Electric vehicles are joining the mainstream
Long before electric vehicles (EVs) became an ordinary sight on Canadian roads, Daniel Novy—whose last name, fittingly, means “new”—was an enthusiast. The Slovakian-born machinist and amateur auto mechanic read up on EV technology, then applied his broad knowledge and skills to building his own e-car. Technically, Novy’s project, completed in his garage over several months, involved replacing the internal combustion engine of a 1990 Honda CRX with a lithium-ion battery. He kept the original transmission, making his converted car different from most EVs, which have just one gear. (An explanation of the gearing and remarkable acceleration capability of EVs is beyond the scope of this article, but for the mechanically inclined, the topic is fascinating.)
After driving his DIY EV for a couple of years and converting a second gas-powered car, Novy purchased a Chevy Spark. The Spark EV is a compact “city car” with a relatively small range (~125 km). Novy uses it for his 30 km commute to work and even for longer road trips. With a level-2 charging setup at his home and an ever-expanding network of public charging stations available to him, he’s entirely confident of getting from A to B on amps rather than gas. And his enthusiasm for EV technology hasn’t fizzled. “The internal combustion engine feels obsolete,” Novy says. In contrast to its multiple components, with all their points of friction and potential failure, EV engineering is, in his view, simple, elegant, and—as a result—powerful. “You drive the car, and you feel like this is how it’s supposed to be,” he adds.
The simplicity of electric cars also accounts for their minimal maintenance requirements—and costs. Under normal circumstances, EV maintenance involves little more than topping up the washer fluid, putting air in the tires, and replacing wiper blades and tires when they wear out. Because most of the car’s deceleration is accomplished by the electric traction motor (a process that transfers energy back to the battery), EV brake service intervals are very long. And, of course, EV drivers don’t need oil change reminders on their calendar.
Given Daniel Novy’s passion for innovation, it’s no surprise that he tracks ongoing developments in EV technology. He’s especially interested in ultracapacitors as power sources (think static electricity, rather than the chemical energy of batteries). Ultracapacitors are more efficient and durable—and less toxic—than batteries. Current models are limited in terms of their energy storage potential; however, Novy anticipates that future versions will make EVs both easier to charge and more environmentally friendly. When asked about our society’s transition to electric cars, Novy acknowledges that some car buffs might have a hard time giving up the grease and grit of old-school auto mechanics. But he’s convinced that most drivers, given the opportunity to try an EV, will be “very happy” with the experience.
We need to remember that EVs, despite their eco-benefits, come with environmental costs connected to production, operation, and disposal. For this reason, we should continue to opt for walking, cycling, or public transit whenever possible.
EV battery ranges vary, depending on the model of car and the driving conditions. Models currently available in Canada can travel an impressive 200 to 400+ km on a full charge. Although cold weather reduces battery range (sorry, Winnipeg!), coasting, braking, and parking in a patch of warm sun can all add “bonus” kilometres.
Visit the following websites for more information about electric vehicles, including details about purchasing, driving, and charging: > Canadian Automobile Association (caa.ca/electric-vehicles) > Charge Hub (chargehub.com) > Plug ’N Drive (plugndrive.ca)
Of the four types of electric vehicles on the road today, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) require charging. Although cars can be charged using a regular household outlet, the process is slow (eight to 20 hours). Installing a level-2 charger at home or using a public charging station allows you to charge up in three to eight hours. High-voltage “fast chargers” get the job done in less than an hour.
> Several charging networks—including Flo, ChargePoint, and Greenlots—operate throughout North America. > Individual stations are generally located next to businesses and public facilities (e.g. community centres, parks) or along major roads. > Chargers are activated with an app or scan card. > Charging is either free or inexpensive ($1 to $2 per hour), although some stations are located in pay parking lots. > At busier stations, time limits may be in effect.
A green perspective on costs New EVs still carry a higher price tag than gas-powered vehicles. However, government-sponsored purchase incentives—for the cars themselves and (in some provinces) for home charging equipment—help offset costs. And don’t forget the serious long-term savings.
|Annual averages||2019 Chevy Bolt EV||2019|
|Fuel||$450 (electricity)||$1,800 (gasoline)|
|Greenhouse gas emissions||1,500kg||16,000kg|