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Perspective: Government Leadership Needed for Electric Vehicles to Succeed

26 February 2010

Perspective by Chris Hill, Manager, Central Fleet for the City of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and author of Hamilton’s Green Fleet Implementation Plan.

[Mr. Hill is currently chair of the Ontario Chapter of NAFA Fleet Management Association, and a Green Party candidate for Canada’s Parliament in the next general election. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of these organizations.]

The critical need for government leadership in the emergence of electric vehicles dominated a recent Green Fleet Management discussion in Toronto, hosted by Fleet Challenge Ontario.

Jack Rosebro, founder of Perfect Sky in Los Angeles [and a contributor to Green Car Congress], spoke of the need for government policy makers to move beyond incremental changes that are not providing enough incentive for the market to produce alternatives to oil as the almost exclusive source of energy for road and rail transportation.

Jeffery Immelt shares this point of view. In an interview published in Maclean’s, a Canadian news magazine, the chairman and CEO of General Electric said, “Government should be a catalyst for change. In energy, a momentary signal on the price of oil doesn’t necessarily create the genesis for a 40-year investment. That’s where government comes in...only the government can help influence [change] by having a price for carbon and technical incentives.

Mr. Immelt’s point is that the spike in oil prices to $147/barrel in 2008 is not enough on its own to get automakers to make electric vehicles. But combined with the world’s concern about climate change and the increasing possibility that peak oil is not just a theory, there is greater cause to believe that electric vehicles are going to be well received.

The forty cities that are in the Clinton Climate Initiative’s C40 group have municipal fleets with the capacity to buy every EV produced in 2011 and possibly 2012 as well. City vehicles are highly visible and EVs are most practical in an urban setting. The number of potential buyers of electric vehicles is at the tipping point for success and maybe beyond.

Whether or not cities, or anyone else for that matter, can afford to buy electric vehicles is a real concern. As production increases, prices will come down but no one knows how long that will take. This is “where government is needed, to create clarity and certainty around the investment environment”, Mr. Immelt said.

There is an interesting precedent for this, when government action revolutionized transportation. Following the end of World War I, there was a significant decline in aircraft production in the United States. The US government, convinced that aircraft were critical to winning the war, wanted to expand civil transport to create a demand for airplanes. So it intervened through the US Post Office by passing the Kelly Act to contract air mail service to commercial carriers. It didn’t work very well at first. Trains were very efficient at moving long distance mail. In the end, the market responded by creating scheduled airlines and better airplanes.

Our current governments in North America seem to be content with announcing what they say are significant changes in environmental policy that are nothing more than adding blue dots to the soap powder, to use a famous analogy. They need to do much better than this.

The fear that a carbon tax is unworkable must be overcome. Reducing government revenue from income tax and increasing revenue from a gas tax is a concept most consumers can understand and may accept if it is well presented. Investment in products that use less gas will increase and a post-petroleum society will begin to emerge.

This could be another air mail idea. As fantastic as air mail must have sounded years ago, it worked and transformed our lives.

February 26, 2010 in Canada, Electric (Battery), Perspective, Policy | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)


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American drivers love the power of their cars. They seem to think of golf carts when they think of electric cars. I think that they will love the thrill of silent power when they see it for the first time. They will love their new quiet neighborhoods especially if they live near a freeway. They will love the clear, clean air and will wonder what happened to their child's breathing problems. They will love not needing to fuel up and the extra money in their pocket each week.
They may not be able to see much beyond these personal gains, so it may be well to emphasise these. The more important benefits may appeal to those who love their noise and don't care about polution and clean air. So, we will also need to educate the people about the importance of eliminating our dependence on foreign oil and the enormous drain on our treasury and young lives to protect this dependence. Peak oil is probably not going to sway anyone until the shortage of oil is very apparent. Neither is global warming, because both of these issues are being distorted by big oil, who want something to sell at their pumps, before they will allow us to use any alternative to gasoline engines.

Over the years, the car companies have "PR'ed" the SUV to the point that the American people expect a car with lots of room inside. My daughter moves two small children a dog and her husband and clothing for a week's stay when she comes to visit. This car today requires an ICE to move this load long distances. An electric car won't do the job. On the other hand, electric cars today make lots of sense for commuting and driving under 100 miles distance.

Let's hope that after all this Government subside money drys up, enough new technology will be developed to allow the electric car to stand on its own without tax funding. ideally, These cars will meet the needs for young families, i.e., a decently loaded vehicle with freeway speed capability and about 300 to 400 miles range before recharging is required. Do that and oil becomes a bad memory.

Where will all the carbon free electricity will come from to power these vehicles? Electric vehicles do not make sense unless the electricty is carbon free and produced at a higher efficiency than advanced IC engines are capable of (which is currently approaching 50%).

RFH. I'd love to see an ICE that could average 50% efficiency. That would take care of all our (transportation) energy woes.

EVs, known to be ~90% efficient, consume 200-350 Wh/mile out of the battery for transportation, depending on weight, aerodynamics, etc (those numbers were for the Volt and the Rav-4 EV). This means that the job of transportation is using 180-315 Wh/mile.

Gasoline is ~36 kWh/gal. If your ICE were 50% efficient, then you would get out about 18 kWh/gal. Assuming a 90% efficient drive-train that leaves 16 kWh/gal at the wheels. Using only 180 Wh/mile, that would mean you should get 89 mpg in a car the size of a Volt, or about 50 mpg in a car the size of a Rav-4.

Since the actual numbers are about half that, I can only conclude that real efficiency numbers _in actual driving_ are about 25% at best. Peak efficiency in optimal conditions, optimal RPM, optimal load, means next to nothing.

Also, the carbon intensity of electricity is already lower on a per mile basis than gas, and is getting lower every year as renewables are added to the grid.

"Reducing government revenue from (personal) income tax and increasing revenue from a gas tax is a concept most consumers can understand and may accept if it is well presented."

I added "personal" to the quote because in 1965 40% of the national budget was paid by corporations, by 2005 it was 7%. Corporations have asked for tax breaks to keep jobs and then have fired people anyway. They talk about competitiveness but then compete with countries that have national health care.


Electricity doesn't have to be carbon free for electric cars to have a smaller CO2 footprint than ICE cars--even with coal-fired electricity. And please show me the advanced ICE with 50% efficiency. Look at comparisons of well-to-wheel efficiency of an electric cars with comparable ICE cars. Here's the abstract of an example study:

In this study, a well-to-wheel CO2 analysis of the usage phase of an Electric Vehicle (EV) compared with Internal Combustion Engine (ICE)-based vehicles is conducted. This study uses vehicle-type approval data of the vehicles and official fuel consumption data for comparison. It was found that EVs move the CO2 emissions from the transport sector to the electricity sector, but contribute to reducing the overall global emissions. For urban driving, this reduction ranges from 30% to 95% depending on the country in question. In rush hour the EV outperforms all other fossil-fuelled alternatives even if charged on electricity from hard coal.

It comes down to spinning reserves and charging at night. If we use twice as much during the day and charge at night, we are just keeping plants online and running efficiently. There is a penalty to be paid for taking plants up and down, now you can keep them running.

When power required goes up 3X during the summer for ACs during the day, peak plants have to be brought online and they are usually gas turbines that are not as efficient. This is why wind, solar and V2G are important. With a smart grid we can use energy more wisely.

If we expect first generation BEVs to match (120-year old technology) ICE performance and range the choice will have to be on high performance PHEVs with 40 Km to 100 Km e-range and up to 500 miles total range.

By 2020/2025, when batteries (e-storage units) performance have multiplied 3x to 4 x and their price have dropped 3x to 5x, competitive BEVs with 300+ miles e-range and more power than realy required will be a really.

Short range BEVs + good performance longer range PHEVs may the way to replace ICE vehicles for the next 10 to 15 years.

All large polluted cities would benefit most from early wide usage of city BEVs and extended e-range PHEVs. Reduced (or nil) inner-city parking fees could help. A ban (or $25/day permit) on ICE vehicles in city centers during peak traffic periods would also help.

It would help to have charging stations at work. Who will pay for them is the big question, large businesses might put them in for their employees, but that is not certain. Commuters here might need a full 50 mile range and then charge at work for 8 hours to get home.

(this comment simply fails to appear. trying again...)

Nat Pearre: The Wartsila-Sulzer company builds diesels which exceed 50% efficiency (based on the LHV, I'll bet) but at upwards of 30 megawatts they're a bit large for over-the-road vehicles. Diesel engines which dwarf freight locomotives don't have many land-mobile uses.

The tank-to-drag efficiency of the average LDV (taking cooling, exhaust, drivetrain friction and braking as losses) was calculated some time ago as 14.9%. Hybrids recover a substantial amount of braking energy, as does any decent EV; the improvement of thermal efficiency via the Atkinson cycle and the reduction of throttling and idling losses makes them quite a bit better.

It's true that an EV powered by a coal-burning powerplant can emit more CO2 per mile than a hybrid like the Prius. It's also true that the average EV kicks the average ICEV's bu*t even if the power source is 100% coal, and coal only supplies about 50% of US electric power and dropping. Natural gas (roughly half as much CO2 per BTU and efficiency up to 60%) is surging and wind keeps posting year-on-year increases around 50%. Nuclear is on the way.

Even if we pay 15¢/kWh for nuclear electricity, it is still much cheaper than petroleum. The elimination of carbon comes at no additional cost. We can decarbonize and make ourselves energy-independent in one fell swoop.

If it were not for the weekend and for the 3 day weekend at that electric cars would be just peachy in 5-7 years. But nope. Iys gona take alot more before they can realy PROPERLY handle a 3 day weekend. And until they can handle a weekend like people DEMAND they arnt a car they are a contraption.

Engineer - Poet,

I had no idea that nuclear electricity is cheaper than petroleum. That is great! Of course you would risk your hard earned money on "nukuler" power without a government subsidy, right?

I didn't think you would.

As studies have concluded, taxpayer money would be more productive elsewhere. Think wind, solar, efficiency, natural gas etc.

Government leadership is needed for electric vehicles to succeed.

However, a carbon tax may not be the best way to do it. Another method is to introduce a >zero emission vehicle mandate< specifying how many zero emission vehicles the auto industry should sell each year. In this regard, BEVs or FCV should both qualify as zero emission vehicles. It would be easy to administrate a >zero emission vehicle mandate<. The automakers’ market share should be used to calculate the required number of zero emission vehicles from each automaker. To the degree that an automaker fails to sell the required number of zero emission vehicles they should be fined by 10000 USD per missed zero emission vehicle. That should be enough incentive for the automakers to deliver the wanted quantity of zero emission vehicles. The automakers would take profits made from non-zero emission vehicles to discount the price of the zero emission vehicles enough to be sure they sold enough of them.

Such a >zero emission vehicle mandate< would be effective and easy to administrate. It would also be nearly tax neutral from the point of the government as auto producers would do everything possible to avoid being fined for non-compliance with the mandate.

"a momentary signal on the price of oil doesn’t necessarily create the genesis for a 40-year investment."

Apparently the oil embargoes in 1973 and 1979 were not either. We tried the ZEV mandate in California. When it was seen that Bush would not let the EPA support CARB with ZEV, it all went down the drain. It did not help that CARB got a new member that was promoting fuel cells much like the Freedom Car.


Your proposition makes sense. Many European countries have already introduced similar legislations based on deminishing CO2/Km.

USA already has an equivalent tool called CAFE. Raising CAFE by an extra 2 mpg to 4 mpg per year could progressively lead to near zero emission electrified vehicles within 15 to 30 years.

No new unpopular taxes are required. Fines would have to be applied on all vehicles not meeting the CAFE standards. Variable Tax credits could be applied on all vehicles doing better than CAFE standards.

Ah, it's a Lovins-droid. (They're much like Randroids in that they can't see where their dogmas have run into facts and broken.) Yes, Fishmouth, I'd be happy to pay for nuclear (it's pronounced NEW-CLEE-ER) power. The French don't have Price-Anderson and they get 78% of their juice from uranium to the USA's 20%.

Gasoline at $2.50/gallon burned in a vehicle achieving 15% efficiency costs about 49¢/kWh; to equal that price at the wheels, electricity at the wall needs to be around 30-35¢. Just about any electric generation beats that (including PV in sunny places), but nuclear works just about everywhere. Unlike big wind, it doesn't require trying to route thousand-mile HVDC lines from the Dakotas and Texas panhandle (which is where wind is cheaper than nuclear) to New York and Georgia (where winds are poor and wind power is expensive).

EP you are right about everything but you forget to mention the cost of battery replacements for battery electric vehicles BEVs. That is so far the largest cost when driving electric as the example below illustrates:

Fuel cost of the Prius

Gasoline = 0.054 USD per mile (assuming gas at 2.7 USD a gallon and 50 mpg for the Prius).

Fuel cost of BEV

Electricity = 0.030 USD per mile (assuming 0.1USD per kWh and BEV consuming 0.3kWh per mile).

Battery replacement = 0.126 USD per mile (assuming 0.3 kWh per mile, 500 USD per kWh for a new battery and 1000 cycles for BEV use and 80 USD per kWh for reselling the battery for secondary use for grid leverage ((500-80)/1000)*0.3). These assumptions are those that fit what I currently know about the LEAF from Nissan).

Total fuel cost BEV = 0.156 USD per mile.

Many people will still buy BEVs because they can be fueled at home, they have max torque from the start, they do not smell, they are less noisy and because of the feel good factor knowing you do your part in national security and global warming.

Still for mass market adaption of BEVs we need cheaper and better batteries. For that to happen we need a much larger battery industry that can afford much more specialization and more R&D. The global lithium battery industry is tiny with about 10 billion USD in annual sales. It should be big business with 500 billion USD in annual sales. This is probably the point where we will get batteries at 150 USD per kWh with a durability of 2000 cycles before 20% degradation. In that case the BEV’s fuel cost will drop to 0.0405 USD per mile (=(((150-80)/2000)*0.3)+0.03).

IMO the fastest way to get to affordable BEVs is through a zero emission vehicle mandate.


With time (10 to 20 years?) on-board e-storage units will be more performant (5x to 10x) and cost could be as low as $100 (2010 USD) per Kwh if patend legal fights and interested protection lobbies are not used to delay the development of technologies and to interfere with lower cost mass production.

By 2030, ground transportation vehicles, specially those for personnal travel, should be 100% electrified. This second wave electrification will include many other machines such as lawn mowers, boats of many sizes, most other pleasure vehicles, bikes, carts, tools, robots, cranes, tractors, trucks, ships, locomotives, war machines etc.

Producing enough e-energy for all those electrified machines will not be a major problem. Wind, Solar, Geothermal, NG and 100+ up-to-date nuclear reactors will more than meet the requirements.

Time has come to plan the installation of those power outlets for your e-vehicles.

Battery replacement is one of those unknowns. People were worried about replacement costs with HEVs. They seemed to last, but maybe they just become less effective and no one notices it.

Now with heavier loads and deeper discharges in range extended vehicles like the Volt, we will see how long they really last and what it really costs to replace them. One of the first things asked when I mention this to people is "what is the warranty?" and "what do they cost to replace?".

1000 cycles is quite low for shallow discharges, even for lead-acid. A test of Yellow Top batteries found roughly 4000 cycles at 22% discharge (see graph at the bottom).

The Volt and Prius have a similar charge-management schemes: they both maintain the battery SOC within a window of about 50% of the total capacity. This extends the battery lifespan considerably. This has worked wonderfully in the Prius, with cars in taxicab duty running over 200,000 miles without any battery problems. The Volt's battery is both a lot bigger and of a different technology, so we'll see how it works at the next level.

Government leadership will only guarantee the bastardization of a great idea. Electric vehicles are a good enough idea that their adoption will come eventually regardless of heavily subsidizing adoption. The only great way for the government to get involved is to provide R&D money. In my opinion, this will counter OPEC's attempts to kill development.

Ask yourself... how often do government programs work as advertised??

The "eventually" is the sticking point. An economy in recession may eventually right itself in a decade or so, but people will suffer in the mean time. The market system may eventually provide more efficient transport while we continue to send money out of the country for oil.

It is the damage that happens in the mean time while we wait for the market system to eventually get around to doing something. It is driven by profit and when it gets so profitable to start, the damage has and is being done. Government can help accelerate the process. It is good for all and thus a fine use for public funds. No one is saying they should run it, but creating incentives is a good way to go.


Agree with you but much more funds are required to help the 20+ start ups to fully develop their technology.

Fully automated mass poroduction facilities (required to compete in worldwide market) will each cost a large bundle and will also need large financial support packages. Long term low cost guaranteed loans + tax credits will be required to convince private capital to get more deeply involved.


1. There is actually research suggesting that the New Deal caused the Great Depression to drag on because the public funds pushed out private investment. That's what public dollars do to private industries when the government takes the 'lead'.

2. The reason the total % of corporate taxes in relation to total tax dollars has decreased also is due in large part to the fact that many other sources of revenue have been explored. Also, corporate taxes are recessionary.

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