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All 'charged up' about driving alternatives

SINCE the release of the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? in 2006, North Americans have been speculating about the future of technology as it relates to their beloved automobile.

SINCE the release of the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? in 2006, North Americans have been speculating about the future of technology as it relates to their beloved automobile.

Director Chris Paine's insightful film, narrated by Martin Sheen, investigates the birth and death of the electric car, as well as the role of renewable energy and sustainable living in the future.

It exposes perceived corruption by U.S. automakers - the "big three" - and government, to kill off any alternative to gasoline-run vehicles and in effect, keep oil on the front burner.

Fast forward to 2012, and thanks to forward-thinking individuals, and fortuitously for the driving population, electricity as a power source for vehicles has been resurrected. But both the vehicles (in their capacity and function) and the commuting requirements of consumers need to be considered, along with the environmental impact and the potential cost savings over using fossil fuels.

But these new battery-laden vehicles must be charged by electricity, and the bigger the batteries are, the more time it takes to charge them, and power to do it. New and traditional sources for electric power include hydroelectric, wind turbine, solar, geothermal and the old stand-by, burning coal.

Fortunately in B.C., hydroelectric power is currently plentiful, so we are able to take care of recharging said batteries without a lot of trouble, aside from erecting the necessary infrastructure (such as charging stations in condos or workplaces) to provide convenience in a fast-paced world.

Locally, the electric avenues are filling up, slowly but surely.

At the recent Vancouver International Auto Show, the showcase of fully electric, extended range electrics and hybrid (part battery powered, part internal combustion engine) cars and SUVs were plentiful, as were displays of incentive programs and charging solutions.

The major players in the marketplace include the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and the soon-to-be-released Ford Focus and Mitsubishi iMiev.

These vehicles have about a 40k price point, out of reach for many consumers at the moment. In effect, the first wave of buyers ends up paying - literally - for the research, design and technology that facilitated the car's launch. It's tough to convince a new car buyer to hand over 'x' when they can pick up a new, fuel-efficient small family car for half the price.

Then there are the high-end electrics, like the Fisker Karma, which hits the triple-digits. "Early adopter" Justin Bieber has one; he's a good Canadian boy who cares about the environment, and can afford to. A dealership has just opened in Vancouver on West Fifth Avenue (, if drivers care to sniff out electric bliss.

In the 80k-plus range you'll encounter the Tesla Roadster. Then there are the popular hybrids: Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, plus Nissan Altima, the Lexus 250h and other luxury cars that offer a glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and "green."

In Europe, small, affordable electric vehicles are cruising the narrower, clogged roads and byways of cities, and some brands may make it over to North America in due time.

In San Diego, the city launched North America's first large-scale all electric-drive car-share fleet with car2go ( last November. Zero-emission smartfortwo vehicles by Daimler cruise the streets of San Diego with nary a stop at the gas station, and with absolutely zero emissions.

But in order to plug in, automobile buyers have to, first and foremost, buy in.

The Clean Energy Vehicles for B.C. ( program is a good start, where consumers can apply for the CEV Incentive Program through local dealerships that sell or lease qualifying new battery electric, fuel cell, plug-in hybrid electric, or compressed natural gas vehicles. Offering $5,000 off the pre-tax price per eligible clean energy vehicle, it's an incentive to contribute to B.C.'s carbon neutral achievements and greener transportation options.

CEV data states that about 95 per cent of all car trips in B.C.'s urban areas are less than 30 kilometres, ideal for CEV's. Needless to say, for drivers with a daily suburbs-to-city commute, the backup of a gas tank on board is imperative.

Whether you are cruising up Vancouver Island for a vacation, commuting to work, picking up groceries at Costco or logging many kilometres per day, one thing is for certain - each and every driver's vehicular needs are different.

For many reasons, adapting to driving electric will happen in baby steps.

In B.C., we're cautiously optimistic but we're going places, at 120 or 240 volts per charge.