Images of an all electric car future

Motor Mouth: More inconvenient truths on banning gas engines

High-speed EV recharging stations on highways sound great – until you hear how much they would cost

David Booth

Anyone who tells you that the electric car in your future will be just as convenient as the gasoline-fueled vehicle you’re currently driving is lying. If not overtly, then at least by omission. Nor can they plead ignorance, the calculations required to reach this conclusion hardly the stuff of graduate-level physics. Indeed, judging from the experts I’ve spoken with, plenty have been the warnings proffered to the politicians, policy makers and futurists advocating an all-battery-powered future.

Now before you go all Tesla on me and start putting angry pen to paper, let me give credit where credit is due. In an emissions-free automotive world, the electric vehicle is king of the inner-city commute: the ability to recharge at home — during off-hours, minimizing the load on our grids — is convenient, their torquey motors perfect for the point and shoot of inner-city traffic, and their range more than what is needed by 90 per cent of commuters. I also trust that battery technology will get lighter and more energy dense so the 100+ kilowatt-hour batteries of the future won’t all weigh a thousand pounds. Nor is the tired old bugbear — “all that electricity is being generated by coal” — likely to be a problem in 20 or 30 years, the cost of renewables hopefully coming down to a manageable level.

Instead, the problem for our all-electric future (now California is said to be following France and England’s banning of the internal combustion engine) is power transmission. More specifically, as one industry expert summed up the situation, “the bottleneck [clouding the future of the electric vehicle] is local distribution.” That bottleneck is going to be the highway service stations that will be required to service our 300 million now-electric cars for longer trips when we don’t have access to the convenience of our home chargers.

Consider the following scenario: last Labour Day weekend, like so many holiday weekends, pretty much every fuel pump on the side of Ontario’s 401 was, er, pumping non-stop. That, for anyone thinking of following along with my calculus, is a station every 80 kilometres, each with up to 16 pumps. More importantly, each of those is capable of pumping about 30 litres of gasoline in a minute. In other words, discounting credit card transaction and unscrewing of gas cap, even the most ardent gas-guzzler can take in enough fossil fuel for 500 kilometres of driving in about two minutes.

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