Why Canada is a top spot for electric vehicles to reduce GHGs

With one of the world’s greenest electricity grids, Canada is ideally suited for the mass adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), which will also allow it to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, says a B.C.-based think tank devoted to reducing Canadians’ carbon footprint.

The 2 Degrees Institute, based in Sechelt, B.C., concludes in a report released on Tuesday that, thanks to the contribution of hydropower to Canada’s grid, it has seven of the top 10 locations in North America for the introduction of EVs.

The report concludes that only California and some New England states come close to approaching the low-carbon footprint of B.C., Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, all of which have significant hydro or renewable power sources.

The authors also point out that Canada’s electricity sector is becoming cleaner, pointing to an Environment Canada forecast that 85 percent of the country’s electricity will come from non-emitting sources by 2020.

The report concludes that even in those provinces where fossil fuel-based power sources will still dominate, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, the shift to EVs will lead to a reduction in GHGs because centralized, efficient power plants will replace “miniature, inefficient, fossil-fuel power plants (internal combustion engines) that emit climate pollution”.

Ryan Logtenberg, director of 2 Degrees and one of the authors of the report, said reducing the carbon footprint of Canada’s transportation sector would play a large role in allowing the country to meet its goal of reducing total emissions by 30 percent or more in the coming decade. According to Environment Canada, 24 percent of Canada’s emissions come from the transportation sector.

“Canada has a huge advantage because of how green its power grid is,” he said.

While passenger vehicles only represent about half of those total emissions, a shift to EVs in the trucking and marine sectors — and eventually in the aircraft space — would play a significant role in helping the country reach its GHG reduction goals, he said, adding that about 60 percent of Canada’s electricity comes from clean hydro, about 16.5 percent from nuclear power, which emits no GHGs, and about 8.8 percent from renewables.

In some provinces, such as Manitoba and Quebec, virtually all of their electricity comes from hydro, while a significant percentage of BC’s electricity comes from hydro.

By contrast, in the U.S., 32 percent of the country’s power comes from coal, 29 percent from natural gas, eight percent from hydro and the rest from renewables and nuclear power.

Using data from the federal government’s National Inventory Report and data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with data from a research centre at the University of California, Berkeley, 2 Degrees calculated the lifecycle emissions from a gasoline-powered vehicle and an EV, while also calculating where that electricity would be sourced from.

The conclusion was that the greener the grid, the less lifecycle emissions there are from a vehicle.

While that may seem logical, 2 Degrees acknowledges that EVs aren’t as “green” as they would first appear.

That’s because EVs need large batteries, meaning the manufacturing EVs produces GHG emissions.

The authors acknowledge that the environmental benefits of driving an EV aren’t realized until a vehicle has been driven for the first 11,000 to 37,000 kilometres, depending on the nature of the local grid.

“After that, an electric vehicle will produce much lower emissions than a comparable gas vehicle.”

The authors conclude that, in most parts of Canada, the emissions from six EV passenger vehicles would be equal to the emissions from one gasoline-powered car.

Even in Alberta, where about 90 percent of the province’s power comes from fossil fuel sources, the authors conclude that driving an EV would still lead to an average GHG reduction of 25 percent.

Logtenberg argues that Albertans could continue to rely mostly on fossil fuel-sources power, while shifting to the use of solar panels to charge their vehicles, resulting in an 85 percent drop in driving emissions. .

He said the quickest adoption of EVs will be in urban areas, but, with Ford Canada and other major auto producers starting to introduce electricity-powered pickup trucks, adoption in rural areas could happen quickly.

“I can’t see widespread adoption of EVs in rural Canada for another three years or so,” he said, since so many vehicles in rural areas are pickups.

Logtenberg said EV battery technology is improving dramatically and soon the economics of driving EVs will make the shift logical, with subsidies, such as those being offered by the Ontario government, being unnecessary.

Meanwhile, in another report released on Nov. 14, Washington, D.C.-based IHS Markit said transformative technologies, such as EVs and self-driving cars, will dramatically alter the future of transport.

However, IHS does not believe the internal combustion engine will disappear by 2040, which appears to have been the conclusion of the B.C.-based study.

“Oil’s monopoly as a transport fuel will erode, though it will remain a major part of the automotive landscape,” IHS said.

“Market share for cars primarily powered by gasoline and diesel will still account for 62 percent of new cars in 2040 in the four major key markets (China, India, the U.S. and Europe), down from 98 percent in 2016.”

IHS estimates there will be 54 million new vehicle sales in 2040. In that scenario, global oil demand still will rise from 98 million bbls/d today to 115 million bbls/d.

IHS predicts that cars powered solely by gasoline or diesel will have fallen below 50 percent of new cars sold by 2031.

“Oil’s monopoly as major transport fuel will erode as a new era of multidimensional competition takes hold, but it will remain a major player,” said IHS vice-president Jim Burkhard.

IHS concludes that EVs will account for more than 30 percent of new cars sold by 2040, up from just one percent now. A key “tipping point” will be when battery costs become competitive with internal combustion engines, likely to occur in the 2030s.

In another study, released on Nov. 14 by the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewables and EVs are seen as eroding the market share of fossil fuels by 2040, but the IEA concludes that it is “too early to write the obituary of oil.”

The IEA sees world oil demand rising to 105 million bbls/d by 2040. While EV use will grow, the passenger car fleet will grow to two billion by 2040, while the petrochemicals, trucks and aviation sectors will continue to drive up oil use.

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