Electric Buses – a Visit to Proterra

In August, Kathleen and I headed to Los Angeles to attend Climate Reality Leadership Corps training.  Given the GHG and monetary cost of flying across the continent, we looked for other things we could do while we were in town.  Proterra have an assembly plant in the area and I realised it was not that far from where we were going to be staying.  I had met members of the Proterra team when they visited Ottawa with a bus earlier in the year for the EV20018VE conference.  After a few emails to Proterra we arranged a factory tour for the trainees for the day before the training started.

Switching buses away from fossil fuels is a vital part of climate action, municipal bus fleets are significant emitters of GHGs and a source of considerable air pollution.  Here in Ottawa, the bus fleet emits over 160,000 tonnes of CO2 annually and pollutes the city with NOx and particulate matter.  A number of North American transit authorities are planning to either stop buying diesel buses or to phase them out completely between now and 2040 and we can look forward to more TAs joining them over time.

Although the electric bus industry is in its early days in North America, considerable progress has been made in China with something like 400,000 e-buses on the road.  Progress has been far slower in the US and Canada but there are signs that the market is starting to look at future adoption of electric buses.  Proterra has competition from BYD’s California operation, New Flyer, Nova and Green Power.  Proterra is also working with Alexander Dennis on double deckers.  Proterra has orders for, or, has delivered about 344 buses.  Recently, Proterra received an investment from Daimler  that has resulted in cooperation with Thomas on an electric school bus.

On the day of the tour we caught a train from downtown LA to the City of Industry. Proterra picked us up from the station with a brand new bus, for many of the trainees this was their first time on an electric bus.  As happened the last time I rode a Proterra bus, I nearly fell over when the bus accelerated away from a light, I should learn to hang on, this is not your grandpa’s bus!

Proterra designed the bus from the ground up allow them to optimise the design and get the weight low.  Modern city buses need to have low floors to allow wheelchairs to be loaded easily and to make getting on and off the bus easier for all passengers.  Typically buses are built as body on frame, with a complex steel frame supporting the body panels:

This is the steel frame of a New Flyer bus

 

 

And this is the “frame” of a Proterra bus

By building a composite monocoque body, Proterra has been able to simplify the design of the bus and provide space under the low-floor for the batteries.  The body is built in two parts, top and bottom.  Carbon fibre is used where strength is needed.  There are a lot of similarities with boat building.  Composite boats can last 40+ years whereas bus frames require corrosion repairs and in some cases complete body rebuilds during there 12-18 year life.  The bodies are delivered to the LA plant as complete units.

Brian Miller, Head of Proterra’s LA site shows us battery packs waiting to be installed

The battery packs form part of the bus structure when they are installed.  Proterra has considered the battery lifecycle and the packs can be stacked for use in a second life power storage solution.  In many electricity markets, including Ontario, having power storage available at the bus depot can significantly reduce the cost of charging.

A bus in production for Yosemite National Park

The front and rear suspensions are bolted directly to the body.

The production line was full the day we were there.  Proterra have a backlog of orders and they are looking to speed up production.  I asked how many hours they take to build the bus and the targets, the plant manager had the numbers on where they stand and where they want to be.

Proterra is in the process of setting up a second line in the same space, having recovered some space from a tenant in the building.

Brian Millar and Lee Wixom point out the finer points of building buses

Our hosts were generous with their time and very open.  Some of Proterra’s leadership has worked at Tesla and there are similarities between the companies.  Both are start-ups with no fossil fueled baggage, both are based in Silicon Valley.

Happy Climate Reality Leadership Trainees

Our group of trainees were happy to be given a really good introduction to electric buses. Seeing how they are built and how much simpler they are than a diesel bus, was eye opening for all of us.  I work around buses everyday and Proterra has a really interesting value proposition that goes beyond just swapping the power source but looks towards a future where buses are just simpler and lower maintenance.

Proterra dropped us back at the station in the City of Industry and spent even more time answering questions and showing features of the bus while we waited for the train.

Thanks go out to TJ Nass, Brian Millar and Lee Wixom for hosting and to Michael Hennessy and Steve O’Neil for setting up the visit.  A couple of days later, Ryan Popple, Proterra’s CEO was one of the presenters at the Climate Reality Leadership training.  Ryan was not there to promote Proterra but to take part in a much wider climate discussion and it was clear from his words that climate action is one of the major motivators of the management of Proterra.

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Aesthetic argument against windmills…really?

Riding a bicycle all day long for a week, along the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, gave me plenty of time for contemplation. Cruising along the back roads and trails of Ontario’s seemingly endless shoreline, I really appreciated the beauty of this province. It is outstanding, and well worth preserving.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I guess not everyone will agree on exactly what is beautiful and what is not…but when it comes to the NIMBY’s argument that windmills are an eyesore, I just don’t get it. After seeing the likes of the Darlington Nuclear Plant, the Lennox I & II Plants, the Durham Regional Energy Centre and all the other power generation plants that dot the shores of Lake Ontario, windmills are a huge improvement, at least to my eyes, not to mention to my lungs!

 

How many armed guards do you need for a windmill? Personally, I find this pretty disturbing

Sign outside Darlington Nuclear Plant

 

And how much CEM data monitoring do we need to do on a windmill? The answer is NONE!

 

Sign outside the Durham York Energy Centre showing ongoing emissions monitoring results

 

How attractive is this new Lennox II natural gas plant that is going in near Bath Ontario, right beside the original plant?

Lennox II natural gas plant construction site

 

Lennox Natural Gas Plant, with a field of transmission towers extending off into the distance

 

As compared to the view across the street from it, where you can see the windmills on Amherst Island behind Matthew, off in the distance.

Matthew with windmills of Amherst Island in the distance

 

Or to this construction site at the White Pines Project in Prince Edward County (the one that Doug Ford recently cancelled). The footprint is a fraction of the size and the disruption to the environment next to nil. Farming continues all around it.

White Pines Project windmill ready for assembly

 

We all want and need electricity to sustain our lifestyles. Can you imagine if the aesthetics argument had been considered in the early years of developing our country? There most certainly would be no trans-Canada railway, no St. Lawrence seaway (imagine anyone trying to flood out dozens of towns in order to build that nowadays?), and most certainly none of these massive power generation plants and transmission towers. But the decision-makers of the day went ahead with major projects for the advancement of society as a whole, and as a result we have the infrastructure we rely on today. If we can (and did) get used to the look of these power plants and transmission towers in our back yards, then we can and will get used to windmills just the same way. And breathe a lot easier for it!

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e-Touring in Quebec

Over 4 days in June we traveled from our home in Ottawa to Baie-Trinité on the North shore of the St Lawrence and back. The journey was a great chance to look at how the charging network in Quebec is deployed and to look at how the rest of Canada can learn from Quebec’s experience.  The North shore or Côte-Nord is a vast, sparsely populated area with about 1% of Quebec’s population.

Over the 4 days we drove up and back with a stop in Quebec City in both directions. Each day was about 500km, with two Level 3 fast charges each day.

The Quebec charging network is impressive, The Electric Circuit has about 115 Level 3 fast chargers in Quebec and Eastern Ontario. The chargers have all been deployed strategically, mainly on highways with good spacing. Many of the stations have a level 2 charger as a backup. At heavily used locations 2 or more fast chargers have been installed.

Electric Circuit’s Charger Network

The conditions for the drive were very good, just about perfect temperatures and low winds, allowing our e-Golf to excede her rated range of 201 kms.  On the way to Quebec City we stopped at Galeries d’Anjou, a Shopping Centre in the east end of Montreal (Click on the link for the Plugshare information on the charger). We arrived with 22kms left on the Guess-O-Meter (GOM) after about 203 km.  It was dinner time, and by the time we had found the food court and eaten the finest fast food available, the car was charged.

The Guess-O-Meter showing an optimistic 262 km range

The next stop was at Roulez Électrique in Trois-Rivieres, a run of about 125 km. Another 125 km later we stopped for the night at Château Repotel Henri IV in Quebec City.  The hotel had one Level 2 charger which provided a full charge overnight.  Hotels are increasingly providing chargers to their guests, As anyone with an EV will strongly prefer to charge overnight, this is a good business move.  Tesla offers a “Charging Partners Program” to provide discounted or free chargers to hotels and similar places.  This program will provide both Tesla and regular Level 2 chargers to suitable properties.

After a quick stop in St Anne de Beaupré to pick up coffee, we headed off to our first charging stop at Saint-Siméon, a distance of about 182 km.  St Anne would be a great spot for a charger, but the Church does not seem to be up to speed yet.  Past St Anne, the geography changes, you are no longer in the relatively flat country that stretches from Windsor to Quebec City.  The terrain becomes much more three-dimensional, with rolling hills and great views of the St Lawrence.

Saint-Siméon is a great example of how to do a charging station right, located at the tourist information centre in the village, with toilets on-site.  The station has a Level 2 as backup and is prewired so that another Level 3 fast charger can be added when it is needed.   The only thing missing was a little coffee shop.

Sometimes things are not as they should be.  The next charger from Saint-Siméon is at Forestville, a 135 km run.  Sadly this charger was not working, but thankfully this was clear from Plugshare.  So the next available charger is at Ville de Ragueneau about 207 km from Saint-Siméon.  Thankfully, this was in range, we had over 260km on the GOM.  The drive to Ragueneau was great, nice roads, a ferry and lots of great views. The only downside was the hills. EVs don’t use a lot more going up and down hills, but the GOM will guess that the big hill you are going up will continue forever and show a big drop in range.  This is restored as you come down the hill, so other than creating some range anxiety, it all works out in the end. It would be nice to have the GOM look at the elevation and give better numbers, but Alice does not have a built in nav system, we use Android Auto which needs an EV mode, but that’s another story.

The charger at Ragueneau came into view with about 25 km left on the GOM and all was well.  The picture at the top of this post was taken there. Another tourist information location with toilets, a park, right on the shore.  After a quick stop in Baie-Comeau, we got to Baie-Trinité in the afternoon.

We stayed overnight at a friends house so we had 16 hours of Level 1 charging before we left on the return trip via Quebec City with a GOM of about 160 km.  We stopped at Ragueneau for a full charge as the car was heavier and we had a bit of a headwind.  We arrived at Saint-Siméon with 32 km on the GOM.

We stayed overnight at the Hotel Chateau Laurier in Quebec City, taking advantage of one of the 4 charging stations they have in their parking.

In the morning we played tourist in Quebec City and had crepes for lunch.  Heading home in the afternoon we stopped at Baie-de-Maskinongé, a highway service centre that turned out to be on the eastbound lanes adding a few kms to the trip.  The last stop was at Rigaud. The weather was warm and this stop saw our charging speed drop to about 20kW or about 122 km/h.  This delayed us by about 20 minutes.  This was the same behaviour seen by Tesla Bjorn in his e-Golf test drive.  I have now got an OBDeleven so I can monitor the battery temperatures and all the other charging parameters, but given that it took 4 long days for this to happen  rather than the few hours it took Bjorn, I am not too concerned.

Much of Quebec is now easily accessible to almost all EVs, at least in the summer and is a great place to tour.  New Brunswick and  Nova Scotia have growing networks and travel from Ottawa to Halifax and beyond will be very simple by next year.  The charging network is designed with the right spacing of chargers, with capacity added where needed.  Quebec should be used as a model for other provinces.

Trip Statistics:

Total Distance 1964 km
Total Energy 299 kWh
Total Cost $77.65
Charging on the road 6:23 hours
Level 3 Charges 8
Level 2 Charges 3
Level 1 Charges 1
GHG Emissions Avoided 295 kg

You can look at the detailed data here.

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Canadian Federal EV Policy – A Proposal

The Government of Canada is working on a new Canadian Zero-Emission Vehicle Strategy to be published this year.  We have been wondering if this might answer some of the issues that surround the slow uptake of EVs and PHEVs in Canada.  In this search we found the “Canada’s ZEV Policy Handbook”  This was a really interesting read and but, and this is a a big but, it promotes perhaps the slowest possible transition away from fossil fueled cars to ZEVs.  Based on the idea that we should have an ZEV market share of 30% by 2030 and 40% by 2040, by which time India,  China, much of Europe and several other jurisdictions will be at 100% market share, by virtue of banning fossil fueled vehicles.  Cities across the world are considering banning all fossil fueled vehicles as soon as 2030.

We hope this lack of ambition will not be reflected in the new Strategy. Slow progress will ensure that Canada becomes a dumping ground for fossil fuel vehicles as the rest of the world moves into an electrified future.  This will lead to damage to the environment, our pocketbooks and to the auto industry.

Canada is in 20th place for ZEV sales, with less the 1% market share.  If we take a look a the electricity grid in the the same group of 20 countries, Canada has the 6th cleanest, with less than 20% of our electricity coming from GHG producing sources.

Data from EV-Volumes.com (1H 2017)

To put it another way, an EV in Canada is a far more effective way of reducing GHG emissions than an EV in most other countries. It is to our shame that we are not pulling on this very large climate change lever as hard as we possibly can.

It is worth taking a look at the countries that are doing well.  Norway, Iceland and Sweden share much of our climate and Norway and Sweden also have a similar  population density to Southern Canada.

So climate and population density are not valid excuses, so why are we where we are?

We think a small part of the reason is that Canada is a very conservative country, change happens slowly and we tend to look south for our cues rather than looking to the leaders in an area for ideas. That said, we think the larger part of this slow progress is due to the simple fact that the fossil fuel and automobile sectors will lose out as we transition from fossil to electric vehicles.

In the end state we will have vehicles that cost a lot less than the current fossil-powered ones.  As battery costs fall, the simplicity of EVs will take over and manufacturing costs will be less than those of fossil vehicles in the next couple of years.  Maintenance costs for EVs are much lower than fossil cars due to very few moving parts.

Car manufacturers are faced with consumers paying less per vehicle, Dealers will be doing less warranty work, oil companies will be selling far less gas and diesel.

Whilst powerful lobbies lose, society wins in this equation: less GHG emissions, less pollution, less particulates and less noise.  Individuals win: lower costs of purchasing, far lower operating costs.  The power companies win: load on the grid is spread and evened out making management easier, sales are higher, opportunities arise to gain a big advantage from vehicle to grid, to allow EVs to supply power during sudden peaks in demand.

Politics is about the art of the possible and we are sure that car manufacturers and oil companies are lobbying hard to ensure that Canada is the last country to move away from the status quo.

So what might be possible, even in a climate where the government is being told it is too hard a change to make?

Graphic from Pod Point via Fully Charged

This is what is possible for the UK market. Click on the graphic to see a great discussion. We can shift this 2-3 years to the right for a view of what we can do in Canada.

Targets

Given that Norway will be above 50% market share for EVs and PHEVs in 2018 we think it is important that Canada set a strong target. 30% by 2030 is not going to address our Paris commitments and will result in consumer demand being ahead of supply and infrastructure.

Proposal: Target 50% ZEV market share by 2028

PHEV market share would be above and beyond the 50% level.

A 50% market share by 2028 will allow Canada to achieve close to 100% electrification by 2050 whilst providing time for infrastructure build out and industry to adapt.

Supply

Currently it is not possible to go to a car dealer, test drive an EV and then pick up a new EV a few days later.  Waiting lists for EVs are long, 6-12 months depending on the manufacturer.  Current Provincial measures have been enough to generate far more sales than the car companies are willing to deal with.  Supply management is key to ensuring the availability of EVs from all companies across all vehicle types.

Today there are EVs and PHEVs in most categories, but few choices within a category, providing almost no choice for consumers.

Quebec has introduced a ZEV mandate to try to ensure that supply will be available for the future.  Quebec has joined Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont in adopting California’s Air Resource Board (CARB) ZEV Mandate.  The CARB mandate is a points system, you get a maximum of 1.3 points for a PHEV and a maximum of 4 points for a pure EV depending on range.  For example a Chevy Volt PHEV gets 0.83 points while our e-Golf would get 1.75 points.  The CARB requirements are not very ambitious, aiming for about 8% market share in 2020.  To meet the 50% goal by 2028 it might be necessary to go beyond CARB’s requirement in 2025 and beyond by reducing the points for PHEVs and increasing the points requirement to get closer to the change required to meet 50% market share.

Proposal:  Adopt CARB ZEV Mandate with enhanced measures from 2025

Additional measures may be required, but these should be considered in concert with provincial programs.

 

Demand

Quebec, Ontario and BC have direct subsidies that have been effective in creating demand but, at least in Ontario created a lot of work and delays in processing individual claims.  Any measures aimed at large scale adoption of EVs have to be simpler to implement.

Ontario has proposed removing the provincial portion of HST on all EVs. This mirrors the key measure used so successfully in Norway.  With HST at 13% in Ontario compared with 25% in Norway, this lever is not very long, especially if it is limited to the provincial portion.  Removing the federal GST portion of 5%, nationwide, would send a strong signal to consumers.  This would remove about $2000 from the cost of the average car.

If we are aiming for 50% market share this would create a serious hole in the budget, so we propose increasing the GST portion as the market share rises. GST should increase by 1% each time EVs achieve another 10% market share  By the time the 50% target is reached, GST would be restored to the normal level and would hold at that level.  PHEVs would not be eligible for the GST reduction.

An important principle for climate change is polluter pays.  This is a hard sell for politicians but there is a case to be made for increasing taxes on fossil powered vehicles.  We propose that GST on new and used fossil powered vehicles be increased by 0.25% per year until the rate reaches 8%.  Each increase will add about $90 t0 the cost of an average car.  Combined with the GST relief on pure EVs, this would generate about a $1B per year over time.  This revenue should be used to pay for transitional costs such as charging infrastructure, electric buses and garbage trucks etc.  PHEVs would maintain the 5% rate.

Proposal:  Reduce GST to 0% on pure EVs, reinstating the 5% rate in stages as market share increases.  Increase the GST on fossil powered vehicles by 0.25% per year until the rate reaches 8%.  Plug-in Hybid EVs should continue to be taxed at 5%.

Canada’s gas and diesel is far cheaper that the G7 average (73% of the average in 2012)  Federal excise tax on gas has been 10c/l since 1995 and 4c/l on diesel since 1987.  Businesses do not pay GST, it is always passed on to the consumer.  Excise tax is paid by all, not just individuals. Increasing excise tax on fuels sends a clear signal to the larger GHG emitters.  The excise tax should be raised gradually to give businesses time to move away from fossil fuel.  Again this increase in tax should be used to fund electrification.

Proposal: Increase excise tax on gas by 1c/l per year, increase excise tax on diesel by 2c/l per year.  This increase should not stop until all 2050 climate change goals are achieved.

 

Auto Industry Support

Canada spends a lot of money supporting the auto industry.  Canada’s auto industry is critical to the economy of Canada and Ontario.  Local production and export of vehicles comes close to balancing imports.  Canada and Ontario subsidise key projects for all 5 manufacturers.  In 2017 Ontario and Canada each invested $100M in an engine plant for Ford  This was an investment in the past, and moving forward we need to be clear that we will only provide support for the future.  In 2017 over $600M was promised to support the auto industry and not a penny went to moving the industry away from fossil fuels.  Under the proposals here, Canada’s electrification rate will lead the US, providing opportunities for Canadian factories to benefit as the US catches up.

Proposal:  Any federal auto subsidies should be to support the move away from fossil fuels.

Messaging

Consumers lack information about the advantages of EVs and the real costs of owning a fossil fuel vehicle.  To reach the 50% goal, consumers need to be informed and educated.   We can start by forcing manufacturers to compare the emissions and costs of running a fossil powered vehicle with an EV and PHEV in the same class.  This should be on the window sticker and in the brochures. This would provide a direct message to the consumer that a fossil powered vehicle is going to cost $2000 more per year to run and emit 4-5 tonnes of GHG per year.

The current EnerGuide Label for Canada, how different would this be if EVs were included on the scale.

When politicians talk about climate change the language used is often weak and shows a lack of real leadership.  We need to lead the public with clear messaging.  We need to look at driving a fossil powered vehicle in the future much as we do smoking in public. There will be a time when driving a fossil car will be socially unacceptable.

Over time, governments moved from supporting tobacco companies to telling the public that they should consider giving up smoking.  This moved to clearer “Smoking Kills” messages and eventually to government suing tobacco companies for the health costs of smoking.  Today, people still smoke, but how many in a particular country depends largely on  government action.

The transition from fossil fueled vehicles to EVs will mirror this process, this will require that politicians be both honest and knowledgeable about climate change and the impact of not doing a lot more than we are planning today.

We hope that Ministers Garneau, McKenna and Prime Minister Trudeau understand that we have to move forward with a concerted effort to educate, advise and support consumers in making the right choices.

Action

If you have found this post interesting, can you support this plan by emailing  your MP and Minister Garneau, our minister of Transport?

Click here for a starting point for your email,  you can find your MP’s email address here. The email includes a BCC to our address so we can see your response. Add your MP to the CC and write your own thought on the subject.  Our experience is that Minister Garneau’s staff read the emails and respond, you can make a real difference to the conversation.

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