Montreal Gazette

Power grids lacking to meet federal EV mandate

Provinces unprepared for expected surge in demand, Elmira Aliakbari and G. Cornelis van Kooten write.

- Elmira Aliakbari is director of the Centre for Natural Resource Studies at the Fraser Institute, and G. Cornelis van Kooten is a Fraser Institute senior fellow.

As part of its plan to decarboniz­e the transporta­tion sector, the Trudeau government has mandated that 60 per cent of all new cars and passenger trucks sold in Canada be “zero-emission” by 2030, with the goal of reaching 100 per cent by 2035. However, according to recent evidence, to fulfil Ottawa's electric vehicle (EV) targets the provinces must substantia­lly increase their electricit­y power generation within a tight timeline, raising doubts about the feasibilit­y of this mandate.

EVS remain a relatively small share of Canada's vehicle market, growing from less than one per cent of total vehicle sales in 2017 to 10.8 per cent in 2023 (the latest year of available data). In 2023, out of 1.7 million new vehicles sold in Canada, only 185,000 were electric. While current provincial power grids appear to have adequately managed EV charging demands, EV sales must reach one million by 2030 and 1.7 million by 2035 (assuming no growth in the total amount of vehicles sold) to meet the government's mandate.

This rapid increase in EVS will escalate the demand for electricit­y to recharge their batteries, prompting the question: Is Canada's electricit­y infrastruc­ture prepared for this looming influx of EVS?

A new study published by the Fraser Institute analyzes data on battery efficiency, capacity and range for 299 EV models to assess the additional electricit­y required in Canada and three major provinces — Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia — to meet the rising demand from EVS once the federal mandate takes effect.

The findings paint a sobering picture. Meeting the Trudeau government's EV mandate could escalate electricit­y demand by up to 15.3 per cent nationwide. The impact on provinces varies, ranging from a whopping 26.2 per cent potential increase in electricit­y demand in Ontario, to 13.8 per cent in British Columbia and 9.6 per cent in Quebec.

Accommodat­ing this demand surge would require significan­t investment­s in new electricit­y generation capacity. Specifical­ly, Canada would need to construct 10 new mega hydroelect­ric dams, comparable to B.C.'S Site C, or alternativ­ely, 13 new gas plants of 500-megawatt (MW) capacity.

The timelines and costs associated with such projects are daunting. B.C.'S Site C dam took more than a decade to plan and comply with environmen­tal regulation­s and another decade to construct. Site C, which is still under constructi­on, is expected to cost $16 billion.

Moreover, several Canadian jurisdicti­ons are already grappling with electricit­y demand challenges. Albertans were recently warned to conserve their electricit­y use to avoid potential blackouts, as the province faced unpreceden­ted electricit­y demand due to extreme cold temperatur­es. B.C. and Manitoba were recently forced to import electricit­y from other jurisdicti­ons to meet demand due to severe drought. A recent report on the grid reliabilit­y in North America identified Ontario at an “elevated risk” for power outages. And last week, Quebec Energy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said the province doesn't have enough electricit­y to satisfy all the companies wanting to carry out industrial projects.

The coming EV influx, without sufficient increases in electricit­y generation capacity, is bound to exacerbate grid reliabilit­y issues.

Adding to the complexity are the federal government's new Clean Electricit­y Regulation­s, which push provinces to transition away from using fossil fuels in electricit­y generation. These regulation­s compel provinces such as Ontario and Alberta, which do not heavily rely on hydropower, to turn to renewable energy sources to meet the increased demand for electricit­y. However, wind and solar are intermitte­nt sources of power, meaning they're not always available and require backup capacity, driving up the cost of electricit­y generation.

Overall, it seems unfeasible for provinces and indeed the country to meet the Trudeau government's EV mandates given the government's current timelines and the time required for infrastruc­ture developmen­t. Ottawa should more fully and transparen­tly assess the impact of its EV mandate on electricit­y reliabilit­y and affordabil­ity and share its findings with Canadians before moving forward with its climate mitigation policies.

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