No free lunch

The following came in an email conversation in response to one of my Twitter comments. It’s from Ken Holowanky in Coquitlam who has been trying to promote the ideas for many years. Published here with permission:

free-lunch 250Be very careful about touting the use of all electric vehicles. There is no free lunch.

A horsepower is a horsepower is a horsepower, no matter it comes from decayed dinosaurs and vegetation or draining alpine lakes for IPP hydro projects…. there is a cost.

If one wants to go to Point A from Point B faster, it takes more horsepower. If you want to carry more weight, it takes more horsepower. If you want to make the trip more times, it takes more horsepower.

The proliferation of plug-in stations breeds a mindset one is completely “green” if one drives an electric vehicle and they aren’t using “horsepower”. Though the overall impact of all electric vehicles is calculated to be less….it is only slightly less.

Rare earth minerals for batteries require mining in sensitive areas like the Serengeti Wilderness, oil products are still used for manufacture of all the plastics required, recycling of retired vehicles presents unique problems. If the electricity is hydroelectric, there are still significant effects on the environment, fish habitat, amount of available farmland…and our pocket books.

For several decades after initial flooding, large reservoirs produce a significant amount of GHG and have greatly increased levels of mercury. There is no free lunch and a GHG is a GHG.

The answer is to improve efficiency, not necessarily concentrate on fuel source. Go slower. Carry less weight. Go less often. New internal combustion engines are extremely efficient and clean burning, they are not the enemy they used to be.

Hybrid vehicles are a better choice than all electric, they allow internal combustion engines to work at their peak efficiency for a much longer part of the duty cycle. Batteries are charged by regenerative braking rather than solely “plugging in”. The range is greater so the need for brand new charging infrastructure (and all the copper needed for wire) is minimized.

If the provincial government was truly interested in reducing emissions and fuel consumption rather than paying out of province private corporations and hedge funds 3x the going rate for alpine lake draining IPP electricity (or building Site C in total secrecy), they would allow us to insure a small hybrid vehicles and motorcycles on the same policy as larger vehicles that we may need to use periodically.

My guess is an immediate 10% overall reduction in provincial vehicle emissions would result…. not to mention reduced fossil fuel (and electricity) consumption. Given the choice of jumping in a gas guzzler or a small, efficient car or motorcycle each morning, most would choose the latter if conditions permit and both were insured.

Pure electric vehicles are not a gift from the gods and they should not be a gift from the rest of us taxpayers by way of being the only vehicles eligible for tax and (hopefully eventually) toll concessions, particularly when used for private, not public, transportation. They just are not that great for year-round use here. Try turning on the defroster and see how your range is reduced. I submit they could still qualify to be insured under the same policy as another vehicle for those days, after all every little bit does help.

Mea culpa…. of the “go slower, carry less weight, go less often” mantra I have mastered only half of one. It truly will be a generational change of mindset that can only be reached with balanced policies that are not economically prohibitive and place a higher value on “turning off the lights when you leave the room”.

From The Washington Post:

Reservoirs are a classic instance of how major human alterations to the Earth’s landscape can have unexpected effects. Flooding large areas of Earth can set off new chemical processes as tiny microorganisms break down organic matter in the water, sometimes doing so in the absence of oxygen — a process that leads to methane as a by-product. One reason this happens is that the flooded areas initially contain lots of organic life in the form of trees and grasses.


Categories: Environment

7 replies »

  1. I like the change up Norm, when you republish works from some of your well informed, articulate followeres.

    Thank you Norm.
    Thank you Ken Holowanky.

    Now, it has been quite a spell since I’ve seen Scotty on Denman.


    • Agreed. Scotty on Denman is still paying attention to public affairs in BC and I pay attention to his articulate comments whenever they appear.


  2. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for writing the article and then for Norm publishing. The whole article just makes so much sense.

    Electricity isn’t free. it has to be made and even if you use solar, those panels have to be made. One of the most polluted cities in China is the city where they make solar panels. don’t remember the name of it, but remember the item and it just hit me at the time, yes there is no free lunch. Its about balance.

    We have reduce our electricity consumption via the use of new appliances which are more efficient. There are all sorts of vehicles which are more efficient and they can be made even more efficient as time goes on, if its dictated by consumers and governments. of course we do have Trump wanting to force California to withdraw their clean air regulations………Perhaps we could put Trump in some air polluted place for a few months to see how he does…… well if he thinks pollution is so great, let him have at it.

    Its just as easy as lower ing speed limits to reduce gas consumption. Todd Stone increased them but it didn’t do much except cause people to go even faster and use more gas. You drive a vehicle with a big engine, at high speeds you can watch the gas gauge go down as the mph increase. If we want to save gas, slow down.


    • But, but, but if you drive faster you get there sooner, ergo less gas.
      After six decades of getting too many speeding tickets I decided to slow down. My mantra now is to see how many hours per gallon/litre I can get. See more scenery too.


  3. Interesting.
    Years ago one of our science teachers in High school came up with an idea on home to ‘drive” home the idea of horsepower.
    He had all of us in the class move 1000lbs of bricks the length of a football field ….by hand.
    Then he had us move the same 1000lbs of bricks with 1litre of gas in a small atv and trailer we were able to drive the length of 20 football fields.
    Finally he used a small tow cart with a 1 horsepower electric motor with a charged battery. It outdid everything else.

    He then said. “Imagine if every trip you had to go on you had to move the weight of the car, the occupants, and everything they carried……by hand.
    Luckily you dont because of ……..Horsepower…….”


  4. Last week I committed to solar, not so much for the economy as to frustrate Chrispy’s aim to generate usable power. I won’t have any part of it!
    And when I get my electric car all the horsepower will be generated by the sun.
    It’s true, some components will be natural resource sourced, just as they were for my ICE vehicle. But massive improvements on alternate sources for plastics, revolutionary battery technology etc. make me think we will shortly be able to source the whole transportation industry without reliance on fossil fuels.
    Because if we don’t, what are we going to do when the oil runs out?


  5. I totally agree with Ken Holwanky on the points about driving slower, carrying less weight (unless it’s extra passengers) — and driving less. In all energy situations, conservation is the first key. Increased supply can come later, if needed.

    Hybrids may be a bridge to the ultimate of all-electric vehicles — but it sounds like Ken is just not keen on all-electric vehicles. Maybe he’d change his tune after the industry has evolved, say in 10 years.

    Hybrid Toyota Prius taxis have been logging incredible kms in longevity — and I suspect all-electric cars will do likewise. Batteries will need changing but the rest could go on and on. Like with hybrids, the brake system also recaptures energy. As a result, the pads last a long time.

    There are so many fewer parts in an e-vehicle. No exhaust system, for one. Fewer parts to wear out or be maintained.

    As far as “a horsepower is a horsepower,” I’d contend that the e-vehicles can get their energy at a much better price because it’s from a more efficient source (hydro, solar or wind). Next, it uses the energy very efficiently — unlike a combustion engine, which turns much of the fuel into friction, noise and heat. Lots of heat, that is mostly blown away.

    I test drove a Nissan Leaf and in ‘regenerate mode,’ when you take your foot off the power pedal, it’s like driving a standard transmission car in first gear, when you let off the gas. The regeneration system sucks the kinetic power out of the wheels and puts it back in the battery, bringing the car to a stop. You can toggle that mode off, for a more genteel cruise to a stop.

    A mechanic at Chilliwack Nissan drives his Leaf from Abbotsford 5x a week and he charges it at home. Even a 4-cylinder gas car would take at least $50 a week in fuel for that commute. He figures he’s spending $10 on electricity.

    Yes, he will have to replace the battery at some point, No free lunch. But no oil, tranny fluid or antifreeze changes, or rusted mufflers either…

    I can see myself owning a battery-powered vehicle in the next few years. If not, a hybrid will be my next choice. I’m getting tired of changing oil, though!


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