by Jeremy Murphy
There are plenty of reasons we’re lucky to live in this part of the world. One of them is our electricity supply – it’s one of the cleanest on the planet. It gives us a head start in the simple efforts we can make to cut our personal carbon pollution. Switching from gasoline, fuel oil, propane, and even wood to electricity drastically reduces carbon pollution which in turn improves our health, protects our ecosystems, and can save us money.
Our cars and trucks are the biggest source of carbon pollution on the island. Until recent years, non-polluting ways of getting around have been scarce. Bicycles have always been an option, but those hills! There are now almost 50 models of hybrid and battery electric cars and SUVs available, and electric vehicle (EV) pickup trucks are on their way. As there is only a small amount of fossil-fuel made electricity in BC’s electric grid, the operating emissions from battery electric cars are minimal. They are extremely efficient, too: while EVs use about 80% of their electricity to drive the wheels, gas vehicles typically use only 25%; the rest is wasted as heat.
How far are you going? EV driving ranges used to be an issue but the average distance you can drive with current models is over 400km. That’s from here to Nanaimo and back, no problem. Factor in their lower maintenance and the perk of hopping over to HOV lanes and EV ownership is looking pretty appealing.
Too expensive? There are some pretty appealing rebates from the province (up to $3000), federal government ($5000), and BC Hydro (up to $350 for home EV chargers) available right now. Plus, the BC Scrap-It program will give you up to $6000 to switch from your gas car to an EV. These cut the premium on EV model purchases to almost nothing. And with all the money saved on fuel costs (it’s a lot), your new EV is cheaper than a new gas vehicle in no time.
Want to get some exercise, though? The Scrap-It program will give you $1,050 toward a new e-bike. You’ve probably seen some e-bikes and cargo e-bikes out and about on the island carting around groceries, kids, and recycling hauls. Whether you get a complete e-bike system or a conversion kit to modify your existing bike, you’ll get around the whole island at least a couple times – including crushing those hills – before you have to recharge. Typically ranging from $1,200-$6,000, e-bikes can be expensive, but they cost almost nothing to run, are a fraction of the price of a car, and don’t need a battery replacement for several years.
Heating Our Homes
The second biggest carbon pollution source on the island is our home heating fuels: fuel oil, propane, and wood. Since BC’s electricity is so clean, electric baseboard heating is low emitting, but its heating bills can be high.
You’ve probably heard of heat pumps. More and more islanders have installed them in recent years, taking advantage of rebates from BC Hydro (up to $2,000) and the province (up to $4,300) to replace their fuel-using space and water heating systems. Heat pumps act like your fridge, moving heat from one place to another, and modern versions can operate effectively even at very low negative outdoor temperatures.
Heat pumps are 300-400% more energy efficient than baseboard heaters, cutting your energy bill considerably. They only take up a small space outside the home for the heat transfer unit and inside your home for the wall-mounted heating units. In addition to being virtually emissions free, requiring no fuel delivery, and cheap to run, heat pumps are reported to increase home comfort with their even, automated heating operation. Electricians serving the islands typically offer heat pump installation services.
Like any change, switching your vehicle and your home heating system requires a little effort and some upfront costs. But these will start paying off in no time. The sooner you switch, the less carbon pollution you will produce and the sooner you can start saving.
Footnote: Some argue that wood burning is technically carbon neutral as wood’s natural decomposition releases roughly the same emissions as burning it. However, natural decomposition takes many years while combustion pumps the carbon out all at once, causing harmful build up in the atmosphere. As winter storms are expected to be increasingly common and more intense as the climate changes, it’s wise to have a wood stove for when the power goes out. It’s best used as a backup heat source.
Jeremy Murphy is a principal and member-owner at Sustainability Solutions Group, a worker cooperative consulting with governments across Canada on solutions to climate change. www.ssg.coop