OTTAWA, April 28 /CNW/ - The recent spike in gasoline prices, if they persist, could favour the purchase of motor vehicles that use alternative fuels. In order to maximize the use of these fuels, there will need to be substantial changes in fuelling technologies and in the practices of motorists who drive them.

A new Conference Board of Canada report for its Centre for Clean Energy, Are We Ready to Step Off the Gas? Preparing for the Impacts of Alternative Fuel Vehicles, concludes that, in addition to assessing vehicle costs and environmental benefits, policy-makers need to consider more than the cost of the vehicles and their effects on the environment. They also should assess how the use of these vehicles will affect public infrastructure, government finances and environmental and energy policies.

"The high purchase price of these vehicles compared with conventional vehicles and the lack of infrastructure to serve them have limited their use," said Len Coad, Director, Energy, Environment and Technology Policy. "Widespread adoption will happen only when an improved vehicle with superior environmental performance is available at a comparable cost and minimal additional inconvenience."

High gasoline prices may draw motorists' attention to vehicles that use alternative sources of energy, but the transition is also being driven by demand on the transportation sector to improve its environmental performance.

"Transportation is currently responsible for 27 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with personal and light-duty vehicles alone accounting for 12 per cent. Indeed, the Canadian transportation sector has a major role to play in the transition to clean energy in Canada," said Coad.

The report assesses the public-policy implications of six broad categories of technologies:

  • internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles using conventional fuels (currently more than 90 per cent of all vehicles in Canada);
  • ICE vehicles using renewable fuels;
  • vehicles fuelled by natural gas;
  • hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles;
  • full battery electric vehicles (BEV); and
  • hydrogen electric vehicles.

Internal combustion engine vehicles using renewable fuels, such as ethanol, have the advantage of an increasing fleet of flex-fuel vehicles (which can burn fuel with up to 85 per cent ethanol) on the road, but they are disadvantaged by a lack of infrastructure needed to deliver high-blend fuel.

Alternative fuel vehicles, such as BEV, exhibit significantly better environmental performance than ICE vehicles. However, the current upfront cost premiums exceed the savings from greater energy efficiency.

The most promising vehicle technologies face different challenges. The global oil market determines the availability and price of fuel for gasoline and diesel vehicles. Due to the reduced range of plug-in hybrid electric and full battery electric vehicles, charging stations and battery replacement stations (where instead of filling with gas, a spent battery is replaced with a charged battery) will be required, or motorists will have to reduce the distance that can be travelled. Israel and Japan are implementing battery replacement stations as a solution to the range restrictions of battery powered vehicles.

Policy makers will want to consider infrastructure requirements, environmental impacts, and the relative cost of alternative fuel vehicles as they design rebates, subsidies, or other incentives. One of the environmental impacts is the potential for reduced GHG emissions. The report finds that, based on today's technologies, improvements in conventional ICE vehicle efficiency have the lowest abatement costs, followed by next-generation renewable fuels, hybrids, plug-ins and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The report from the Centre for Clean Energy is available at www.e-library.ca.

Launched in 2009 by The Conference Board of Canada, the Centre for Clean Energy will study and report on means to design and manage a transition toward clean energy systems built around selected "pathways" that integrate supply, transmission, and end use of energy.


For further information:

Brent Dowdall, Media Relations, Tel.: 613- 526-3090 ext. 448
E-mail: corpcomm@conferenceboard.ca

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