Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Just sell it to me already

When I heard that Mercedes Benz was going to be making an all-electric version of my car, the B250, I got all excited. Don't get me wrong, I could not afford to add this car to my collection - one is enough. But I am excited that Mercedes is trying to offer electric vehicles in their inventory because from an efficiency point of view, they are a logical next step in the evolution of personal vehicles.

Why? For starters, because pound for pound and dollar for dollar, it costs less to move a vehicle around using electricity than it does using gasoline. It is more efficient to burn a little more fuel to make the electricity to charge a car than it does filling it up with gas. And since natural gas is cleaner than gasoline, it's even less polluting. Now, some would argue that Alberta gets a lot of its electricity from coal, so some of that 'clean' is lost. True, but we won't always be getting our electricity from coal if world and national environmental pressures keep up their pace.

Another reason an electric car is better is because the power plant is less complicated and needs less maintenance. No more oil changes, tune-ups, explosions from fuel tanks, transmission fluid, overheating. A car in the last part of its recharge can use the power from the wall to pre-heat or pre-cool the interior without draining the battery.

The biggest obstacle to adopting electric vehicles has always been battery costs and range anxiety. Well, battery costs will drop dramatically as new technologies come online and once Tesla builds its battery giga-factory in the US, we should see some immediate cost reductions. To assuage range anxiety, charging stations are popping up all over the US and Europe and there are plans to expand those networks with each passing year. Heck, if you own a Tesla, recharging on their supercharging network is.... free. This is a modern, sustainable model.

What bugs me though is that thanks to government cooperation, or lack thereof, parts of the world are seeing mass adoption of this new paradigm while the rest of us suffer with practically nothing. That's right, I'm now talking about Canada. US electric car owners get tax incentives to own a zero-emissions car. Canada has none of that. We used to, but the reigning Conservatives put a stop to that in a big hurry. US electric car owners get preferred status as they go about their commuting. HOV lane access, special parking spots, breaks on parking fees and more. We get...... wait for it...... a couple of parking spaces at IKEA.

Now some of you would be right to ask "What's so special about electric cars? Why do they deserve a break?" What's special is that while they drive around, they are emitting nothing. Get enough electric cars on the road and you almost eliminate smog. You'll still have some, because you have to make the electricity in the first place. But what a lot of folks are missing is that a car filled with batteries is also a small piece of something the electric utility wishes it had access to - somewhere to store power until it's needed. If you had a few hundred thousand electric cars hooked up to the grid, taking electricity when it needs it but putting some back when it doesn't, you have a grid that is a whole lot more adaptable than it ever could hope to be. This allows you to use much more solar and wind power than ever before because now you have a storage element to your grid. Domino effect.

There are a group of people who have decided that electric cars could never work in Canada because of the extreme cold. I've seen enough personal YouTube videos from Tesla owners in Norway to know that this will not be an issue.

But let's get back to the point of my rant. Mercedes now makes an all-electric car. It will be available in stores by the end of 2014. But not in Canada. Why? They don't feel there will be enough sales to justify the offering. Personally, I think this is a short-sighted way of thinking. The only way you're going to sell a lot of electric cars is if you have a widespread infrastructure. The only way that will happen is if you sell a lot of electric cars. So it's a vicious circle, one that will only get momentum when one party takes a leap of faith in the industry. Who should be taking that leap? Our government. They have the means to make it enticing to get an electric car, which would motivate the Mercedes' of the world to sell them in Canada, which will allow people like me to buy them, which will lead to the demand for and eventual fulfillment of charging stations nation-wide, which will lead to less pollution in places like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and lead to a healthier electric grid.

Incidentally, Tesla sells an electric car in Canada. They don't have a lot of dealerships in Canada yet, but they plan to soon. They will also build their own charging network here. I may just have to sell my Benz someday and buy a Tesla.

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