Posted by: jmtoriel | October 21, 2011

Electric vehicles drive Vancouver’s green future – Georgia Straight

Electric vehicles drive Vancouver's green future - Georgia Straight

By Emily Elias, October 19, 2011

Don Chandler made the switch to an electric vehicle nearly three years ago and hasn’t looked back.

“I know when I drive my electric vehicle I am not contributing to climate change,” Chandler told the Georgia Straight over the phone. “I am not producing any emissions. So, the impact is, for every vehicle you convert, you are reducing your carbon footprint by about four tonnes a year.”

What began as a hobby for Chandler has become a passion for electric vehicles that has taken over his retirement. Chandler admitted he spends many hours working with the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, researching the latest developments in electric transportation.

“I’ve talked to thousands of people about electric cars, and now it’s viewed as a real positive thing,” Chandler said. “People don’t criticize you, they don’t complain, they don’t say you are a weirdo. They say, ‘This is the way it is and my next car will be electric.’ ”

Chandler noted he’s seen a surge of electric vehicles on Vancouver streets. But he said the city and province need to step up and make sure there is enough infrastructure, such as charging stations, in place to continue the trend.

“Without places to charge your electric car, you can’t drive an electric car. It’s essential,” Chandler said. “We invested in gas stations years ago and now we need to invest in electrical charge locations.”

Electric vehicles are a key element of the City of Vancouver’s goal of making this the greenest city in the world by 2020. A report by the city about its strategy projects the addition of electric vehicles to Vancouver’s roadways would result in an eight-percent reduction in greenhouse gasses.

“Generally, electric vehicles haven’t been made available to the public yet. What we are looking at is making sure the city has the infrastructure in place for when they do come into broad use,” Peter Judd, the city’s general manager of engineering services, told the Straightby phone.

The City of Vancouver has installed eight charging stations and created a bylaw requiring all newly built single-family homes and apartment buildings to have dedicated electric-vehicle plug-in outlets.

According to Judd, the city does not track how many people use the charging stations. “We have had to put in chargers for our own electric vehicles,” Judd said. “Right now it’s not about them being well used; it’s about providing an alternative, because it is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation.”

Judd pointed out that municipal investments in charging stations can only go so far toward changing the driving habits of Vancouverites. While the city has committed to encouraging 15 percent of all new-vehicle purchases to be electric, the province must also offer incentives, he said.

In the 2011 B.C. throne speech, there was no mention of electric vehicles. Meanwhile, the province of Quebec has devised a rebate program to give buyers an $8,000 refundable tax credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle, and Ontario offers rebates worth between $5,000 and $8,500.

Researcher Jonathan Ford coauthored a study looking at the future of the electric vehicle. He says it’s very difficult to predict how many people will make the switch from gasoline-powered to electric vehicles.

“As far as market penetration, looking at the year 2050, we had anywhere from zero to 90 percent of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles in the market, so it’s quite a broad range,” Ford told the Straight by phone from Knoxville, Tennessee.

Ford’s consulting company, Sentech, carried out the study for the U.S. Department of Energy, trying to determine how electric vehicles will impact oil consumption, greenhouse-gas emissions, and the traditional auto market. Starting in July 2010, Ford and his team compared 31 existing studies to try to find similarities in the data.

“We thought we were going to have an easy time to make an apples-to-apples comparison of all these reports,” Ford explained. “But once we got into it, we found that there is a vast difference in all of the assumptions used by each group to get to their results. We found a few trends but overall a very broad range of what people predict will happen overall in the near future and the long term.”

He said cities, such as Vancouver, that are adopting fleets of electric vehicles and adding electric charging stations will reduce their oil consumption and emissions; however, it’s impossible to determine by how much.

“Are they going to have an impact? Yes. How big or how little remains to be seen,” Ford said. “As time goes on and a lot of this future data becomes apparent to scientists and the groups…I believe that broad range is going to narrow and point to a very distinct future. But we are only going to find that out in time.”

Chandler applauds the City of Vancouver’s moves, but knows it will take a while before electric vehicles appear in every garage.

“It’s kind of like the era of computers and cellphones. When you introduce the new technology, it will cost a little bit more initially in its infancy,” Chandler said. “I would like to see no combustion engines on the road, but that will take time. We have got to build all the cars, make them available, get people educated, and build the infrastructure—like wiring into the garage to provide a plug that is adequate for charging.”

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