Last weekend Premier François Legault speaking at the CAQ general council unveiled what he called a plan “to electrify our economy.” He also made references to move away from oil consumption and instead embrace electricity as the logical alternative for Quebecers since our province is one of the largest producers of hydroelectric energy in North America.
A few weeks earlier, Montreal’s Mayor Valerie Plante had made somewhat similar remarks. Moreover, she even announced her intention that the city’s pension plan stops investing in fossil oil companies. On a separate occasion she had made another announcement, although this one falls more into the category of those grandiose and ultimately meaningless claims Ms. Plante –and to be fair– other previous mayors too, like to make. She would discourage elected officials and city bureaucrats from travelling by plane and instead would push for what she called “most ecological ways” to move. Perhaps that would discourage city officials from attending events abroad, since swimming the Atlantic to attend conferences in Europe, for instance, would not entice many bureaucrats.
Premier Legault and Mayor Plante however, despite their interest in developing a green economy including public transportation, still don’t see eye to eye on the proposed Pink Line, a new metro line that would connect Lachine with Montreal North, crossing downtown and connecting to the planned REM. Legault –who doesn’t seem very concerned about our metropolis (which on the other hand in the last election was not very impressed by his party either)– has only committed himself to a tramway line in the island’s east end, and another one in Longueuil along Taschereau Blvd.
While the Premier has mentioned three main areas where the conversion from oil to electricity should be highlighted –heating in homes and public buildings such as hospitals and seniors residences, in industry, and public transportation– it is the latter where most of the resources could be used, and this is also perhaps the area most relevant to Montrealers.
Although the STM has already introduced hybrid (electric and diesel) buses and some few entirely electrically-powered ones, it has been reported that the latter have experienced some functioning problems and some of them have been taken off the road. One structural problem with these buses is the time they require to recharge their batteries. But there are other problems too, according to a report by Alon Levy published on citylab.com in January this year, regarding the battery-electric buses or BEBs: “There are reasons for skepticism. So far, it looks like BEBs struggle when it’s too cold (below freezing) or too hot, and on routes with hills. The global frontier of public-transit innovation in Western Europe is cautious about adopting BEBs and prefers a hybrid form of trolleybuses and battery-electric technology called in-motion charging, or IMC. Some Swiss cities are adding trolley wire at low cost while using IMC (In motion electric charging) to extend the range of their existing trolleybuses several miles beyond the wire.”
Here is then an interesting concept to consider for our city, if as the Premier has stated, we’re going to move to an electric future, re-introduce trolleybuses of the new generation, i.e., equipped with batteries that charge as they move powered by overhead wires, and then be able to continue running on their batteries for parts of their route. This technology is now being successfully tried in Europe by companies like Iveco Bus in partnership with Skoda. The companies recently launched its latest innovation with the In-Motion Charging, “which combines the electric 2-pole overhead lines with on-board battery energy storage.”
Maybe an electric future for Montreal should consider this new technology for public transit, especially since our city presents two of the obstacles facing the battery-electric bus: extreme cold weather and many hills. Another important change toward the scenario proposed by Premier Legault would be the electrification of all the current suburban trains, which –except for the Two Mountain train– still use diesel locomotives. That would greenly move all of us.