Electrifying BC’s transportation system, debunking the myths: Part I that BC Hydro Load Estimate

A couple weeks ago I was on the receiving end of a surprising amount of vitriol over an old post (Starting a Dialogue – Can we really get to a “fossil fuel-free BC”?) that I subsequently turned into a Huffington Post piece (Dispelling Some Myths About British Columbia’s Energy Picture). The negative comments were coming from the electric vehicle (EV) community (of all places). The members take exception to my suggestion that electrifying the BC transportation system would require the energy generated by 9 Site C Dam equivalents (I will admit that my math was slightly off and I provide a better estimate later in this post). It would appear that many of these people want us all to convert to EVs, but also want everyone to believe that doing so won’t affect our need for electricity. It has the benefit of allowing them to be holier-than-thou about EVs while fighting the projects that might otherwise supply the electricity needed to provide them with juice (like Site C).

The intention of this blog post is to start the process of debunking the fallacies being put forward by these people. My desire is not to pooh-pooh the transition to an electric-powered transportation system or the transition to electric vehicles, both of which I believe are imperative. Rather, my intention in this post is to demonstrate why the transition will need to be accompanied by a ramping up of our electrical grid and electricity supply. To do so, I will need to debunk a number of the recurring myths about the electrification of the BC transport system that have been repeated to me by these EV and anti-development activists. In the next couple blog posts  I intend to debunk a few of their talking points. The ones I currently plan on addressing are:

  • their favourite BC Hydro load estimate for electric vehicles,
  • their favourite commute distance estimates, and
  • their favourite trope that electric vehicles will not have an effect on the electric grid as all the vehicles can be re-charged during off-hours.

For issues of length I will only address the first point in this blog post but promise to finish my thoughts another day. To be clear, in doing so I am not “helping deniers slow GHG reductions” (as suggested by one gent) but rather will demonstrate why we need to invest heavily into our electrical  system by building projects like Site C and as many geothermal, run-of-river and wind facilities as we can muster as well as the grid capacity to transfer all that energy so we can finally get off fossil fuels.

Debunking BC Hydro’s 2008 Load Forecast for Electric Vehicles

Now let’s start with the one number that has been sent my way more times than I would care to admit and has been used by everyone from the Pembina Institute to the President of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association to justify not needing to upgrade our electrical system to electrify our transportation system. As reported by the Pembina institute:

according to BC Hydro, if all drivers in B.C. switched to electric vehicles today, the increase in electricity consumption would be approximately 15%, or 9,000 GWh per year.

Now hearing it was from BC Hydro, I expected a well-referenced number that had a detailed derivation. So imagine my surprise when I went looking and discovered that the actual calculation comes from a footnote in the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (BC Hydro) 2008 Long-Term Acquisition Plan (2008 LTAP). The actual report says:

If all passenger vehicles currently in B.C. switched to electric plug-in vehicles (EPV), the impact on BC Hydro’s load would be approximately 9,000 GWh11 per year.

That little 11 brings us to the footnote:

11 – Assumptions used in calculation: 2.7 million licensed vehicles in B.C., average passenger vehicle use is 17,000 km/year, and EPVs use 0.2 kWh/km.

Yes, you are reading that right; the entire case being made by our multi-billion dollar utility provider and cited by the EV stalwarts is less detailed than something you would expect in an essay produced by a first year science student…I don’t even know where to begin?

The biggest mind-blower is the bemusing realization that a report from a utility provider completely ignores charging efficiency. Charging efficiency you ask? Remember that when you plug a charger into a wall not all the energy that comes out of the wall is stored in the battery. The efficiency of the transfer depends on the type and age of the battery and the efficiency of the energy transfer mechanism. According to the references I can find, the charging efficiency for a new Tesla is 82%  and a Nissan Leaf has a charging efficiency of 70% – 80%. So if we assumed the average charging efficiency was 75% then that 9,000 GWh immediately jumps to 12,000 GWh and that is only the first of the many problems with the number.

The next consideration not included in the load forecast is the loss of efficiency associated with temperature. You see EVs don’t work as well in the cold due to efficiency losses. The EV folk don’t like to mention that when they chat with you. Of note, I chose the most pro-EV source (the Union of Concerned Scientists or UCS) I could find for these stats because I know if I had chosen any other source I would have got roasted in the comments section. As the UCS article points out in extreme cold the range of electric vehicles can decrease to 60% of its warm-weather range. The best way to address this problem is to plug your vehicle in during the work-day, but that defeats the whole requirement that charging be done in off-hours (a ridiculous assumption that I will address in a follow-up post).

When you talk about efficiency losses in the cold, you have to also accommodate for efficiency losses in the heat. The same UCS article notes that come hot weather electric vehicles also lose efficiency with vehicles dropping to about 80% efficiency as you go over 30 degrees C. Moreover, unlike the cold, in the heat you can’t plug in your car to cool the batteries down.

Having lost efficiency to heat and cold we have another consideration that affects performance of an electric vehicle: keeping the occupants warm or cool. One of the benefits of an inefficient internal combustion engine is that it gives off a lot of heat; heat that can be used to keep the occupants of the auto, and ironically the engine, warm. My parents used to live in the East Kootenays and while heat is an energy wasting byproduct of chemical combustion, it sure helps make the drive endurable when it is -25 degree Celsius in an Invermere winter.The efficiency that electric vehicles show on the roads results in them losing that benefit and thus the battery has to be used to heat the vehicle and the engine. Going back to that UCS article you discover that the act of heating the engine and the cabin can triple the load on the batteries. To give an example of the loss of efficiency  consider this report from Red River College in Manitoba  They tested a Nissan Leaf in a Manitoba winter and discovered that it could only travel 60 km on a charge. Doing the math that brings us to 0.7 kWh/km. That is a long road from the 0.2 kWh/km used in the BC Hydro load forecast.

This is why I view the 0.2 kWh/km number as simply a joke for vehicles being used in urban/cold environments. Only the most efficient, well-maintained vehicle in warm (but not too hot) temperatures manages 0.2 kWh/km. If we assume a less efficient engine say (0.3 kWh/km) the load number jumps up to 16.4 GWh. Look how easy that was; we have already moved from 1.75 Site C dams to 3.2 Site C dam equivalents and we have barely begun our analysis.

I will now go back to the calculation from my old blog post. According to the Globe Foundation’s Endless Energy Report (I used in that post) British Columbia used 380 petajoules (105,555 GWh) of petroleum hydrocarbons in 2000 with 50% (or 52,775 GWh) used in gasoline; 24% (25,333 GWh) by diesel, 20% (21,111 GWh) by aviation fuel; and 6% (6,333 GWh) by heavy oil. I will take this moment to admit my old calculation (relying on Dr. Jacobson’s analysis) was off by a bit since better references suggest that gasoline engines have an energy efficiency of around 30% while diesel engines are around 45% with diesels having the capacity of reaching the 55%-63% efficiency range. Using these numbers the gasoline burned would be the equivalent to 15,832 GWh (3.1 Site C dams). [Note that number ignores the heating effect of fossil fuel combustion]. Hey look at that: 3.1 Site C dam equivalents looks a lot like the 3.2 Site C dams I calculated using the other approach. Two independent sets of calculations coming to the same end result? A good thing to see in any analysis.

Now that 3.2 Site c dam equivalents is a 15 year-old analysis and BC has grown a bit in population in the last 15 years. If we factor in population growth in the last 15 years we move that up to 4 Site C dam equivalents. So the gasoline component of our analysis still has a huge electricity draw and that is only part of the picture because the biggest oversight in this entire exchange with the EV enthusiasts is that they ignore the fact that the BC Hydro load was for passenger vehicles only.

If we are to electrify our transportation system we would need to include pick-up trucks, transport and work vans and all those other vehicles out on the road, not to mention all the other pats of our transportation system that don’t roll on four wheels. The load forecast made the rather broad assumption that we are converting all our cars, trucks and minivans to small, efficient electric vehicles drawing a measly 0.2 kWh/km. I love the idea of a Nissan Leaf but trades people are not going to exchange their work vans to travel in a Nissan Leaf or a Tesla. They need trucks that can carry tools, supplies and goods. A Nissan leaf operating at 0.3 kWh/km is not going to tow a trailer full of tools around town and there is no white panel van delivering groceries to market that can be replaced by an electrical vehicle running at 0.3 kWh/km. Moreover, no tradesperson is going to be able to depend on a vehicle that can only travel 60 km on a charge in winter. I can imagine that discussion: “sorry boss I can only fix one sink a day because my work vehicle can only go 60 kms before it needs to spend eight-hours on a charger”. A lot of plumbers are going to have issues with that suggestion.

Even assuming we can convince all the trades-people/ shipping companies and others, dependent their vehicles for their livelihoods, to live with massive losses of efficiency that dropping diesel for electricity would represent we are still talking about the energy equivalent to 11,400 GWh (2.2 Site C Dams) for all that diesel. So now we are up to a 6.2 Site C dam equivalents. Admittedly a drop down from 9 Site C dam equivalents, but that difference will be swallowed  up by the  aviation and marine fuels (another few Site C dam equivalents) that I left out of my last analysis. Moreover, the entire set of calculations completely ignores the replacement for the natural gas needed for a fossil fuel-free BC (26% of British Columbia’s energy usage or about 83,000 GWh which, with efficiency gains represents another 4-5  more Site C dam equivalents or so).

To conclude this post, yes moving to electric vehicles will reduce the total amount of energy used in BC but the BC Hydro load forecast relied on by Pembina and the EV enthusiasts is so completely out to lunch that it needs to be carefully re-calculated. To have major policy decisions in BC influenced by a back-of-the-envelope calculation that was essentially a throw-away footnote in an old report is not how we should be making decisions. BC Hydro needs to provide a realistic analysis of what it will take to decarbonize our energy system so we can have an informed energy discussion in our province. As I will point out in a later post, that includes ensuring we acknowledge that we will be be using a lot of that electricity during the day and that means building redundancy and extra capacity into our system to account for those anticipated loads. To be clear, this blog post doesn’t mean I agree wholeheartedly with Site C but I do acknowledge that any discussion of the need for Site C, and other similar power projects, needs to include all the data and not just the stuff that activists want us to hear.

 

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13 Responses to Electrifying BC’s transportation system, debunking the myths: Part I that BC Hydro Load Estimate

  1. Thank you, Blair. In addition to the actual capital and operating costs of the above eye-watering – and eye-opening – realities, I do wonder what the actual impact would be on BC’s contribution to the reduction of CO2 and/or other greenhouse gases in BC, Canada or even the northern hemisphere … let alone on the global GHG front.

    And while I’m here not particularly admiring the white stuff on the grounds – which is the view from my window at the moment – Merry Christmas and all the best for 2017 to you and yours from me ‘n my cat … your fellow Langleyites:-)

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  2. Pingback: Electrifying BC’s transportation system, debunking the myths: Part II night charging of vehicles | A Chemist in Langley

  3. Gord James says:

    Your original piece was based on using 78,000 GWh by multiplying the total of 105,000 GWh by the sum of the gas (50%) & diesel (24%) components. The article did not take into account the thermal efficiency (30%) of gas or diesel engines something that your latest post does correct. However this reduces the original asserted requirement by 70% to 23,400 GWh.

    However something that you may not have noticed is that the original Report that you cited includes a reconciled table of 2025 energy requirements on Page 51 that specifically parses the energy requirements for “Domestic Transport” at 154 PetaJoules or 129 PetaJoules (after the deduction for biofuels). 129 PJ equates to only 35,830 GWh if vehicles were electric. This includes heavier vehicles because it is expressed as energy required irrespective of vehicle size and weight.

    The 35,830 GWh X thermal efficiency of 0.3 X vehicle charging (and transmission) efficiency losses of 1.25 results in 13,440 GWh for all Domestic BC transportation or 17% of the assertion in the original article. For gas vehicles only it would be 9,080 GWh (50/74 X 13,440) . It is acknowledged that a further refinement could be done for winter peak conditions where EVs in BC’s climate may lose up to 30% range for all heating requirements. This level would apply only during the winter months.

    “Site C equivalents” is not a unit of energy. Its use can be misleading because it implies adding capacity above the current grid peaks. Electric Vehicles will primarily charged at night (off peak) and the impacts of electric vehicles on grid (peaks) will be gradual and manageable due to the long time frame of EV adoption and the unknown future impact of commercial and residential grid power storage technologies.

    What is needed is a better handle on the charger efficiency factor. Some labs are claiming 92% efficiencies with improvements to inverter materials and design. In any case efficiency is expected to improve over time and with newer electric vehicles.

    I will respond why EVs will be primarily charged at night and the other related night-time charging assertions in your Part II post.

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  4. Blair says:

    Frankly, I love your bait and switch approach to comments. You ignore the numbers I present and dig up some alternative numbers and work from them. Of course you mis-read the reference and ignored the fact that the oil and gas number in 2025 (154 Pj) assumes that most transportation has already switched to hydrogen/EV so that the remaining oil (that could not be replaced) makes up the 154 Pj.

    I show a number obtained through two alternative and independent means and you pretend I did nothing of the sort and then gave me an estimate that ignores most of the critical qualifiers they present in the report.

    Finally you present lab claims as something that might be possible on commercial scales? Gotta love that.

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  5. Jeff Turner says:

    What makes you suggest that BC Hydro ignored charging efficiency? US EPA calculations for energy consumption in EVs include charging efficiency (I worked at an EV manufacturer previously and had to support these exact tests, which measure the AC power input to the vehicle). EPA shows 30kWh per 100 miles for the Nissan Leaf, or 0.186kWh per km (see fueleconomy.gov). EPA’s fuel economy testing was updated in 2006 and has been shown to be reflective of easily attainable real world performance.

    Impact of cold temperatures is also important to consider, and highlighting a worst case scenario from a study in Manitoba is interesting, but not really relevant to the average driver in BC. My company has had a data logger on a Nissan Leaf that operates in the Vancouver area since 2013, and has logged 33,999km using 6328kWh of charging energy. That comes to 0.186kWh per km, showing that EPA’s test results are attainable in real world conditions in Vancouver, including winter driving. It’s worth noting that this vehicle is frequently used for tests that require the battery to be drained as quickly as possible, even including some days where the vehicle is left parked with the heater or air conditioning on full blast for hours. That’s just one data point, but in general, I would point out that your analysis leans on theoretical calculations of vehicle efficiency which aren’t necessary now – we have hundreds of thousands of EVs on the road now with billions of cumulative km travelled. Have a look at FleetCarma’s reporting on this subject, based on data collected from loggers installed on thousands of vehicles out in the field:
    http://www.fleetcarma.com/cold-weather-fuel-efficiency/

    All that to say that, based on actual data from real EVs that are currently on the road, BC Hydro’s estimate is reasonable. Just because the calculation is simple doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate, and it all comes down to the 0.2kWh per km estimate which is perfectly reasonable, and takes into account charging efficiency and real world conditions, despite your essentially baseless assertions. All that said, you are correct to highlight that this represents passenger vehicles, and that the number will shift upwards if heavier duty vehicles are electrified as well. There are research projects moving forward in Canada specifically on the subject of electric buses and trucks, so don’t assume this is being ignored.

    The fact that your initial exploration into this subject completely ignored the relative efficiencies of different vehicle powertrains shows that you don’t have much experience with this type of analysis, and yet, your blog posts are getting a lot of visibility and coverage. I’m sure you’ve recognized the risks we now live with in a world with incredible access to information coupled with less scrutiny around publication. I would encourage you to consult with experts in the field before publishing articles that provide misleading information that can confuse important conversations. I agree that BC needs to look at the big picture when considering it’s energy options, but overstating the energy needs of electric transportation can only serve to slow down a transition that has incredible environmental AND economic benefits to BC.

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    • Blair says:

      You ask: what makes me claim (not suggest) that BC Hydro ignores charging efficiency? Well the answer to that is simple. In the report BC Hydro gave the assumptions used in their calculation and didn’t include charging efficiency. Not sure why I have to repeat it to you since I state that in the blog but there you go.

      As for not considering different drive trains etc…, that is a post for another day. I had already hit 4000 words addressing the points that most needed addressing and thus had to break it into two posts. My intention is a blog post not a novella.

      As for leaning on theoretical calculations perhaps if folks on the technical side of the debate produced real numbers instead of the pablum they pump out people like me wouldn’t have to. The fact that none of your numbers is presented in any readily available source says a lot about why I have to lean on the theoretical rather than the actual.

      As an example consider the link you provide (FleetCarma) all they do is compare performance to gasoline but don’t deal with the critical considerations like: what was the decrease in net charge? How much electricity is needed to make the cars go? Did they have to change charging schedules. These are the topics that matter and all they can talk about is that it is cheaper than gasoline?

      The funniest part of your comment is the suggestion that I leave the topic to people like you. If people like you would actually put out data and analyses, then people like me wouldn’t have to. It is fine and good to complain about the quality of the information out there but since you don’t contribute to that knowledge your are in no position to dump on the people that do. There is an old saw “lead, follow or get out of the way” you seem intent on sitting on the sidelines sniping away without presenting any useful knowledge and in doing so allowing policy to be developed absent your input. If you want a better world, start contributing to the sum total of the info out there. If you have better information than I have access to then share it. My intention is to ensure the best available information is used in decision-making. As my blog post points out, currently that is not the case. If this blog post convinces experts (apparently like yourself) to correct the public record then it has done its job.

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      • The public record does indeed need to be corrected, but the job was not done in your severely inaccurate assumptions, so it would be dangerous for decision-makers to base any decision on this wrong information and poor calculations you provided. Pointing out the difference in drive trains is essential when making any comparisons of battery run vehicles vs internal combustion engines — apples and oranges. When propelling even the most “energy efficient” ICE vehicles, most energy is wasted on heat. Trying to shorten your blog from novella is a cop out. Your misinformed opinion piece cannot qualify for “best information used in decision-making”, surely you can’t take credit for second hand knowledge over those of us that actually drive EVs and test them in real world scenarios daily. A truly shameful piece. Christopher Kennedy does a more ample job of figuring the electricity emissions comparisons, but also does not calculate on a level playing field when making the assumptions on drive trains. For instance, do we calculate the amount of energy that is required in the extraction, processing , refining and transportation in getting gas or diesel from multiple sources to the gas tank of a car?… What about all the leakages and inefficiencies along the way?… Surely that must be calculated to get a truly good comparison.
        As per the California Energy Commission, that did an extensive study on this very important comparison, it found the energy loss on ICE vehicles as follows: “Only about 15 percent of the energy from the fuel you put in your tank gets used to move your car down the road or run useful accessories, such as air conditioning. The rest of the energy is lost to engine and driveline inefficiencies and idling.” The rest of the energy wasted can be found here: http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/transportation/consumer_tips/vehicle_energy_losses.html
        Comparatively, EVs are on a different playing field and should be regarded as such. .22 kWh/km is a more accurate mark for an older Nissan Leaf with 5% loss in transmission. A trajectory of more efficient EVs and their efficiency ratings provide good indication as to how much more efficient batteries and EVs are getting:
        BMW i3: 124 MPGe
        Toyota Prius Prime: 133 MPGe
        Hyundai Ioniq: 136 MPGe
        Best selling vehicle in Canada for 2015: Ford F-series 20 MPG combined!
        (all according to EPA in US)
        Apples and oranges

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      • Jeff Turner says:

        To say that you left out the little detail that EV power trains are about 3 times as efficient as conventional power trains because you had a 4000 word limit is ridiculous. It was a glaring oversight that should be a reminder to anyone coming to this blog that this is indeed a blog. Unfortunately, lots of people who read what you wrote wouldn’t have the background to catch the error.

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      • Blair says:

        I find it laughable that you think one can compare a Nissan Leaf or a Toyota Prius to a Ford F-Series pick-up? Honestly are you trying to make yourself look foolish? What is the towing capacity of a Leaf? How many cords of wood can you carry in a Prius? Working trucks are inherently less efficient because they serve a particular role and so far no EV has been mass-produced to address that need. When that EV is designed it will not be operating at 0.22 kWh/km because towing a work trailer reduces your efficiency.

        Why do you think that the only way you can convince people to buy EVs is by pretending they will not have an effect on the power grid? By doing so you simply cause everyone who knows anything about energy to tune you out.

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  6. Blair’s numbers are way off an incredibly outdated. coming from the business of installing chargers, I know a thing or two about efficiency of charging equipment and it is obvious that the writer does not.

    Here’s a comment from a retired scientist who will remain nameless:

    70% is what we got with chargers with bad power factors and lead acid batteries.

    Pretty much every lithium battery used in EVs has only a 1-2% charging loss in the bulk constant current phase. For example, a 2011 Leaf pack with a 13% capacity degradation was tested by the US DOE lab (report is archived in the Members Area) as having a fairly stable 0.12 ohm pack resistance over the entire depth of discharge range. By using the I^2 R power equation, that means we are wasting only 17 watts as heat in the battery at 12 amps – about 1.1% loss. Only in the last 10% or so, the resistance increased to 0.14 ohms – still under 1.5% loss.

    Charger efficiency might be 88% (0.88) which when multiplied with a worst case battery efficiency of say, 0.98 comes out to 86%. Tesla’s 83% estimate may also factor in mostly finish charging and other overhead such as active balancing and battery heating/cooling.

    Blair probably consulted the ‘source’ – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery
    erroneuously states lithium ion charge efficiency of 80-90% but when you go to the reference #4 on the same page https://web.archive.org/web/20090326150713/http://www.pluginhighway.ca/PHEV2007/proceedings/PluginHwy_PHEV2007_PaperReviewed_Valoen.pdf it states therein that

    “For the lithium ion cells, the coulombic efficiency is voltage determined. This is due to
    the constant voltage charge method. The fully charged state for a Li-ion cell is typically
    4.2V, and the coulombic efficiency is very close to 100% at this point. As the voltage
    increases beyond 4.7V the efficiency does start to drop since electrolyte decomposition
    starts to take effect.”

    In other words, efficiency only drops drastically as you pass 4.2 volts which is as high as one should ever go. No charger is ever designed to go to 4.7 volts because of the danger of cell damage and fire.

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    • Blair says:

      nope, I got the numbers from a Tesla site and a Nissan site from 2014 and 2015. Try again

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      • Jeff Turner says:

        All of this argument over exactly how efficient the charging process is irrelevant because, as I tried to point out, BC hydro’s assumption of 0.2 kWh per km is perfectly in line with EPA ratings that already take into account charging efficiency. These are numbers that are readily available for any EV sold in the US, and they tell you how many AC kWhs need to be delivered to the vehicle by the charging station in order to drive a certain distance. The charging efficiency is obviously important to consider, but these numbers already consider it, so move on!
        This information is freely available at the easy to remember URL: fueleconomy.gov
        The US DOE’s Idaho National Lab is another great resource with tons of freely available and detailed test data, including data sets that cover thousands of EVs driving in real world conditions all over the US:
        https://avt.inl.gov
        Not sure why you claim that “people like me” don’t share any info with such rich resources and thorough analysis already available online. Also, if you read that FleetCarma blog post a little more closely, you would see that they linked back to an earlier post that included detailed data on exactly how much range decreases at a variety of temperatures. I thought giving the link to the most recent post would give you the full story, but I guess you read it too quickly, here’s the earlier of the two posts:
        http://www.fleetcarma.com/nissan-leaf-chevrolet-volt-cold-weather-range-loss-electric-vehicle/

        I stand by my point that professionals who specialize in this field have done a great job of analyzing how EVs perform in te real world and have made this information readily available. You have been blogging on the subject without doing a thorough review of this information and have therefore contributed a fair amount of misinformation that is being rebroadcast by others and is needlessly slowing down an important discussion.

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  7. Pingback: On fighting climate change and what it will mean for BC/Canada’s energy politics | A Chemist in Langley

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