Electric Vehicles and the Future
Although still at least a decade away, what will it be like to live in a world where gas vehicles are no longer the norm?
Roads will be a lot quieter. This is especially appealing to those living on busier streets. Not being woken up by revving engines will certainly make nights more restful for many.
There are many other aspects of the shift towards electric vehicles that we haven’t put much thought into. For instance, the size of cars has often been limited mainly by the price of gas. When gas prices fall, vehicles get very large. Hence it’s hard to say exactly how big electric vehicles will get as battery capacity improves, especially in regions with cheap electricity. The size of parking spaces may be the only thing that will keep them in check.
And what future is there for gas stations? They’ll likely transition to being true service stations, relying on selling snacks and groceries. But when will such service stations start to provide electric charging facilities? Installation of such infrastructure will be quite expensive, as current electricity grids will not allow a dozen cars access to fast chargers at the same location. Given that people will mostly charge their cars at home, high enough demand for such facilities is unlikely to materialize until cargo fleets go electric. Yet if gas prices stay high, the incentive for trucking companies to make the transition to electric will be strong.
As well, we tend to underestimate the regional disparities we’ll certainly see in terms of electric vehicle uptake. The cost of fuel is largely similar across the country. The difference in price for a litre of gas between the cheapest province, Alberta, and the most expensive, Newfoundland, is only about 15%. Electricity is a different story. The cost of electricity in Quebec is by far the cheapest in Canada, and is less than half that of Alberta. Moreover, the prairie provinces use fossil fuels to generate large portions of their electricity, so the environmental benefits of switching to electric vehicles for those in Alberta or Saskatchewan are also much less pronounced.
Yet despite cheap electricity in Quebec, the increase in demand over the coming years will have other consequences that are not often discussed. As hydroelectric facilities are developed in the north of the province, communities in those regions will pay the price, many of which are indigenous. Beyond the modified waterways and ensuing flooding caused by dams, the infrastructure to transport the electricity is quite devastating to the local ecosystem. High tension lines have been blamed for decimating caribou populations. Many families have been forced to move, and when local communities voted against proposed projects in recent years the projects were pushed through regardless. We’ll need to find fair ways of dealing with impacted communities as the need for such projects accelerates in the future, at the very least offering them fair compensation.
Energy transition will be one of the defining challenges of the coming years. Proper planning now will allow us to make the most of this unique opportunity.