Reader questions about electric vehicles answered

What Flatlander readers want to know about electric vehicles and answers to their questions, like can local power grids handle EVs and more.

Our recent reporting on electric vehicles garnered some reader questions and comments, which had me doing some extra reading and research on the topic.

For me, the appeal of journalism as a newsletter is the informality of voice. When working as a traditional newspaper reporter, the norm is to use the third person. I joke that this makes the reporter like the voice of God. Who is the person writing the story? 

Whereas in this format, I can bring in readers and respond to their comments and questions publically in a conversational tone, and perhaps by writing in the first person, you can get a sense of who I am as a journalist.

As a newsletter writer that I follow, Brian Morrisey of The Rebooting wrote this week:

One of the attractions of newsletters and podcasts for me is that the best ones throw off the artifice of knowing The Truth and instead are journeys of figuring it out. This is pretty much what being a human is about. We’ve always been trying to figure things out . . .  The way we understand the world around us is not by rote learning of information delivered to us, it’s usually through trial and error, and discussion with others . .. If someone confidently tells you they’ve figured it all out, they’re either trying to sell you something or delusional.

That quote articulates why I like to do these types of issues from audience feedback.

So on that note, I decided to start this issue with a letter from Flatlander reader Gayle Smith, who wrote to share her experiences of buying and driving an EV. She said the most challenging part about switching to an EV was finding a car in stock because of high customer demand. You can read her letter here

Reader Ron wrote:

As far as EV usage in the prairies, there are a couple of issues that need to be overcome. First, as a low-income Manitoban retiree who would love to switch to an EV vehicle, I know that we cannot buy new cars, just too expensive. That means that there has to be a healthy stock of used EVs to choose from. That means EVs that can stand the test of time and be affordable. But the second more important thing is this I live out in rural Manitoba, and when I go out when it’s minus 30 with minus 40 wind chills, I need to know that my EV vehicle will start, and right now, I am not confident that this would happen. Until the technology improves to combat extreme temperatures, then EVs will be seen as a quaint hobby here.

The cost of a new EV is undoubtedly out of reach for many people, especially without provincial rebates. Even used EVs are expensive. 

A large part of the cost comes from the battery made from high-demand minerals like lithium. But as more lithium sources become available, including mine sites in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the cost will come down. Work is also being done to make the recycling of batteries possible. These developments should help drop the price.

There is also an economy of scale issue. The more of a product a company makes, the cheaper it costs to produce. While more electric vehicles are out in the wild, including in rural Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and the demand is growing, EVs aren’t being produced en masse like our gas-powered vehicles, which would make the cost of manufacturing them go down. But that is expected to change.

Some anticipate that by 2026, EVs will equal the price of gas-powered cars.

As the competition grows, companies will be pushed to knock their prices down. For instance, Tesla significantly dropped prices in Canada this month by about eight to 17 per cent, depending on the model. 

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Our Prairie stories.

EVs and weather:

When it comes to weather, according to SaskPower, EVs have no problem starting during those dark minus 40 wind chill mornings we’ve all experienced.

Shannon Wright, who we interviewed for our article, owns a new Hyundai Kona, which has a range of about 450 km when fully charged; Wright has been able to drive it from Saskatoon to Brandon with no concern about range, often referred to as “range anxiety.” 

However, that said, Greg Miller, who recently purchased a BMW i4 and lives in Indian Head, east of Regina, along the Trans-Canada, has found it challenging to drive to Montana, about 440 km away, for business trips in the winter. His vehicle can make it to its destination in the summer without charging. In the winter, when the range drops, the only charging station en route is a Level 2 charger at a Peavy Mart in Weyburn, which Miller says is only available about 50 per cent of the time. 

Relying on a Level 2 charger adds an hour or more to the trip time, so a Level 3 charger in Weyburn would improve his travel experience.  

According to Manitoba Hydro, the average daily driving distance for Manitobans is approximately 43 km, and typical commuting distances within Winnipeg are about 30 km per day, so if one doesn’t do a lot of long-distance travel in the winter, an EV likely won’t provide too much inconvenience as a person could charge their vehicle at home. 

SaskPower went out and talked to some EV owners to confirm this, and here is what was said:

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Recent weather proved EVs can operate in extreme cold temperatures. My Bolt has started every single time for me between -40C and +35C. We passed many cars with their hoods up, getting a boost in the recent cold snap.
Jim Barnsley, Saskatoon, Chevrolet Bolt

EVs are great in the winter! EVs don’t have the engine parts that need to efficiently move and turn like all gas-powered vehicles do, which can cause them to stall at cold temperatures. Turning on an EV is just like turning on a light switch, and it’s the same at -30C, just as it is at 30C.
Malcolm Lucy, Saskatoon, Tesla Model 3

EVs don’t really “start.” There’s no oil to warm up or crankshaft to turn – they simply turn on like a smartphone or electric drill.
Tyler Krause, Saskatoon, Tesla Model 3 

EVs perform perfectly in any temperature, but the car likes the battery to be warm. You will use extra power when it’s cold because the car will use power to heat the battery. Driving on a highway when it’s super cold uses a pile of power as all of the cold air rushing under the car at highway speed cools the battery. Range will drop below 50 to 60 per cent in those extreme conditions. But you just charge more often when it’s really cold. All gas cars have reduced mileage in winter as well.
Lindsay Brooks, Emerald Park, Tesla Model S

The main problem is a drop in range. Performing is not an issue. On a recent trip from Swift Current to Regina, it was -32C. We stopped in Moose Jaw for about 15 minutes and then on to Regina. I could have made it to Regina easily, but I did not want to charge there. We charged in Moose Jaw for about half an hour while having lunch on the way back. In the summer, I would have done the return trip without charging.
Bob Armstrong, Swift Current, Tesla Model S

The owners say when shopping for an electric vehicle, ask how many kilometres one charge will take you and divide that by two for winter range performance. 

Close-up of an electric car power supply. GETTY IMAGES.

EVs and its effects on the power grid

Terri wrote The Flatlander:

I am interested in projection exploration of the demand on our electric power grid if we had full adoption of EVs and the question of how we keep up. 

Both SaskPower and Manitoba Hydro are working on models for the future that takes into account the growing number of EVs on the road.

Here is the latest modelling and analysis from Manitoba Hydro, which came out in December. 

SaskPower is currently working on its own study.

Saskpower also did a myth-busting series around EVs and noted that Saskatchewan’s grid can currently handle EVs and is planning for future growth.   

EVs and Saskatchewan’s use of coal for power generation

Myra writes:

Thanks for the interesting article. It makes sense for Manitoba to have EVs in order to reduce GHG emissions because much of MB’s electricity comes from hydro. In SK, 65% of electricity comes from fossil fuels. Until that changes, it makes little sense for those living in the south of the province to drive EVs. 

According to the SaskPower website, they are moving away from fossil fuels.

This past November, SaskPower said it’s on track to reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 50 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. 

This means the amount of non-emitting electricity in Saskatchewan’s power generation mix will increase from approximately 35 per cent today to between 40 and 50 per cent.

By 2035, SaskPower plans to add up to 3,000 MW of wind and solar generation.

Some readers pointed to SaskPower’s use of coal in three of its power plants—two of which are near Estevan (Boundary Dam and Shand Power) and a third (Poplar River Power) is located by Coronach.

According to the SaskPower website, the plants will eventually be retired or retrofitted by to include Carbon Capture and Storage technology by 2030.

A reader named Liana writes:

Perhaps you could look into & do a story on the cons of EV vehicles . . . did you know that the mining for the needed materials is very hard on the environment . . . Have you thought of how this will affect farmers? 

EVs and pedestrian safety

Regarding cons, Vox recently did an article on the unintended consequences of EVs. Interestingly, most of the concern is around pedestrian safety. For instance, EVs are incredibly quiet, so pedestrians might not hear them coming, so there has been some work on creating a warning noise. EVs are also heavier than gas-fueled cars meaning accidents could be deadlier. 

Are EVs that good for the environment when it requires lithium mining? 

The Flatlander explored this in our lithium mining article. Any extraction of materials from the earth will damage the environment, which is why there is work being done to recycle lithium batteries.

Paris Marx, one of the people we interviewed for the lithium mining article, suggested if society is serious about reducing our environmental impact, we should limit our use of cars regardless of how it is being powered.

“The focus, especially at the government level, at least in addition to electric vehicles, should be on expanding public transit; ensuring there is safe, reliable cycling infrastructure for people; ensuring that we’re investing in the rail network to make it more reliable and accessible.”

EVs and farmers

As for farmers, John Deere is working towards electrification of agricultural equipment. New Holland Agriculture introduced a hydrogen-powered tractor recently. And Kubota hopes to have a hydrogen-powered tractor out by 2025. 

The benefit of moving away from gas-powered vehicles for farmers might be more practical in that one wouldn’t have to drive to town and pick up fuel for the machinery. And in theory, innovative farmers could use solar and wind power to create their own hydrogen.

Hydrogen storage has not been without explosions, however.

Terry wrote:

Most PlugShare and ChargePoint stations are level 2 (in Manitoba and Saskatchewan). Most EV drivers on long road trips aren’t interested in 4 to 8 hour charging stops in the quiet prairie view small towns and corner stores.

There is a Tesla store in Saskatoon that markets the cars to Manitoba. I’ve met a few customers who have made the trip and plan the return with lengthy stayovers in various places between Saskatchewan and Winnipeg. 

Terry also points out that Mercedes, like Tesla, will also be setting up their brand of charging stations. However, unlike Tesla, these charging units won’t be proprietary and will be open to all electric vehicles. 

However, Mercedes-EQ vehicle owners may have priority access and the ability to make reservations through a Mercedes mobile app.

Alda writes:

The horse has not left the barn when it comes to EVs. The cart has been placed before the horse. 

Preparing for the future of EVS

Alda’s concern was explicitly about power grids not being ready; however, as mentioned above, SaskPower and Manitoba Hydro are working on being prepared for the future.

Where the cart may be placed before the horse is in the need of additional charging infrastructure, which is being slowed by supply chain issues. Then there is the issue of maintaining the charging stations. I see the occasional media article here or there, like this one: Electric vehicle owners are fed up with broken EV chargers and janky software.

And while most homeowners can charge their EVS at home, this usually isn’t possible for apartment owners, who likely wouldn’t be allowed to install a personal charger.

High demand for EVs has caught analysts off guard

The infrastructure lag is partly because the high demand for EVs has surprised analysts

Around the world, almost 30 million electric vehicles are being driven. This is up by 10 million from 2020.

In Norway, four out of five vehicles sold are electric. In Germany, about half of the new cars bought in December were either electric or hybrid. The world isn’t yet mining enough lithium to keep up with the demand. 

June wrote: 

Hydro during a storm can’t handle it when power goes out how in the bloody hell are people going to charge these stupid cars with NO POWER! 

How do you keep your electric vehicle charged if there is a power outage? 

The Globe and Mail did an article about how EV drivers faired when some Ottawa residents lost power for 10 days last spring after a derecho. Because EV owners typically charge their vehicles in the evening, they start each day with a full charge.

According to the EV Council of Ottawa, no issues were reported. Some people were using their EVs to charge other electrical items, like their fridges, for themselves and their neighbours. 

Without long cross-country trips, EV batteries seem to hold up for days. 

One Hyundai Ioniq 5 driver said that after charging his fridge from his car for 36 hours, his car battery was 80 per cent.

Also, gas stations need electricity to operate, so that made for long lineups at the pumps in Ottawa when the power went back on.

Keith wrote:

It seems as though people don’t know all the options available re: using electricity to power vehicles. On top of EVs, there are hybrids and plug-in hybrids. So one can go electric when driving around in the city for instance (15 to about 60 mi, 24 to 97 km); but can revert to the gas internal combustion engine when travelling on the highway at speed. (The gas engine can also recharge the battery.)  From what I’ve seen, there’s no prov or fed rebate for hybrids. There is a fed rebate, though (but none for the two provinces) if one purchases a plug-in hybrid with a certain minimum kWh-sized battery. It would then seem that the plug-in hybrid has the best of both worlds.

Rebates and hybrids

The Consumer Report did an article on the differences between hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs and the pros and cons of each, which is worth a read. 

And there are no federal rebates for hybrids, only plug-in hybrids. Saskatchewan and Manitoba don’t have any provincial vehicle rebates. 

Thanks, everyone, for your great questions and concerns. It’s important for journalism to create public dialogue. And I learn more by looking into your questions. 

Local resources on EVs

If you’d like to learn more about EVs, you should check out the resources available from SaskPower and Manitoba Hydro

Also, if you live in Northern Manitoba or visit it often, Volker Beckmann, a member of the advocacy group NorthernEV,  has shared a map that shows how one could do it in an EV with the stops you’d have to make and the charging times required with the existing infrastructure.

Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

  1. Manitoba drivers paid second-lowest car insurance premiums in Canada (Saskatchewan has the lowest)
  2. Russell man arrested after Interpol alerts Manitoba RCMP to online threats
  3. Province pulls medical coverage for 3 Winnipeg women suffering from chronic disease 
  4. Many Manitobans resort to grocery theft as food prices out of reach: union president
  5. Former addict chronicles his life of crime, recovery

Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

  1. A second Saskatchewanian was killed in Ukraine
  2. Rural Sask. lacking support for drug users, says woman in recovery
  3. Co-op Refinery pays City of Regina $4.6M for 2020 ‘effluent’ spill 
  4. Workers demand clarity as Sask. weighs future of coal power stations
  5. Rime frost: A closer look at Saskatchewan’s winter wonderland 

Important work at a critical time.

Over the last 20 years, on the Prairies and beyond,  local newsrooms have shrunk, which means not much investigative journalism gets done in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Flatlander is changing this.

 

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