Electric vehicles a better bet than diesel and gas

David Cooke

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

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Part five of an eight-part look at the pace and future of renewable technologies




Transportation in Jamaica is powered by imported fuels, the importation of which costs us annually a bit more than the Jamaica Public Service’s fuel bill (as seen in last Wednesday’s article at the link provided for Jamaica’s energy flow chart). The petrol drag exceeds JPS’s use of roughly 70,000 barrel equivalent of daily oil, which even the mathematically challenged amongst us can quickly calculate to be of the order of US$100 million per month (US$1.2 billion annually).


Eliminating the petrol bill is therefore more pressing than eliminating JPS’s fuel bill. What’s more? It can be done in a shorter time frame.


Successive governments have taken no steps (no policy) towards eliminating this unnecessary drag on our importation bill. Yet, if it gave up just one month’s equivalent of petrol imports (US$100 million) by granting duty waivers on imports of electric cars and buses, it would go a far way in achieving this. The waiver translates to some 5,000 of these vehicles per year, which would cause their prices to drop to below comparable offerings by gasoline-powered types. With electric vehicles priced cheaper than their petrol-powered cousins, we would see a rapid introduction of them. Fleet or bulk purchases (for police, civil servants, car rentals, etc) would lower the prices even further.


As told earlier, energy choice is driven by price, whether for transportation or electricity.


So we can use duty waivers and taxation mechanisms to influence price determinations. By doing this, it is relatively simple to jump-start large amounts of electric vehicles on our roads. We should repeat this duty waiver process as many times as needed, with improved models of electric vehicles being added each time. The electric vehicle offerings worldwide, led by Chinese and European models, are growing rapidly. See last year’s article: "The comeback of electric cars" at this link: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/environment/The-comeback-of-electric-cars_63211.


As well, the onslaught of autonomous driving, expected in large numbers within the next two years with all their safety and stress-reducing benefits, is best implemented in electric vehicles, which is a natural fit for these sensor-driven advancements. These automatic-braking and lane-drift sensor mechanisms and cameras greatly reduce the number of crashes, cutting fatalities by some 50 per cent or more, and lowering major crashes to the realm of minor collisions. It could mean the end of road fatality figures hitting 300 and over. Vehicle insurance rates should drop in coming years as a result.


At present, there is no paperwork in place to allow electric vehicles into the island. Our present importation paperwork requires us to classify the vehicle according to engine size ("cc-rating") and horse-power. Electric cars have no engines generally, but batteries instead, the kWh size which determines the torque that is produced as well as the vehicle’s range — how far it can go without recharging the batteries.


For best fit of torque (which determines how fast a car will accelerate) and range, I would recommend that any electric vehicle imported should exceed a battery pack sizing of at least 24 kWh and possibly 35 kWh. By comparison, luxury Tesla Model-S sedans have 70-kWh battery packs that cause them to go over 365 kilometres. (This massive amount of battery power also allows them to beat Porsche or Maserati sports cars for pure acceleration). The 24 kWh minimum sizing recommendation ensures the vehicle is not underpowered, and also ensures a range of over 100 miles (160 kilometres), sufficient for a round-trip from Mandeville to Kingston. At this minimum size, almost every trip taken will involve no use of imported fuels.


Electric vehicles that meet this 24-kWh battery requirement but have range extenders (small on-board petrol generators for recharging the batteries) should be allowed and treated as electricity, so too should plug-in hybrids. The latter are configured to drive on battery-electricity as a priority, but when quick acceleration is needed such as when overtaking, the small accompanying petrol engine kicks in and adds additional power. They can be plugged in to electrical receptacles to recharge the batteries.


Regular electric hybrids should not qualify for duty reductions since they are gas-powered vehicles with battery-powered accessories and air conditioning. They have little impact on reducing large amounts of petrol imports.


Concurrent with new electric vehicles being added to our fleet, we should remove old gas guzzling clunkers by the same numbers. Beijing is removing over 300,000 of them this year.


Customer satisfaction records show that once individuals drive an electric vehicle or ride in one, they almost never go back to owning petrol vehicles. That certainly was my experience when I rode in a Toyota Avalon plug-in hybrid. It was super-quiet and smooth for the entire city ride. I immediately wanted one!


Our Government should lead by example and ensure that all government ministers and high-level civil servants switch to electric cars and SUVs. JPS managers and senior employees should also be encouraged to follow suit. To speed up exposure to and adoption by the public, taxis and fleets are ideal. In Ukraine, the police force is being equipped with over 600 plug-in hybrid SUVs by the middle of this year. Beijing is now moving to replace its entire fleet of near 70,000 taxis as well with electric vehicles, swiftly adding large fleets to the electric vehicle transformation. London is doing likewise with buses and taxis.


Public transport buses — which are large gas users — are swiftly going electric in major cities worldwide. So quiet are they that lectures can be held on them and orchestras can play with full clarity. And they cost way less to maintain than 6- to 8-mpg gas-guzzling buses. Downhill braking in electric vehicles recharges the batteries, lessening brake wear-and-tear and lowering brake replacement costs.


There is no reason for the entire urban transit bus fleet in Jamaica not to become entirely electric-only, as is rapidly happening in China, the world’s volume leader in electric vehicles. They have added over 115,000 full-size all-electric buses last year representing some 20 per cent of its market. In the previous year, it added over 94,000. Shenzen City, with its 10 million inhabitants, is already envisioning electrifying its entire fleet of some 15,000 buses within five years. Norway, driven by forward-looking smart government policy, has in short time become the world’s per-capita leader in electric vehicle adoption. It has accelerated sales of electric vehicles to achieve 50 per cent or more of all vehicle sales now occurring being electric, and growing in preference.


Yes, we can quickly eliminate just about all our petrol use, which currently costs over US$100 million per month. There’s absolutely no need for our Government to beg or borrow funds from foreign sources, which only loads our national debt, when we have the potential to raise some US$1.2 billion each year from saving petrol imports. Is it that we like to beg and borrow?




David Cooke is a UWI-trained electrical engineer who is now a budding independent clean-energy developer. Contact him at: deeco3@earthlink.net


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