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Electric Vehicles (EV)s: Are They Practical?

In its mandate to have all new passenger vehicles to be zero emissions by 2035 onwards, the Canadian government is completely ignoring the size and climate of Canada. Canada has vast distances between different locations.  Not everyone lives in densely populated areas like southern Ontario. Based on land area, Canada is the second largest country in the world.

According to the worldometers website, Canada’s population density is one of the lowest in the world at 4 people per square kilometer (11 people per square mile).  In comparison, the United States has a population density of 37 people per square kilometer (96 people per square mile) and the United Kingdom has a population density of 280 people per square kilometer (725 people per square mile).

Currently many people have to really plan their road trips in accordance with when the next fueling station is coming up.  I know living in Northern Ontario, many times we have stopped into a fueling station while on a road trip to fill up even when we’re at about half a tank, not knowing where the next fueling station will be and if it’s even open.

Compounding this challenge is Canada’s climate.  We can have very cold winters and when the EV is running the heater to keep the occupants warm, this significantly reduces the vehicle’s charge.

Anyone who drives a vehicle in below freezing weather will know that driving without internal heat is not an option.  Driving with the heat on inside the vehicle prevents the windows from frosting up. Recently the fan suddenly stopped working in our minivan halfway home in early January and it didn’t take long for the front windshield to start fogging and freezing up.  Thankfully after several blocks the fan started working again and we were able to make it home safely.  We replaced the fan the next day.  Likewise we can have very hot summers and the occupants are likely running the air conditioing on those days and using up more energy.

The vast remoteness of many Canadian communities was highlighted during Canada’s wildfire season of 2023.  On August 16, 2023 officials announced that Yellowknife, North West Territories (NWT) with a population of over 20,000 people was to be evacuated due to an approaching wildfire.  Yellowknife is more than 1400 kilometers (870 miles) to Edmonton, Alberta, which is more than a 14 hour drive.

As seen in the below video, people were filling up extra jerry cans with fuel, not knowing when and where they would be able to get fuel again.  

In at least one media report there was indication that a fuel tanker truck would be deployed along the route as well as as tow trucks, if needed for drivers.  Based on various articles, the average range of an EV is about 200 to 400 kilometers. (124 to 248 miles). 

Canada already has many challenges regarding insufficient infrastructure in remote communities.  This was re-emphasized by the Premier of  NWT (at the time) in the video below indicating that now she’s angry and rightfully so.

With the sheer scale of Canada’s wildfire season in 2023, I would ask the Canadian Government to address the following scenario:

It’s 40 years from now and the majority of the residents in Yellowknife NWT have EVs.  Along the 1400 kilometers (870 miles) drive to Edmonton Alberta, there are a few charging stations such as in Fort Providence, NWT and Enterprise, NWT.  The residents of Yellowknife experience another evacuation order due to an approaching wildfire(s).  As residents drive towards Edmonton they find one or more of the charging stations in Fort Providence destroyed by fire, or the power lines to those stations have been destroyed.  For example, during the 2023 wildfires, approximately 90 percent of the town of Enterprise, NWT was destroyed by wildfires prior to the evacuation order for Yellowknife as seen in the below video.  

The next closest community could be either Enterprise NWT, or High Level Alberta with a population of over 3,000.  High Level is approximately 7 hours from Yellowknife, 716.4 kms (444 miles).

How are those residents from Yellowknife going to proceed on to an evacuation centre, when they are now stranded because their vehicle has no more charge? There’s also the potential of the evacuees having to turn around and head back to Yellowknife due sections of the highway closed off as the fire quickly spreads and or changing direction cutting off the highway.  Currently a person can not store extra EV batteries in the trunk of their vehicle like they would with extra jerry cans of fuel.

If there is ever going to be 100% of all passenger vehicles sold in Canada to be zero emissions/electric, a massive nationwide EV charging infrastructure needs to be in place first, which includes remote communities.  Furthermore that infrastructure needs to be resilient to potential forest fires.  For example during the 2023 wildfires, many telecommunications areas were damaged by wildfires. 

Also one cannot ignore other challenges to electric grids such as hurricanes, ice storms, etc.  After post tropical storm Fiona in 2022, in some areas power was not fully restored for two weeks.  The 1998 Ice Storm, in Quebec millions of people had no power with some of them being over a month!

A person can’t charge their vehicle if there’s no power source.

It’s worth noting that according to an article by Global Citizen in 2020, 61 First Nations communities across Canada are still under drinking water advisories.  There’s also the reality that there are more than 280 communities across Canada that are not connected to the power grid.  Many of them rely on diesel generators.

So, how is Canada going to have a nationwide EV charging infrastructure (which means including remote communities) in place by 2035, when many remote communities still can’t have safe drinking water or even being connected to the electricity grid?

For the Canadian Government to indicate all new passenger vehicles sold after 2035 to be Zero Emissions is irresponsible, considering the reality of Canada’s geography and climate.  Furthermore, as seen in the above scenario, having all passenger vehicles being electric, has the potential of being a significant public safety risk for remote/isolated communities.

Until that nationwide EV charging infrastructure is in place, Canada’s focus and promotion of EVs should be on its largest cities and densely populated areas such as Southern Ontario.

A fitting closure of this Blog would be for people to watch the below video of an episode of Marketplace (which was posted January 26, 2024) where they put EVs to the test in Canada.

Until next time, stay safe, healthy and strong.

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