricity generation mix).

Remedial media: not fun, but it needs to be done.

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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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