I've just found this article about "Living with the Leaf" on the Globe and Mail site. It's great to see some real-world observations. I've been tracking the costs associated with owning and operating a 2007 Honda Fit since we bought it. I'd like to make a quick comparison here.

Here's my data: http://climate.uvic.ca/people/ewiebe/car.php

Here's a summary of my observations (to date).

Total fuel consumed = 5842.2 litres
Total cost of fuel = 6589.92 dollars
Maximum fuel price was = 1.489 dollars/litre on 2008-07-18
Minimum fuel price was = 0.819 dollars/litre on 2008-12-18
Total distance travelled = 83708 kilometres
Total CO2 produced = 14021 kg
CO2 per km travelled = 0.17 kg/km
Mean efficiency = 6.98 l/100km
Mean fuel cost per km = 7.9 cents/km
Purchase cost per km = 24.3 cents/km
Maintenance cost per km = 4.6 cents/km
Insurance cost per km = 7.1 cents/km
Operating cost per km = 43.9 cents/km

If we take the purchase and fuel costs from the article, assume the distance driven is the same (83708 km) we get the following list.

Mean fuel cost per km = 2.3 cents/km
Purchase cost per km = 48.6 cents/km
Maintenance cost per km = 4.6 cents/km
Insurance cost per km = 7.1 cents/km
Operating cost per km = 62.6 cents/km

Most of this difference is the much higher purchase cost. That's going to drop in the future. Probably, from what I read, the maintenance costs will be lower overall but by how much? My maintenance costs include things like a new windshield and tires. Leaf owners will be faced with those kinds of repairs as well. The price of petroleum fuels are only going to keep going up in the future. The trend that I have observed over the past decade or so is still slow, close to 5 cents per year, but I don't believe it is likely that this trend will decrease in magnitude. That this rate will increase is almost certainly more likely. As the fuel price rises, the vehicle purchase cost drops, and battery range increases, electric vehicles will start to be much more affordable.

I'm glad there are early adopters out there willing to buy these. These people play an important role in the process. It's clear we all need to move to a carbon-free energy economy and personal transportation is going to play a huge part in that change. We need to be trying it out, experimenting in the real world, in order to see how we can move forward with a carbon-free energy and transportation system.

One final point, which is discussed in the article, is the CO2 emitted per kilometre driven. Obviously, the car itself emits nothing as it drives. Presumably, the carbon emitted during manufacture and transport is roughly the same as for the Fit (it was built in Japan and delivered to me by ocean transport). I found this table relating CO2 emissions to kinds of power-generation facilities in an Ontario Power Generation document.

Shown here are grams of CO2 produced per kilowatt hour of electricity generated. These are apparently life-cycle emissions and I won't comment on them more than that. (https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:EoD27apXnS0J:www.opg.com/education/kits/grade9student.pdf+&hl=en&gl=ca&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiOTeqLIpOdQ5Jrd4jukLFRyc5B8x6VEDV0Hgwc9vUSb-nUYsjXEVPMKGt4Ar68smUejsugMk7AmNz59oYjSrrKMsXzeDN9VebN_vDt3jkApDakcxISuoQVRRkEmSLSexBW-47f&sig=AHIEtbTp-1qOfnK99zusKhQ3ipQydTk-bQ)

Nuclear: 30.5 g
Natural Gas: 450.0 g
Coal-Fired: 986.0 g
Hydroelectric: 25.0 g
Wind: 65.5 g
Solar: 372.0 g

The Leaf in the article used 493.266 kWh to travel 1655 km. That's 0.298 kWh per km. We can work out the carbon dioxide emitted for each form of power generation shown above.

The kilograms of CO2 emitted to drive 83 708 km are shown below.

Nuclear: 761 kg
Natural Gas: 11 200 kg
Coal-Fired: 24 600 kg
Hydroelectric: 624 kg
Wind: 1630 kg
Solar: 9280 kg

My Fit has emitted about 14 000 kg of CO2 to drive the same distance.

Note that getting your power for this car from coal-fired power plants is worse than driving a gasoline powered vehicle. These numbers make sense to me because ultimately the energy that the car needs to move is the same (approximately) for both cars. All of the energy delivery systems, the internal combustion engine, or the provincial power grid have inefficiencies and emit some carbon per unit of energy used.

As Michael Bettencourt points out in the article, the power that charges his car comes from a mix of these technologies but it is clear that coal is really bad, much worse than gasoline in my Fit. Everything else is better (even much, much better, go hydro -- BC Hydro uses mostly hydro power in the grid here) than my reasonably efficient, small car, but solar isn't great due to the high emissions of CO2 that occur during production of the panels (I presume).

Incidentally, I now feel really good about my electric, air-source heat pump heated home. It's not emitting much carbon!

Comments, suggestions and corrections are welcome.


[Edit 2014-07-04] Here's an analysis by a fellow in Colorado, USA of his decision to purchase a Nissan Leaf instead of a Volkswagen Jetta TDI. He's got different (lower) numbers for the CO2 produced by his local power plants from fossil fuels.