The Electric Vehicle: A Part of the Solution
December 3, 2018 – Some articles recently questioned the benefit for consumers of transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) for ecological and health reasons, some even claiming that EVs were more polluting than gasoline-powered cars. This is not true.
Given the seriousness of the issues at stake, we wish to put things into perspective.
Whichever type of ground transport we use, whether it is electric, fuel-powered, individual or collective, the less we drive, the less we pollute. Going without a car is obviously ideal. But for those who need a vehicle, it is better to opt for an electric one.
The climate crisis is one of the main reasons why EVs represent a beneficial choice. Currently, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in Quebec, Ontario, and the US comes from transportation. In Quebec, it accounted for 41.7% of total emissions in 2015. While GHGs from other sectors (industrial, commercial, waste, agriculture, etc.) remained the same or decreased, GHGs from Quebec’s road transportation increased by 35.7% between 1990 and 2015. Still, Quebec aims for a 20% GHG reduction by 2020 and a 37.5% reduction by 2030 compared to 1990.
Throughout the life-cycle of an EV used in Quebec, its GHGs are about 65% lower than those of a conventional vehicle after 150,000 km and 80% lower after 300,000 km. In regions where electricity production is less clean, the difference is smaller, but no less real, as confirmed by the US Department of Energy, which concluded that it is better to drive a hybrid or fully electric vehicle than a comparable gasoline-powered car… in 50 out of 50 states.
Electricity vs. Oil
In North America and around the world, production of green electricity is increasing. While Quebec’s electricity is already produced with 99% of renewable sources, the GHGs from electricity production between 1990 and 2015 decreased by 54% in the state of New York and by 87% in Ontario. In Alberta, the government is expected to phase out all of its coal plants by 2030.
In contrast, oil extraction is increasingly dirty. In 2018, almost two thirds of the Canadian oil production came from the tar sands. In the US, shale oil accounted for 51% of the total oil production in 2015. Yet, these two types of oil emit far more GHGs and air pollution than conventional oil… and their production is steadily rising.
In 2017, almost 80% of the oil used in Quebec came from the US and Canada… which means that Quebec’s vehicles are powered more and more with non-conventional oil.
Air Pollution and Health
In terms of health, an environmental analysis of both transportation modes (gas vs. electric) must take into consideration human toxicity and health costs due to pollutants emitted by fossil-fuelled vehicles. In a full life-cycle analysis, we need to include the costs and impacts of fossil-fuelled vehicles on a significant part of the $36 billion spent on health care and disabilities in Canada as a result of air pollution, which comes largely from road transportation… not to mention 21,000 premature deaths each year.
Effects of pollution on humans, especially near busy roads, include learning disorders and asthma for children; pulmonary fibrosis, cancer and heart diseases for boomers, and accelerated dementia for the elderly.
Wherever air pollution decreased, diseases and premature deaths decreased as well. For those who cannot go without a car, it is better to switch to an EV to avoid breathing in smog.
So-called “rare” metals are used in the oil industry, the anti-pollution devices in cars, several small engines, and electronic devices such as window regulators, cellphones, computers, and televisions. Some EV engines contain rare metals, but not all of them. It should be noted that there are no rare metals in EV batteries.
Life-Cycle and Recycling… of Batteries
EV batteries are meant to last for a long time (between 200,000 and 500,000 km depending on technologies), and can be repurposed later on for stationary storage. As for battery recycling (its “third life”), things are evolving quickly. Take for example the consortium formed by Quebec companies and Hydro-Québec that will recycle 99% of the components of a battery, including lithium, cobalt, and graphite. With the long battery life expectancy and its recycling, the use of mineral resources and its ecological footprint will be much less compared to what we envisioned 5 years ago. As for the controversial use of metals like cobalt, it is continually decreasing and should soon be eliminated.
In 2016, Quebec’s commercial deficit stood at 6.4 billion… while its hydrocarbon imports were of 7.5 billion. The more we decrease oil imports by replacing them with renewable energy, the better Quebec’s economy will be.
We do not pretend that the electric vehicle is perfect or that it is the only solution. However, it is unquestionably one of the key solutions to reduce our ecological footprint AND improve our health, along with prioritizing collective transport (which will be increasingly electric), active transport, car-pooling and car-sharing (which can be electric)… and telecommuting.
We should not therefore be opposed to the transition to electric vehicles and the other sustainable mobility solutions. Instead, we should see them as complementary, and combine them wisely.
This is a translation of the open letter published in Le Devoir.
Karim Zaghib (General Director of the Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage of the IREQ, named one of the world’s most influential scientists in 2015, 2016, and 2017)
France Lampron, Director, Transportation Electrification, Hydro-Québec
Daniel Breton, Quebec’s former Environment Minister, co-author of the book L’auto électrique… et plus!
Catherine Kargas, President and CEO, Electric Mobility Canada
Pierre Langlois, PhD in Physics, author of numerous articles and books on transportation electrification.
Dr. François Reeves, environmental cardiologist, professor at the CHUM, author of the book Planet Heart
Catherine Morency, Professor, Chairholder of the Research Chair on Personal Mobility, Polytechnique Montréal
André St-Pierre, Chief Executive, InnoVÉÉ
Sarah Houde, Chief Executive, Propulsion Québec
Simon-Pierre Rioux, President, Association des véhicules électriques du Québec (AVÉQ)
Martin Archambault, Media Spokesperson, AVÉQ
Patrick Bonin, Climate & Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace
Karel Mayrand, Chief Executive, David Suzuki Foundation – Québec and Atlantic
André Bélisle, President, Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA)
Christian Simard, Chief Executive, Nature Québec
Sylvain Juteau, President, RoulezElectrique.com
Stéphane Pascalon, President, Club Tesla Québec
Mario Langlois, Spokesperson, Coalition Zéro Émission Québec
François Boucher, Founder, Coalition Zéro Émission Québec