BC goes to the polls: What’s at stake for EVs?
We are in the fortunate position in BC where all three major political parties are in favor of government support to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). But the extent of that support varies and there is much work to be done.
Each year VEVA speaks to thousands of members of the public who haven’t yet purchased an EV. In this post we describe what we see as the most important issues that need action, and that election candidates need to be aware of.
The Benefits of Electric Vehicles
Let’s start by reviewing why EVs are a good thing.
An electric vehicle (EV) can displace 4 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year1. Looked at another way, every time an internal-combustion engine (ICE) vehicle is sold and is kept on the road for 10 years, we have lost the opportunity to displace 40 tonnes of CO2.
Transportation is the biggest single contributor to BC greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at 37%. Light-duty transportation accounts for 14%.
BC is particularly suitable for EVs because 98% of our electricity production comes from clean or renewable sources1.
The exhaust from ICE vehicles is not just unpleasant and unsightly, it is a health issue. The health costs have not been studied specifically for BC, but a remarkable report2 by the American Lung Association in the US estimates the impact as being in the range of billions of dollars.
When some people push back on the (typically modest) government support for EVs, they are forgetting about the much larger hidden environmental costs of ICE vehicles.
There are hundreds of businesses in BC related to clean energy vehicles (CEV), they employ thousands of people, and generate over $700M of economic activity1. Powering our transportation with electricity keeps money in the province that would otherwise be used to import fossil fuels.
There are personal benefits and societal benefits of EVs. Because EVs are new technology and the infrastructure for them is still being developed, the societal benefits outweigh the personal benefits.
Government support for new technologies like EVs that improve everyone’s lives is nothing new. It follows well-established principles that in the past have led to the telephone network, airports, the internet, the electrical grid, and many other essentials that we take for granted today.
Because of the long lifetime of vehicles, the need to increase the percentage of EVs being sold today is urgent.
BC Competes for EVs
People are used to seeing, touching, and driving cars before buying them. Anecdotally, sales of EVs in BC have suffered from a simple lack of availability of models, types, and demos in the showroom.
The fact that we have any EVs for sale today has a lot to do with the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate first adopted in California in 1990. It requires that a certain proportion of an automaker’s vehicles sold be of the ZEV type.
Nine other states have followed California’s lead. Quebec was the first jurisdiction in Canada to adopt a ZEV mandate, in October 2016.
In BC, the Climate Leadership Team recommended a ZEV mandate for BC3, and it is supported by policy analysts4. However, it is strongly opposed by automakers and car dealers10, and was not included in the Climate Leadership Plan5.
BC is one of only three provinces which has rebates and other explicit support for EVs, the other two being Ontario and Quebec. The purchase rebates are generally higher in Ontario and Quebec, and that, combined with Quebec’s ZEV mandate, means that BC is at a disadvantage when it comes to getting an allocation of EVs from the automakers.
Recommendation: Learn from the lessons of other jurisdictions to find a way to ensure the availability of EVs in BC.
The current Clean Energy Vehicle (CEV) program provides funds to promote and raise awareness of EVs. Organizations like Emotive and Plug-in BC do a good job of getting the word out about EVs to the public, and it is important to continue and expand their funding.
What is conspicuously absent though is active marketing by automakers of their EV models6. ICE vehicles receive marketing attention that is orders of magnitude more than comparable EVs.
Recommendation: We’d like to see the BC government work on ways to encourage automakers to put more of their marketing budgets behind EVs.
The most effective supply-side strategy is probably a ZEV mandate. That, and other similar regulations, are the sticks in a carrot-and-stick approach.
Ontario is showing an alternative approach which emphasizes the carrots. The Ontario Electric and Hydrogen Vehicle Advancement Partnership (EHVAP) program7 basically requires EV stakeholders to come up with plans to meet targets. Specifically, automakers, dealers, and non-profits are asked to describe how they will contribute to achieving a 5% EV market share by 2020. If their plan is accepted, then government money is made available. For automakers, that money takes the form of purchase rebates for their EVs.
EHVAP neatly solves many challenges with government support for EVs. It provides for explicit input from those who understand the EV ecosystem the best, and it establishes accountability for achieving targets. There are no sticks, just the absence of carrots if the stakeholders don’t play along.
Recommendation: We would like the BC government to consider approaches like this to improve the chances of us achieving our ZEV market-share targets.
Federal ZEV Strategy
The federal government has made this commitment: “Federal, provincial, and territorial governments will work with industry and other stakeholders to develop a Canada-wide strategy for zero-emission vehicles by 2018.”8
Recommendation: We want the BC government to take a leadership role here. BC is a relatively small market, which limits its ability to exert influence on the automakers. A Canada-wide strategy could have much more impact.
There is no getting around it: EVs cost more upfront than comparable ICE vehicles. Even with the savings on gas and maintenance, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an EV over its lifetime is currently more than that of an ICE vehicle.
This price difference means that purchasers of EVs are paying a premium to achieve the societal benefits of clean driving. Add in the cost of installing charging equipment and the imbalance gets even worse. There are only so many people who are willing/able to pay this premium.
This is why purchase rebates are so important. They can bring about a TCO parity with ICE vehicles now before it happens naturally within the next 5 to 7 years9.
As battery technology improves and economies of scale kick in, EVs will become more cost-competitive. But we can’t wait for that to happen.
The current CEV program provides for rebates of up to $5,000 for an EV. However, the amount of money allocated to the program is only about one-third of what is needed to put BC on track to achieve the program’s stated targets.
Recommendation: We want the BC government to commit to funding rebates at a level that is sufficient for the goal of achieving (or exceeding) EV market share targets.
Studies have shown that there is no one big-bang factor that gets people to buy an EV. Instead it is the cumulative effective of availability, rebates for vehicles and chargers, and other incentives like reduced bridge tolls, HOV lane access, ferry discounts, free parking, and others.
Norway is the poster child for EV adoption and their success follows the adoption of an aggressive basket of incentives.
Recommendation: We urge the BC government to learn from examples like that to better achieve the adoption of EVs here.
Not all EV types have equal societal benefits, nor are they all equally likely to be practical. Some have more impact on infrastructure than others. Current incentives cover EVs that are 100% battery (BEV), partially gas-driven (PHEV and extended range vehicles), and powered by hydrogen fuel cells (FCV).
Recommendation: Given that incentive funds are necessarily limited and choices have to be made, we encourage the government to concentrate on those technologies that have the best chance of achieving the desired end goal, and consider the relative allocation of funds between vehicles and charging infrastructure.
Requirements for New Buildings
One of the great benefits of EVs is that the distribution system for the energy that powers them is already in place: the electrical grid. However, EV charging generally requires expanded or additional electrical infrastructure.
The most cost-effective strategy, by far, is to install EV infrastructure during the construction of a new building. However, doing so adds costs and because EVs are not yet widespread, building developers are not necessarily going to proactively provide for them during construction.
Regulations that require minimum provisions for EV infrastructure are needed. The appropriate level will vary according to the intended building use (residential vs. commercial, for example). The actual electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) need not necessarily be installed right at the beginning, it can be enough that conduits, wiring, and electrical panels be designed and installed with future EVSE installations in mind.
Recommendation: We encourage the government to ensure that minimum charging infrastructure requirements for new construction are set. This could be done through local zoning codes or the less-desireable use of building codes.
Charging for Existing Buildings
The most convenient place to charge an EV is overnight at home. But if you live in a multi-unit residential building (MURB) that does not have chargers available you face a real challenge. This is one of the biggest impediments for prospective EV buyers in urban areas.
It can be expensive to retrofit EV infrastructure into existing buildings. Aside from cost, strata councils may resist tenants’ requests to install charging infrastructure just because it is complicated and unfamiliar.
We would like to see the provincial government take aggressive action to improve this situation. Examples of actions could include substantial rebates for installing EV infrastructure with requirements to allow for future expansion.
Recommendation: Other jurisdictions are making progress on these issues. Their experiences should be studied and their best practices should be brought to BC.
Using an EV as a daily commuter car and using one for road trips over long distances require different approaches for charging. The daily commute is typically handled by charging at home or at work.
For a road trip though, you need to charge every time you’ve used up the capacity of the battery. This can mean several charging stops in a day, depending on the distance. In an ICE vehicle it is quick to gas up and continue on your journey. The relatively long charge time of an EV in the absence of fast charging can make the overall trip time prohibitive and this prevents people from buying an EV in the first place.
The solution is to have a network of high-power DC fast chargers (DCFCs) across the province. Some of these chargers are already in place, but it’s only a start. There are already instances of queuing at fast chargers and it is important to stay ahead of the demand curve to sustain higher EV adoption rates.
Recommendation: We would like to see the rollout of the DCFC infrastructure accelerated considerably and with due attention paid to ensuring a high level of availability.
Actions need to be taken on many fronts to support the adoption of EVs. We have highlighted three areas of particular importance that we would like the next government of BC to address.
Electric vehicles promise to be a world-changing phenomenon, for the good. We should not assume that adoption will just happen though, or happen quickly enough. We should also be wary of BC being left behind as other jurisdictions take a more aggressive approach. The time to take action is now.
1. BC government estimate
2. Clean Air Future: Health and Climate Benefits of Zero Emission Vehicles
3. Climate Leadership Team Recommendations
4. Making electric vehicles happen in Canada
5. Climate Leadership Plan
6. This article summarizes reports on this issue by the Sierra Club: Automakers aren’t really advertising electric vehicles
7. Electric and Hydrogen Vehicle Advancement Partnership
8. Complementary actions to reduce emissions
9. 2022: The Year Electric Vehicles Leave Gas Cars in the Dust
10. They state that there will be “approximately a $4 billion to $7 billion loss in business” for car dealers if a ZEV mandate were adopted. See p. 29 of the member publication Signals, Nov-Dec 2016.