Knowing where to look

November 17, 2020

A couple of years ago, the City of Guelph looked at its vehicle fleet for the best opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions without breaking the bank. At the Fall 2020 meeting of Guelph Energy Managers, we were treated to a fascinating presentation on this project. The results were surprising, and can be summed up as: the easy work is done, the next-gen tools aren’t there yet, and the biggest opportunity is already under way.

City PriiThe City has a couple of dozen passenger cars in its fleet, with most used for building inspections and bylaw enforcement. Many of these are already hybrids - Toyota Priuses (I can’t bring myself to say Prii, although Toyota customers decided that’s the right plural form) with a couple of Hyundai Sonatas thrown in. There was a time when hybrids were the next big thing, but the world has moved on and now even plug-in hybrids are being eclipsed by full-on battery electric vehicles like the Tesla Model 3, the Chevy Bolt, and my own Hyundai Kona Electric.

However, when you already own a hybrid, there’s not much to be gained by ditching it and going all electric. That’s what Chris Hill, Program Manager - Fleet Planning, found out when he retained Geotab to analyze City fleet usage and make recommendations. Through its Electric Vehicle Suitability Assessment, Geotab supplies telematics devices that plug in to the vehicle’s on-board diagnostics port. The device collects data on starts, stops, speed, run time, fuel consumption, and so on. Geotab collects all of this data from the selected vehicles, collates and analyzes it, and comes back to the client with recommendations on where to go next.

The analysis showed that switching these cars out for all-electric models would be an expensive way to save a small amount of GHGs. It’s the highest-mileage (kilometerage?) vehicles that produce the most emissions, and hence that will do the most planet-saving by making the EV switch. Trouble is, the City’s cars typically don’t drive very far - 42 km per day on average. They only gas up twice a month. As far as slimming down emissions go, these cars are already pretty lean.

Most of the fleet’s light-duty vehicles are pickup trucks, and you can’t get electric versions of those in Canada. Oh, if you live in the US, you can get your Ford F150 converted to a hybrid, but it’s next to impossible to get that done in Canada. However, as Geotab EV Solutions Engineer John Glass points out, this landscape will soon change. In the next couple of years, Rivian plans to release its all-electric R1T pickup, Tesla its Cybertruck, Ford its electric F-150, and Chevrolet an electric Silverado. Vendors like BYD and Lion are bringing heavier-duty product to market as well - Class 5 through Class 8 - so there is light on the horizon. (If you’re not familiar with truck classes, they go up by weight - a bucket truck would probably be Class 5, a school bus Class 6, a garbage truck Class 7, and dump truck Class 8.)

So Guelph did well by jumping on the hybrid bandwagon when it did. They’ve put many fuel-efficient klicks on those vehicles over the years, so that’s a win. They also expect that these hybrids will have longer service life than their non-electric cousins. If you can get twelve years out of a car instead of ten, that is a big savings on the pocketbook, not to mention on the carbon embodied in the process of manufacturing and shipping. Another win.

The highest-cost component of battery EVs is, not surprisingly, the battery. As production volumes increase and supply chains mature, those costs are dropping. In 2010, you would have paid $1,160 for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of battery capacity; in 2019, that had dropped nearly 90% to $156/kWh. Last month Consumer Reports published an article showing that on a total lifecycle cost basis, EVs are already cheaper than internal combustion engine vehicles. The lower maintenance and fuelling costs are enough to offset the higher up-front cost, including getting a level 2 charger (the kind that would connect to a 220V outlet like your dryer does). The next threshold to cross will be when even the initial sticker price is lower, likely in the next three to five years. Watch for EV sales volumes to skyrocket when that happens. And watch for the resale value of traditional cars to tank. 

We just have to hope that as manufacturers move ahead with plans to have a total of 500 EV models on the market by 2022, they reserve some vehicles for fleet managers like Chris.

So is the City just idling at the intersection and waiting for the light to change? Perish the thought.

More than a third of all emissions from City operations come from Guelph Transit’s fleet of 80 diesel buses - 7,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. This, in Chris Hill’s words, is the “high nail” for GHG reductions. And it just so happens that the City is making plans to ditch diesel and go electric, in line with Action 17 on our Pathway to Net Zero Carbon.

Back in January, the City, the Province, and the Government of Canada announced a joint funding agreement to get bus electrification rolling in Guelph. A total of $100M is on the table to buy 35 e-buses and chargers right away. Another 30 buses will follow, along with a new facility to house, maintain, and charge them up for their daily rounds.

So, with help from Geotab, the City learned that its modest fleet of cars doesn’t hold much promise for driving emissions reductions. The rest of the fleet is stuck in petroleum land, but this will change soon as electric models become ever heftier. And in the meantime, the exciting - maybe electrifying - story is the drive to bring Guelph Transit's bus fleet into the post-carbon world.

Alex Chapman

Executive Director