Published on Sustainable Cities

Electric Car Craze

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Electric car charging in AmsterdamThe future of road transportation needs a change from the conventional system as societies move towards better resource use, driving the idea of sustainability. The future demands a move from gasoline and diesel powered cars to something more sustainable. As this reality becomes more evident, electric vehicles (EV) are sure to be a major catalyst to this movement. Getting from point A to point B is no longer as simple as hopping in a car, stepping on the gas pedal and having the pleasure of carefree driving. We are now living in a very different world where global warming and depleting oil reserves are at the forefront of many discussions and drive new technologies. The electric car could be the answer that people are looking for. Despite being on the market for many years, EVs have not been well integrated because of the lack of infrastructure and their lack of appeal to the average consumer.

In a recent survey of Canadians’ views on electric vehicles, one statistic stands out: fewer Canadians would consider buying an EV today than a year ago[1]. In terms of emissions, electric cars produce less out-of-pipe emissions than the average internal combustion vehicle, however many people are concerned about the emissions produced from the manufacturing of components such as the batteries. In places like Ontario and Quebec, where the majority of electricity generation is hydro and nuclear, the emissions are indeed cleaner than their gas counter-parts, however in places like Alberta and the US where the majority of the electricity generation is through fossil fuels like coal, the effects of driving electric vehicles do not give the benefits commensurate with the higher costs.

Capital cost reduction for electric cars should be a key target for ongoing development. The higher prices are a result of the steep price of the electric battery, which is the single most expensive component of the car. The Lithium-ion batteries used don’t yet have a predictable shelf life, and they also tend to suffer poor performance-wise in cold weather[2]. The high cost of the Chevy Volt (priced at $40,280) and the Nissan Leaf (priced at $32,780) is largely a result of the expensive battery.[3]

Electric cars can be a good decision in certain situations. Everyone has different needs and different preferences when it comes to the kind of car they drive. Some people might benefit from a transition from gas to electric because they will end up saving money on their commute and the limited range is not a deciding factor for them. The cost, even though it’s high at the moment, is predicted to go down as more people adopt the technology. The important thing is to make sure that you do the research before going out and buying one of these cars because a lot of people might claim their benefits and the disadvantages, but in the end the deciding factor is the individual consumer. However, relating back to the idea of sustainability, a simple idea like carbon pricing can prove to be the most environmentally effective and efficient way to reduce pollution. This idea would then encourage the purchase of EVs and would allow the economy to prosper without the pollution continuing to grow.

[1] G. Woodcock, "Shocking views on electric vehicles".
[2] M. Prystup, "Electric cars can handle Canadian winter".
[3] E. Leigh, "Electric Vehicle Pros and Cons: The Good, the Bad and the Green".

This is fifth in a series of blogs on energy issues written by 4th year energy systems students from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ontario. (See blog by Dan Hoornweg introducing the series.)

Photo:  Electric car charging in Amsterdam. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Ludovic Hirlimann.


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