Can an electric vehicle work in the countryside?

electric-car-1by Denis Bouchard and Jeff Turner (February 2016)

The energy to power standard vehicles all comes from fossil fuels, and spews out CO2 as a result. Electric cars use less energy, and the energy they use can be generated without producing any significant amount of CO2. What are the costs and benefits of switching to an electric car?

There are three types of vehicles powered by electricity. In regular hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), the battery can only be charged by running the gas engine. The hybrid components just help the car make the most efficient use of that gas, by turning off the engine when possible, and recharging the battery when the car slows down, which are especially helpful for city driving. On the highway, these two devices don’t function as often, so while the downsized engine uses a bit less fuel than a gas powered car, the advantage is not as big.

With plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and all-electric vehicles (EVs, or BEVs), you can plug your car into the electrical grid, which means these cars have a source of energy other than gas. PHEVs are run by an electric motor, but there is also a gas engine that turns on when the battery is empty, which provides it with a greater autonomy. EVs are powered entirely by electricity.

elec carThere is a HUGE environmental benefit to driving on electricity instead of fossil fuels, especially in Quebec where there’s almost no CO2 emitted in the electricity sector (hydro-electricity instead of coal or gas powered plants). There’s a big economic advantage as well: with our cheap electricity, driving on electricity works out to paying the equivalent of about $0.20 per liter. This means that, regardless of whether you’re driving on the highway or in the city, EVs make a lot of sense.

Here are some actual numbers to help understand the differences (assuming 20,000km per year, $0.07 per kWh of electricity, and using $1.25 per liter of gas – let’s assume it won’t stay cheap forever!).

Nissan Leaf (all-electric vehicle) 0L/100km (no gas!), but it takes 18.6kWh of electricity for 100km of driving, or 3720kWh/year; 82kg of CO2; $260/year. Range: summer – 200km, winter 130km.

Volt (plug-in hybrid) 19.3kWh/100km in electric mode, 5.6L/100km in gas mode, (Assuming you drive 3/4 on electricity and 1/4 on gas) 2890kWh/year plus 280 liters per year; 735kg of CO2; $550/year. Range: 675km (85km on electric, 590km on gas).

Toyota Prius (regular hybrid) 4.5L/100km, or 900 liters per year; 2170kg of CO2 per year; $1130/year; range: 945km.

Honda Fit (gas powered car) 6.7 liters per 100km, or 1340 litres per year; 3223kg of CO2; $1680/year; range: 600km.

About the CO2 numbers: burning 1L of gasoline always produces 2.4kg of CO2. In Quebec, generating 1kWh of electricity produces only 0.022kg of CO2, even when you take into account emissions from the reservoirs and the emissions associated with construction of the dams.

EV models vary a lot, some with ranges over 400km, and they improve substantially every year. This Ontario-based organization has a great website that shows most of the available models and explains how they work:

A Nissan Leaf costs $32,000, but in Quebec you get $8000 off from the government, so $24,000. To compare, a gas powered Toyota Camry costs $26,000, so $2,000 more. A Honda Fit with comparable equipment would be $19,000. By saving $1420 in gas every year, you pay off the $5000 difference in purchase price in about 3.5 years. Then you keep on saving money on gas for years, and pollute much less.

So, can an EV work in the countryside?
Absolutely, and it will get better because the EV models improve constantly. EV drivers mostly charge at home (waking up to a full charge every morning). Moreover, hundreds of charging stations have popped up all over Quebec and North America over the past years, so you can easily charge up if you’re going a little further than normal. To find charging stations: Ultra-fast charging stations (400v) are also expanding : So on a long drive, you stop for a half hour, and then carry on. Meanwhile, PHEVs offer most of the benefits of a pure EV with the ability to switch to gas for longer trips.

You can test drive an EV at a dealer’s or enthusiastic owner’s:

No more CO2, much cheaper transportation, and even free well situated parking spots to boot!

N.B. Here in Hemmingford, we have access to a charging station at Vergers Philion.