For those of us who have occasion to drive the 401, there’s a community called Ingleside which is fast becoming the solar power generating capital of Canada. Solar-array contractor H.B. White (they were landscape contractors until they discovered how lucrative the alternative energy business can be) have completed two kilometre-square arrays and are working of two more. They were also the prime contractors for Europe’s largest array in Germany.
There are plenty of arguments against wind and solar. Can’t be stored. Ugly. Disruptive. Not cost effective. I agree – to a point. Windfarms are no uglier than a line of 1.5MV transmission towers on a picturesque skyline. Solar arrays are ideally located alongside major highways, where planners are already looking past gas and diesel to next-generation fossil fuels – liquified natural gas, methane – and electricity.
The growing electric vehicle fleet is an effective decentralized alternative energy storage facility, so it’s starting to make economic sense for municipalities to offer high-output electric vehicle charging. I snapped the shot above in Montebello, Quebec. Outside the former railway station, now a died-and-gone-to-heaven chocolaterie in the centre of town, is this Circuit Electrique charging station, one of more than 600 in Quebec. (VerNetwork has 150 across Canada, while TeslaThe Pointe Claire pool parking lot is equipped with a Circuit Electrique charging station with parking for two electric vehicles. It’s not free, but it’s comparable with dollar-a-litre gas. Even with oil at $30 a barrel the price of a litre of gas doesn’t seem to drop much below that.
Car manufacturers find themselves like the guy trying to change canoes standing up. They know they have to switch their fleets over to alternate fuels but they have to move cautiously. Gas may be cheap and gas stations everywhere, but that will change quickly as western governments impose ever-higher taxes on fossil fuels in response to public pressure to stop subsidizing petrocratic tyrannies and murderous zealots. I realize most of us don’t give a rat’s ass whether the oil we pump into our SUV comes from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq or the Emirates, but what happens when we put our domestic producers out of business? Wouldn’t it be smart to have an alternative source of sustainable energy to move our economies when the Middle Eastern shit hits the fan?
Hybrids are a transitional technology, good as long as gas is more convenient than the alternatives and potential electric-vehicle buyers agonize over range anxiety. People who drive hybrids swear by them. A guy I swim with is thinking of buying a secondhand Toyota Prius after talking with Montreal cab drivers. According to him, they’re getting 300,000 km from a set of batteries. But they’re not cheap, even with Quebec’s green energy rebate. GM’s 2016 Chevy Volt ($39,590 base price) boasts 85 km in electric mode on a 4.5-hour charge, after which a 1.5-litre gas-powered generator cuts in “to help keep you going.” According to the fine print, that 4.5-hour charge rate is with a 240-volt fast-charge circuit. A 120-volt plug-in will take anywhere from 13 to 19 hours.
Pure electric cars are a tougher sell, mainly because lithium battery technology have yet to catch up to buyer expectations. Nissan’s Leaf, a pure electric car with no generator to ease range anxiety, starts at $32,698 and boasts 133 km of range. According to the VerNetwork site, the Leaf, with a maximum charge rate of 3.3KWh, takes more than three hours to fully recharge from a half-charged state. It gets 44 kilometres per hour of charge. The newest 400-volt fast chargers ($10 an hour, billed by the minute) take maybe half an hour to recharge from 50% but can be used by a fraction of the total electric-vehicle fleet. And they’re few and far between.
Tesla is closing the expectation/reality gap with its Model S, the new Model X crossover (https://www.teslamotors.com/en_CA/modelx) and the promised Model 3, a pure electric vehicle for the masses. Their range is approaching that of comparably priced gas vehicle and they have the performance options wealthy customers expect. Tesla offers more than 600 Supercharger stations across the continent with 400-volt plugins for 3,500 vehicles, but in Canada they’re confined to markets where Tesla is selling cars. Don’t look for any major jump in those numbers anytime soon. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently conceded the oil swoon is causing the alternative energy sector considerable near-term pain. But he’s hanging in, as are Nissan, Toyota, GM, Kia, Porsche, Daimler-Benz and BMW. (Volkwagen/Audi is taking Ballard’s fuel cell technologies for a test drive.)
Canadians are at the energy crossroads. Do we allow petrocracies to destroy our oil production, refining and petrochemical industries with domestic carbon taxes and unrealistic demands on pipeline operators? Or do we use domestic tax revenues to help build the alternative to the fossil fuel economy?
This is a question for everyone from the Trudeau government to our local municipal councils. We have to get this one right.