In 2018, the Toronto Paramedic Service (TPS) introduced 11 hybrid-electric ambulances into their fleet. Like many other North American cities, Toronto has been working on reducing its carbon footprint. The adoption of hybrid-electric ambulances was just one step in changing its consolidated vehicle fleet. In the City of Toronto Consolidated Green Fleet Plan 2014-2018, one can see that changes will have to be made to various City of Toronto institutions so that Toronto can reduce its carbon impact or meet the goal of becoming a net-zero carbon emitter by 2050. The Toronto Transit Commission will have to have a new fleet of buses; while the Toronto Fire Department and the Toronto Police Department will have to have new vehicles. None of this should be a surprise or cause any issues.
Consequently, after having some experience with 11 hybrid-electric ambulances, it is not surprising that the city of Toronto is going ahead with plans to convert another 104 ambulances from being diesel powered to becoming hybrid-electric. That is unless you were Rex Murphy. In a recent article, Mr. Murphy laughed at the idea of converting the 104 ambulances and at equipping many more ambulances with “solar roofs”.
In his highly sarcastic article, he somehow argued that retrofitting ambulances was somehow at odds with the purpose of an ambulance (i.e. saving people’s lives). Or as he said, “I can think of many accoutrements to ambulances — diagnostic equipment, better pay for the staff, great tires, updated electronics — that would better fit with their actual purpose — saving lives — than solar panels”. However, this is a false dichotomy. For the federal government adding more (and new) federal dollars to update an ambulance is not the same as moving municipal and/or provincial dollars that run the existing system. Or put differently, 2 municipal dollars plus 2 provincial dollars equals 4 dollars to run the ambulance. If the federal government adds one dollar to the pile, we have five dollars and not three. So just like individuals do to their cars or businesses to their trucks, it is not crazy for a government to buy, maintain or upgrade a capital item (like an ambulance) with new money. This doesn’t harm anyone and will ensure that an ambulance will be around in the future to save lives.
Consequently, Mr. Murphy is missing the more important point:“why”. There are many whys like “why are ambulances being updated” or “why a solar roof”. Those whys could be answered through observation and not through scoffing or mocking or sarcasm. For, if you observe EMS/Ambulance professionals in action, you will note that their vehicles have the potential of spending a lot of time in sunlight. If they are driving down the street, picking up a patient at a scene or waiting at a hospital; ambulance spend a lot of time outside. Yes, it is true that they could spend time in a parking garage or under a shady tree or overhang. However, that would not be the norm when compared with many other vehicles.
Additionally, ambulances run a lot of equipment off of battery power alone. Depending on the ambulance, this battery power might come from the engine or the battery in a particular piece of equipment. Either way, this is electrical power. What a solar roof might do is just ensure that those batteries get a few extra watts of power. This might happen when an ambulance is driving down the street, but it is more likely to happen when that same ambulance is parked at a scene, waiting for a patient or on its down time. Given the surface area of an ambulance, this would not be surprising or crazy. It is just a novel idea.
Now, I would say that Mr. Murphy shouldn’t snicker at a novel idea; but hey, who am I to judge. I just know that countries like Denmark and the Netherlands in rethinking their energy grid have tossed around novel ideas like having electric cars hooked to the electric grid to store extra renewal power. Maybe Mr. Murphy would snicker at that too.
In my world, such innovative thinking should be rewarded. After all, this change to Toronto’s paramedic fleet is just one example of the change that is coming. Oxford County in Ontario is working on having 50% of their fleet electrified; while, the B.C. Emergency Health Service and Essex-Windsor are working toward the same goal. Toronto is not the only jurisdiction which is trying to redefine itself, it is just the jurisdiction with the largest municipal ambulance fleet in Canada. So it is quite likely that these solar roofs will pop-up in other places and Mr. Murphy should be prepared for it.
However, more importantly, this should be a warning to Oil producing jurisdictions like Saskatechewan, Alberta and Newfoundland. As we move to reduce levels of carbon use, new and novel energy approaches will be sought. In the 1990s, Toyota and Honda released more efficient vehicles called hybrids. In the 2000s, GM fought against the trend and it ensured the death of their stellar battery powered electric car called the EV-1. Yet, that didn’t stall the development of Tesla. It is quite likely that we might see the development of a hydrogen powered transportation system.
Yet, this pales in comparison to what will happen. In the last decade alone, my child has seen solar panels on her travels to Ontario and Italy. She will not know of a time when windmills were a novelty. In her mind, they would have always been there. They would have dotted the landscape, in Ontario and Quebec, in Alberta and BC, forever. When we tell her the truth – that her parents, grandparents and great grandparents – got their energy from burning, oil, coal or natural gas, from splitting atoms; or scaring the landscape with water – she will be shocked. Just as shocked as when we told her about old telephones and televisions and the recent creation of Wi-Fi & Bluetooth. My child would be shocked because the world around her is changing. Or put differently, for the first time in about 100 years, Alberta will soon be a province that doesn’t use coal to produce its electricity.
The world is changing. China has said it wants to be the world leader in electric cars. Most of Western Europe is already scheduled to turn to electric cars by 2040. Legislation or Regulation exists in the UK, Germany, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, parts of Italy and Spain. In fact, Europe’s Electric Car Market seems to be growing faster than China’s. Hell, even Harley Davidson is making an electric motorcycle. So Rex Murphy should accept that cities will be converting their municipal vehicle fleets – yup, all the buses, police cars, ambulances, garbage trucks, fire engines, cube vans, passenger cars and motorcycles – to one that is conducive to a reduced carbon world. This is not a Canadian phenomena. Weird things like solar roofs are novel on ambulances today, but in the world to come it might just be one of many solutions. So please Mr. Murphy don’t throw your wooden clogs into the gears, join us in changing the world.