Three dimensional car image

Clean Energy Canada responds to misconceptions about EVs

According to the BC Government, more than 18% of the light duty passenger vehicles sold in the province last year were electric vehicles (EVs). There has been a sixfold increase in the number of annual registrations since 2016 and there are currently more than 100,000 EVS on the roads. Some of them are in remote communities like Cortes Island. As the prospect of a transition to electric vehicles becomes more likely, some are asking if this is really a viable option. 

Last week Clean Energy Canada, a think tank based in Simon Fraser University, responded with media brief addressing common myths about electric vehiclesRachel Doren, Director of Policy and Strategy at Clean Energy Canada, subsequently agreed to an Q & A interview. 

EVs on display during the 2019 ‘EV Mini Faire’ at Manson’s Hall – Photo by De Clarke

Cortes Currents asked her: 

1. Some people are claiming there isn’t enough lithium and other metals on the planet to support a transition to battery electric vehicles. Is this true?

RD: “In our study we found this really is a myth, there are enough metal and mineral resources to supply electric vehicles. Global studies have looked at the deposits of the raw minerals required for current battery chemistries, and concluded that there are sufficient deposits for the kind of ramp up of electric vehicles that we are projected out to 2050, but I think there’s a few more pieces that might reassure your readers.” 

“What we’re seeing in terms of battery chemistries today is not necessarily what will carry us out to 2050. There’s already been some significant changes in order to balance the kind of cost and availability around how much lithium, nickel or other critical minerals different battery chemistries are needed. We can anticipate that it will continue to evolve as battery makers think about what other formulations might be the most cost effective for the longest distant batteries. Including things like looking at solid state rather than liquid batteries, which is something a lot of automakers are investing time and energy into thinking about.” 

“The other component that I think will really help in the longer term, is we so far have had only so many electric vehicles that are getting to the end of their life. There really weren’t that many over a decade ago.” 

“As we see the supply of electric vehicles ramp up, we’re also going to be able to start creating a real market for battery recycling. That’s another piece where battery recycling can reduce the need for new mining by up to 20% in 2040, and 40% in 2050, even just based on those same metals and minerals.”

2. How long can we expect an electric vehicle to last?

“As EVs start hitting the longer end of their life cycle, we’re going to continue having more and more information about this, but I think any fears around how well electric vehicles will last are really starting to be dismissed by the studies that are looking at those older vehicles and how they’ve survived.”  

“One of the pieces that we’ve seen is really electric batteries. Most electric batteries will be under warranty for eight years, or up to 160, 000 kilometres. A recent study showed that the majority of EVs that have been driven more than 160, 000 kilometres still have 90% of their original range. Tesla claims they have models (the Model S & Model X) that have driven over 300,000 kilometres and are still holding up to 90% of their original charge.”

“Another thing we found is they actually need a lot less maintenance. There’s a lot less parts in an EV before you start getting those wheels moving. You don’t have as much maintenance on oil changes or other smaller parts. This means you’re going to have lower maintenance costs.”

“With traditional ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles, we start thinking that a car that’s driven 150, 000 kilometres is really getting up there in range. The average Canadian vehicle is owned for approximately eight years.”

3. Is there any truth to the idea that, once you factor in where their electricity comes from, EV’s produce more emissions than gas cars?

RD: “When we talk to people and find out what might be their fears about adopting electric vehicles, sometimes you’ll get this almost bizarre connection where people who are environmentalists and climate concerned are worried that electric vehicles will actually have more emissions than if they had a life cycle of a traditional gas powered vehicle. 

That’s really just not true. The International Council On Clean Transportation found that the life cycle emissions of a new battery electric vehicle are lower in just about any jurisdiction you could think about.  They found it would be 60% to 70% lower in the United States than getting a traditional gas powered vehicle.”

In Canada, which already has a cleaner electricity grid, they’re talking about what it takes to get the metals out of the ground? What does it take to power the car over the life of it? And they found in a jurisdiction with 100% renewable electricity, electric vehicles have 89% lower emissions than gas powered vehicles. When you consider the production of it and other pieces, Canada’s grid isn’t 100% clean yet, but we’re a lot closer than the US. We’re currently around 84% non-emitting.” 

“It depends on the grid itself.  An electric vehicle plugged-in in British Columbia, which is powered off of more non-emitting electric sources, is going to emit less than a car plugged-in in Alberta.” 

“Electric vehicles are just more efficient. A gas powered vehicle has to heat all of these engines, pistons and other pieces to get the car moving. There’s this efficiency with an electric powered vehicle where the energy from the battery goes straight into the movement of the vehicle. So even in a grid that’s a little bit less clean, you  still find that the car is just designed to be more efficient and less emitting.”

4. For years I have been hearing that EVs are just too expensive.

RD: “I think the public is really starting to be quite aware that it’s a myth. We did a poll recently and found that over 6 out of 10 Canadians think that an electric car is going to be cheaper over the lifetime of the vehicle and they are 100% right.” 

Our own analysis conducted last year looked at an average life cycle of a Canadian vehicle over eight years, and looked at all the costs that go into it, including maintenance,  gas if you’re paying for it, or electricity if you’re paying for that, as well as your purchase price. We found that, for example, in an electric Hyundai Kona, the second best selling EV in 2021 was $18,000 cheaper to own  with an average price of up to $2.00 a litre, which we were seeing in B. C. kind of around that time. Even at $1.45, you still see savings over the lifetime of a vehicle of around $10,000. Particularly in the last year where we’ve seen those gas prices really tick up, the people who are plugging in and charging at home and paying their electricity bills are really seeing those day to day month to month savings.”

5. What about the idea that EVs just don’t have enough range?  

“I’ll tell you a personal anecdote. I bought an electric vehicle back in 2017 and at the time it was useful to be able to go around town, but you definitely would have been challenged to go on a road trip. I think what people aren’t aware of is just how much that’s increased just in the five years since I bought my car.”

“The average range of new EVs sold in the U. S. last year was 468 kilometres.” 

This sounded similar to the range of a gas power vehicle, so Cortes Currents checked online. An article in the Zebra claims that most ICE cars have a range of between 402 and 563 km, but did not state the age of the vehicles. According to Visual Capitalist, the average gas powered car can travel 665 km on a full tank of gas. The only EVs able to match this are the Tesla Model S (652 km) and Lucid Air (837 km). 

Doren stated that 468 km per charge will cover a lot of the distance between many of Canada’s major cities. 

RD: “You can get from Toronto to Ottawa on 500 kilometres of charge, and most Canadians are driving less than 60 kilometres per day.” 

“When you’re driving those shorter ranges, most Canadians will do their charging at home. Around 80% of charging often would happen in your local charger. The idea that these cars are really going to restrict people, they won’t be able to go on road trips – really, when you start having 500 kilometres of range that’s just becoming less and less true. There’s a lot of freedom attached to owning an EV.” 

6. There’ve been concerns that the grid cannot handle the extra demand that would come with a switch to EVs.  

RD: “Obviously we’re in a moment of change, where we’re seeing a lot of different demands on our electricity grid. Jurisdictions are looking forward to how they can plan for things like increased EV usage as we electrify our heat, as we electrify how you make steel or other pieces. There’s going to be new demands on the grid, but I think all of the studies today are  showing that places like Norway, where 80% of new cars sales are electric, have not experienced grid related issues as a result of high EV adoption.” 

“Here in Canada, a federal government study on anticipated electricity demand from EVs found that In 2030 they would represent just under 4% of electrical power demand. When you get up to 2050, it’s maybe just over 20%.”

“Another thing that I think people need to be aware of is you’re often plugging these things in at night,  There’s  ways to set charging to be able to do it in off peak hours. I think as we get better and better at using our technology, the concern that EVs are really going to be the thing that challenges our grids is just not true. We definitely have a lot of capacity, and these are a small part of a larger shift to electrification, while jurisdictions do look at trying to increase their supply of clean electricity to power all these great things that are going to be electrified.”

7. There used to be a lot of talk about using parked EVs as a backup energy source for the grid. What’s happening with this idea?

“I think you’ll be hearing a lot more about vehicle to grid and bidirectional charging in coming years. It’s definitely part of a suite of solutions.  One of the real challenges for the electricity grid is not just what happens every day, it’s when it happens. On your hottest day in summer, you’re going to need to actually build out your electricity grid for that biggest amount of demand, or the coldest day in winter.”

“As we think about trying to use renewable sources like wind and solar more on the grid, you can’t just  turn those on or off when those big hot days happen or those big peaks happen.  One of the things that’s going to allow us to use more renewables and not have to build out quite as much electricity is just being able to have places to store energy and ways to  shift it to off peak times.”

“Lots of people are really looking at vehicle-to-grid bidirectional charging as one means to really help create that infrastructure. A study done recently in Ontario found a lot of these  distributed energy resources and pieces that will make our grid smarter are currently under-utilized, but finding ways to incentivise this technology is going to be key. Not all electric vehicles sold today come with bidirectional charging capacity.” 

“I think this is something we’re going to increasingly see, and even in something like a Ford F 150 sold today, you can go back and  repower your home. One of the ways they’re pitching it to people is, if you had a power outage, if you’re living a little bit off the grid or  you’re going to be able to keep  certain parts of your life turned on, even camping or in a power outage, this great big battery that comes with your new electric F 150 can do the job.”

“I think we’re going to see a lot more development on that in the next coming years. There’ll be certain hurdles to go through such as safety, security, how much do EV owners get paid for the use of their batteries – all of that, but I think it’s in the works.”

8. Which is more of a fire risk, an EV or a gas car?

A study from the insurance website, AutoinsuranceEZ,  tracked car fires in the US and found there were actually a fraction of the fires in EVs that there were in petrol powered cars or traditional combustion cars. There are 25 electric vehicle fires per 100,000 cars, and 1,500 gas powered car fires per 100,000 vehicles. Fires occurred in 1 of every 4,000 electric vehicles, compared to 1 in every 65 gas cars.  I think this is really a myth based on a fear of new technology. You’re actually reducing your risk of fire by driving an EV.   

9. Some people believe that EVs cannot handle Canada’s harsher winters.   

I think this myth is easily dismissed just by looking at the jurisdictions in the world that are seeing the greatest EV uptake.

In Norway, 80% of the new vehicles sold last year were electric. Norway has a pretty cool climate. Studies have shown that range loss would be no more than 30% and as low as 8% for some makes and models. We’re starting to see new EVs with around 500 kilometres of range and daily commutes being less than 60 kilometres, losing some winter range is not going to be the difference for average person.” 

“I would also note that traditional vehicles also increase gas fuel consumption in winter temperatures, effectively reducing their range and increasing their fuel costs.”

“Finally, most modern EVs have battery heating options that preheat the battery before driving and help reduce that range loss.” 

“I think you’re seeing Canadian EV drivers say that for them this really isn’t the kind of issue that it is made out to be.”

Top image credit: Three dimensional car image by Tayeb MEZAHDIA from Pixabay

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