Published: North American Energy News (link)
June 2, 2017
Dear Reader, here is my question for you: how much extra are you willing to pay to speed up the Energy Transition? How much risk are you willing to assume?
This is not at all a simple question. Would we be likely to retrofit our current townhouse to be super energy efficient, much less pull out the gas furnace and hot water and go all-electric?
Probably not, because we have other places to spend tens of thousands of dollars, and the payback period would, for us, be far too long. There are also the questions about how much hassle it would be to get approval from our strata for this scope of work, and whether a forty year old wood structure is worth that kind of investment. If we’re looking to sell, a new kitchen and bathroom is better choice.
But what if we weren’t tied to a specific property? A few years ago we were looking seriously at a stunning new house on Passage Island, just off of West Vancouver. In the end we sadly concluded that boat only access just wouldn’t work for us, but that was about the only reason for not moving.
That house, like many in the Gulf Islands, and up Indian Arm in North Vancouver, is entirely off-grid. Phone and Internet are by cel coverage, and all power is by solar and battery. We looked at it and concluded that yes, we could get by just fine with the resources available: wood heat, rainwater collection to drink and wash, propane for cooking, and everything else electric from solar.
What we learned is that there are already a lot of people living very comfortably with solar power, and that it’s become reliable and affordable for most situations. If we had purchased that house everything would have already been in place, so for our use case moving away from natural gas and BC Hydro wouldn’t mean an added cost, just some fairly painless changes to electricity usage – mainly eliminating the electric clothes dryer and replacing a few energy intensive appliances.
This is all within our reach, because it’s not just about “how much are you prepared to spend,” but also about “Are there changes you can make to your day to day activities that will make this possible.”
The phenomenal success of household recycling might be good model for the energy transition. Even with curbside pick up it’s more work, more containers, involves rules that change with every municipality, and delivers exactly no financial benefit to users.
There is no immediate upside to recycling, and no downside to throwing everything into one big black plastic bag, yet the vast majority of people religiously separate plastic and paper, and now often food scraps, into separate buckets.
This didn’t happen because it was mandated, or because there was a cost/benefit analysis. It happened because over the course of a couple of decades people as a whole became convinced that it was a good and productive thing to do. The challenge for EV proponents is to develop similar arguments, and sell them to the broader population. I’d argue that this is already happening, with most people thinking that, all things considered, electric cars are a good idea.
Moving people away from oil and towards renewable energy isn’t just a question of cost. Consumer behaviour is complex and often contradictory. Governments can help things along with incentives, but the big change will come when the population as a whole sees electric cars as part of “normal.”
You can ignore the part of the question about “risk.” We’re already at a point where for the average consumer, that’s been eliminated. For household use you add panels on the roof and batteries in the attic, and you’ve got a reliable system. For autos the only “risk” seems to be the much repeated “range anxiety,” but the vast majority of urban driving is well under those limits so doesn’t apply.
As far as the costs of moving to an electric car, there are really two different questions. One is the cost of charging, and that’s really in the hands of whoever sets the electricity rates. If government decides to do some kind of smart metered cheap rate for auto charging that ceases to be an obstacle.
The only remaining factor is the actual purchase price of a new electric car. That is best answered by my former mother-in-law, who described buying a car by saying “Get the fancy model. The payments aren’t any bigger, they just last longer.” If the monthly payment on a new electric car is only $50 more than for a gas model – and again, government could do that easily with tax breaks – consumers would be there in a flash.
Barry Rueger is a North Vancouver writer, non-profit board member, and past Chair of the District of North Vancouver’s Transportation Consultation Committee.