The other day I had a chance to get up close and personal with a brand-new Ford F-150 Lightning, the electric pickup. It had just arrived in Estevan, and was charging up at the local Peavey Mart. I ran out there, shot a short video of it, posted it and an accompanying story.

There was plenty of feedback, some of it critical of electric vehicles, but curiously, some of it was critical of my pointing out some significant issues with this groundbreaking vehicle, and electric vehicles in general.

I pointed out that the massive extended range battery in the F-150 Lightning would take 13 hours to charge from 15 per cent to 100 per cent at the 48 amp Level 2 charger it was plugged into.

I got that from a Design News article quoting the lead designer of that very truck, Linda Zhang.

This comment is a case in point: “Maybe instead of perpetuating myths and misunderstandings, the writer could talk to the driver or literally *anyone* who’s driven an electric vehicle. There’s different chargers for different purposes,” said one woman.

She added, “Articles like this showcase all the faults of EVs in an effort to scare the public from seeing them as a viable transportation alternative.”

Another EV driver took issue with my headline, calling it “clickbait.” The headline read, “First electric Ford F-150 Lightning to reach Estevan seen in the wild, battery will take 13 hours to charge at that charger if it started at 15%”

Every word in that headline was true.

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The latest religion

Now, one of my columnists joked in an upcoming column that I hate electric vehicles. I never said that. But I am not a believer they are the second coming.

You see, those who have joined the Church of Electric Vehicles make it their mission to evangelize their every benefit, and deny their faults are much of an issue, or even exist.

And truly a religion it is. Just like Amway, veganism and climate change. Those who are not adherents are heretics. If you didn’t know that, ask a follower, and they’ll be sure to tell you.

From left: my Expedition, my wife’s F-150, and my daughter’s Dodge 3500 one ton. If these were EVs, how much power would my house need to charge them? Photo by Brian Zinchuk

I have a thing for F-150s

In this case, I had been waiting a long time to see an electric F-150. That’s because I have three, yes, three, F-150-family vehicles in my driveway right now. The first is my 2011 Expedition, an SUV largely based on the F-150. The second is my wife’s 2009 F-150 XLT 4×4. And the third is the most recent addition, my son’s 1999 F-150 XLT 4×4, given to him by my father. So you could say I have something of an affinity for the F-150. Indeed, the first vehicle I ever drove was a 1972 F-100 half ton. My dad took my mom to the hospital to deliver me, using that truck.

All of them have big fuel tanks, so I guess you could consider them “extended range.”

And if I ever wanted to replace my fleet of Fords with electric varieties, there are a multitude of problems.

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Big truck needs big charger

I keep referring to an article in Design News which describes all this in great detail. It interviewed chief design engineer of the F-150 Lightning.

The first is the charging issue. The F-150 Lightning with the extended range battery requires an 80 amp charger on a 100 amp circuit for home charging. And my house has 100 amp service for the whole house. A few years ago I was doing a lot of work in my garage in the winter time and I wanted to put in a 240 volt plug for a small electric heater. I couldn’t do it. There was no room in my panel to handle an additional 240 volt, 30 amp circuit. So that space heater, a gift from my mother, sits on the garage shelf unused to this day.

Coincidentally, that 240 volt, 30 amp circuit would be just fine for Level 2 charging most EV cars. But not trucks. And that is very important. The F-150 is the best selling vehicle in Canada, and has been for decades.

As I noted in the story:

In it, F-150 Lightning chief engineer Linda Zhang said, “In order to get the overnight charging we needed, we installed dual chargers as well as upped the amperage of that wall box to be able to deliver 80 amps of service and get a lot more power through there so we can charge the battery quicker and get overnight to full.”

The article stated, “To power this beast of a wall box, the owner will need to have an electrician wire it to a 100-amp circuit in the home’s breaker box. Some people are even connecting the wall box to its own power meter, Zhang said. While the box is 80 amps, using a 100-amp circuit to power it provides some breathing room. ‘The electrician would need to run 100-amp service to the wall box,’ Zhang said. ‘That is usually what ends up needing to happen just to provide a little bit of buffer.’”

A typical power supply for an older house in Saskatchewan is 100 amps for the entire house, while much older homes can see 50 or 65 amp service, again, to service the entire house. Newer homes are often built with 200 amp service, but as with anything, you can get more if you pay for more.

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Design News continued, “The result of this powerful connection through the Ford Charge Station Pro 80-amp wall box and the dual onboard chargers of the extended-range battery Lightning trucks is the ability to charge the truck’s pack from 15 charge to 100 percent in eight hours. Using the 48-amp Ford Connected Charge Station would take 13 hours, and using the 32-amp Ford Mobile Charger that comes with each Lightning, plugged into a dryer outlet or the equivalent, would take 19 hours.”

So if I wanted to charge my three F-150 class vehicles overnight after a long day of usage, how many 80 amp chargers and 100 amp circuits do I need? One? Two? Three? Maybe I could get by with just one, but that still means doubling the power supply to my house. And I still don’t get my garage heater with that.

Note this is all talk about a half-ton. How much power will a three-quarter-ton or one-ton need? No one is talking about that at all, and Ford makes a lot of Super Duties, as does GM and Ram, with their respective heavy duty trucks.

It comes down to the rocket equation. To move a heavier vehicle you need more energy. More energy means a larger, heavier energy source, which then requires more energy to in-turn move the source of the energy. Thus, the bigger the truck, the bigger the battery. One tons will need much larger batteries, and thus require even more power to charge them.

Where does the power come from?

This brings me to my next issue: where will all that power come from? On my street, nearly every house has at least one pickup parked in front of it. Many have more than one. Now, Estevan is an exceptional community, and I freely acknowledge that. I did a series of stories a number of years ago with all the local dealers in southeast Saskatchewan and they collectively told me the same thing – 90 per cent of their sales were trucks/SUVs, but mostly trucks. And I again point to the F-150 being the best selling vehicle in Canada. Similar offerings from GM and Ram are close behind.

This is something we’re not dealing with as a society. If we are all going to drive electric vehicles, including electric trucks, when does SaskPower, Manitoba Hydro, Ontario Hydro et al. start building out our grid, and power generation, to support it? I asked about that during SaskPower’s recent annual report briefing and the answer was less than satisfactory (watch for it down the road).

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It took us the better part of a decade for SaskTel to get fibre optic to our house. How is SaskPower, using the very same contractors, going to upgrade the electrical distribution grid across the entire province at the same time? And who will pay for it?

The federal government wants all new vehicles sold to be zero emissions by 2035. That’s just 12.5 years! And that really means mostly electric vehicles. It takes a decade, or more, to go from the idea of building a power station to it sending electrons to the grid. Much longer in the case of nuclear, which is our only true option for baseload power if coal, coal with carbon capture, and combined cycle natural gas are banished to the dustbin of history.

My father gave my son his 23-year-old pickup recently. Will grandfathers be able to pass down older electric vehicles to their grandkids, if the batteries are done for in 7-10 years and a new one is worth more than the vehicle? Photo by Brian Zinchuk

What secondary market?

And once we get to that point, how will those among us will be able to afford EVs? That’s because the bulk of the cost of an EV is the lithium-based battery.

And there’s a little problem with lithium batteries. They’re great, until they aren’t. Are you using an iPhone 6? Most likely not. Even if you replaced the battery multiple times, as I did with my 6, continual charging cycles eventually kills off the battery. Ever buy a laptop and find after three years, you can’t use it for more that a few minutes without being plugged in all the time? That’s because, just like your phone, after about a thousand charge cycles, the lithium battery is just done.

EVs aren’t likely to be charged as often, so they will last longer than your iPhone. But after seven years or so of regular usage, that battery’s going to need replacement. And not many people or car companies are doing that these days. That’s because the cost of replacing the battery is so much, the economics are rarely worth it.

That F-150 Lighting I saw was the same trim level as my wife’s 2009. She bought it less than a year old with 18,000 km on it for $27,000. The Lightning was listed for $85,995, before tax. And that’s not a top-of-the-line model, either. Not even close. It was about $20,000 more than a similar gasoline model.

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So what happens for those people who can’t afford new EVs? People who, like some poorly paid reporters, spend much, if not all, of their lives driving used vehicles, wringing out the last few years of usage? Ten years from now, will there be any older EVs for those less affluent among us to buy? Remember my aforementioned fleet? 2011 is the newest. 2009. 1999. We are still able to operate these, and likely will for many years, but that’s likely not going to happen with the current generation of EVs. What’s the probability of operating a 11, 13, or 23 year-old electric vehicle?

Maybe they will solve it, but the results aren’t looking too good so far.

Battery-killing winter

And lastly, there’s this little thing called winter. If that very expensive lithium battery is not kept continually warm, either by being plugged in or by using its own energy, during extremely cold weather, bad things happen. Like, get a new battery sort of things. And in -35 C, range can drop by half. Now, gas vehicles see their fuel economy drop in extreme cold, but not by half.

So, no, I don’t hate electric vehicles. Maybe some day I will have one. But there are an enormous pile of issues that need to be addressed before EVs can make the jump from early adopters to dominant.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

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First electric Ford F-150 Lightning to reach Estevan seen in the wild, battery will take 13 hours to charge at that charger if it started at 15%