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THE ROLE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR- START THE REVOLUTION NOW! by Lynn Oliphant

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It is time to make electric cars a regular occurrence on the streets of Saskatchewan. Purchase prices, however, are still high in comparison to the cheapest of the gas-powered cars but substantial rebates, as high as $7500 are offered in some provinces and many states. Here in Saskatchewan there are currently no rebates and only a limited number of vehicle options are available (something we should endeavour to change). On the other hand, relatively new used vehicles can be purchased in provinces where such rebates exist providing a considerable savings up front. Want to start an electric car revolution here? If there were a small number of people interested in purchasing cars from Quebec, for example, we could have them brought here at a reasonable price.

Interested? Contact me lynn.oliphant@yourlink.ca or 306-374-1068. Here is the rationale for going to electric now.

One of the major direct uses of fossil fuels by individuals is the gas and oil used by our privately owned vehicles. As long as we are addicted to this form of transportation it will be impossible to wean ourselves off this major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. While the long-term solution must be a move towards more walking, biking and better public transportation, the short-term solution is here now in the form of the electric car.

While most of us are familiar with the concept of the typical “hybrid” which powers the car with a combination of a gas engine and electric to try to get the best gas mileage, the very real option of affordable cars available today that can provide all electric transportation for most of our driving needs may not be clear. For people that have little need for travelling long distances there are many options. The plug-in hybrids (in comparison to the “normal hybrids”) all give a substantial range using only the electric drive. The all electrics, such as the Nissan Leaf, are a great option if you never need to go more than about 100km per day. If you want a car that has the option of long distance travel but operates for distances up to 60-70km on straight battery, a car like the Chevrolet Volt is the perfect combination. It differs from the other plug-in hybrids in having only an electric power train; the gas engine is simply a generator which can give you unlimited range beyond that of the battery pack. This means you are not limited by the current lack of widespread fast charging stations.

The advantages of these all electrics and the Volt are many. The efficiency of the electric motor over the internal combustion engine is large, a normal transmission is not needed, and there are very few moving parts in the long-lived electric engine. This results in not only fuel savings but lower repair costs. The major cost will be in eventually replacing the battery pack. Hopefully battery technology will continue to improve (current rate of 14%/year) and cost will continue to drop. My calculations suggest I may save over $20,000 in operational costs if I keep my Volt for 10 years. This is almost two thirds of the cost of the car!

If we are to address the issue of climate change, the current all-electric and plug-in hybrids offer a bridging possibility but only if enough of us embrace it. Here in Saskatchewan where much of our electricity is produced by burning coal, the savings in GHG emissions are negligible unless you have your own wind or solar array and are already driving a fuel efficient car. Hopefully this situation will improve radically over the coming decades. The point is, while there is the possibility of producing electricity without the use of fossil fuels, the internal combustion engine is dependant on them. Other benefits of the electric car that are possible include the use of the batteries in each car as a storage for electricity produced by wind or photovoltaics, currently a major hurdle for moving towards sustainable energy sources.

We have had our Volt for a year now and I must say it is the most satisfying car I have ever owned. It has a lifetime average of 2.25L/100km of actual gas usage and can provide 60-70km on an overnight charge of about 13 KW which is provided by our solar array. On straight gas on long trips it still gets nearly 6L/100km. It does fine even in the depths of winter although giving up a bit of battery range. Until the electrics are better understood by the general public and are commonly seen on the road, the gas car will remain the predominant form of personal vehicle. Consider an electric or plug-in hybrid for your next vehicle and help us move to a sustainable energy future. The electric car revolution will not take place until we reach a critical percentage of cars on the road allowing the general public will see them as a real alternative.

Editor's Note: To give the reader an idea of where used Chevy Volts are available and for what price, here's what the Auto Trader has listed as of April 10, 2015

Used Chevy Volt in Quebec

Used Chevy Volts in British Columbia

Used Chevy Volt in Saskatoon

Used Chevy Volts in Ontario

Used Chevy Volts in Manitoba