CBC presents false information about electric cars

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and other media outlets have been claiming over the last few days that a newly published study shows that “even if every driver in Canada made the switch, from gas to electric, the total emissions might not actually go down”. This information is totally false and is not what the study shows.

The study shows, quite correctly, that if drivers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia switched from gasoline to electric vehicles, emissions would rise. This is because much of the electricity in those provinces comes from coal. However, in all other provinces, switching from gasoline to electric vehicles would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Given that the three provinces account for less than 17% of Canada’s population, the increased emissions that would arise from electric vehicles would be outweighed by the improvement in emissions arising from the switch to electric vehicles in the other provinces. If every Canadian switched to an electric vehicle, an unlikely scenario over the next decade, the impact on emissions would of course depend on the sources the provinces choose for the increased electricity demand but it seems unlikely much of that the additional power requirements would be met with coal.

The CBC has corrected the story in some of its reporting but incorrect information still remains on its website and was repeated on the flagship radio program The Current this morning.

The following is a brief summary of the commentary by Christopher Kennedy, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto:

  • To reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the short term, and catalyse longer-term cuts, countries should reduce the carbon intensity of electricity generation to below a universal target of about 600 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per GigaWatthour by 2020. 
  • The world average carbon intensity for electricity production in 2011 was 536 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per GigaWatthour
  • In Canada, four provinces have grids under 20 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per GigaWatthour, while Alberta and Saskatchewan have high carbon intensities >750 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per GigaWatthour.
  • If sub-regions with such carbon-intensive power grids can be encouraged to meet the 600-ton threshold, then this would bring national average intensities down even further.
  • It may be possible to provide all of the worlds electricity needs from renewable sources.

GallonDaily has no difficulty with Professor Kennedy’s commentary but takes objection to the inaccurate way in which the CBC and other media outlets have interpreted it. One CBC article, not the most egregious offender in misinterpretation of the scientific commentary, and a link to Prof. Kennedy’s three page commentary can be found at http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-march-24-2015-1.3006711/switching-to-an-electric-car-isn-t-always-good-for-the-environment-1.3006734

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