New study shows all-electric transport in B.C. is cost-effective

Environmental News Provincial

The province would need to double its electrical capacity, invest in electric transit

Illustration by Niusha Derakhshan

Although Tesla vehicles are becoming increasingly popular, they are still dramatically outnumbered by gas-guzzling cars. But with more and more people turning to electric transportation, a professor at UVic wanted to find out how feasible it was for the entire province to go electric. 

Dr. Curran Crawford, a professor in mechanical engineering at UVic, co-authored a study with other researchers from UVic’s Institute for Integrated Energy Systems to examine the province’s transportation future, with funding from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS). Their study found B.C. would need to double its energy grid capacity but could become fully electric by 2055, with cost and emissions benefits for consumers. 

The study, titled “Electrification of road transportation with utility-controlled charging: A case study for British Columbia with a 93% renewable electricity target,” was published in the November issue of the academic journal Applied Energy. The study is in line with the B.C. government’s CleanBC Act, which mandates that 93 per cent of the province’s energy generation comes from renewable resources. With that in mind, the model they tested accounts for that 93 per cent requirement and attempts to find what would be needed in terms of energy capacity — specifically if all B.C. transportation was electric. It tests this scenario against “business as usual,” which estimates what would occur if we maintained the status quo.

Currently, a third of B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Dr. Crawford could not specify how much the electrification of transportation would impact the province’s emissions as a whole. 

However, Dr. Crawford did say that electrification is competitive with nonrenewables in terms of cost. The unit cost of electricity would only go up by between five and nine per cent. This study, however, did not factor in costs of transmission and distribution, vehicles, and charging infrastructure. 

Having fully electric transportation by 2055 is not a far-fetched goal. The provincial and local governments are currently collaborating on plans to reduce emissions, and have specifically focused on transportation. For example, it is required by B.C. law that all vehicles sold in the province after 2040 be electric. 

Locally, the Victoria Regional Transit Commision (VRTC) and BC Transit have committed to transitioning all public transit to electric vehicles. BC Transit will start buying only electric buses by 2023, with the aim of having a fully electric fleet by 2040. In 2021, BC Transit will deploy their first ten electric buses, purchased in partnership with the provincial and federal government. 

Juliet Watts, the UVSS Director of Campaigns and Community Relations, sits on the VRTC as a student non-voting member. 

“Taking mass transit is a climate solution,” Watts said. “[VRTC] needs to depend on natural gas for the time being in order to fully transition to electric and meet that 2050 emissions target … while I don’t have a lot of support for natural gas or the way that it’s extracted, I think in terms of emissions that’s one of the pathways we have to take in order to reduce them.”

Dr. Crawford said that keeping natural gas involved in order to go electric later is a  perspective that’s in line with their study, which points to electrification being most feasible between 2020-2030. 

Watts said she’s looking forward to potentially doing more with transit in the spring, as she continues to hear concerns from UVic students about BC Transit’s services. 

This most recent study corroborates existing plans and finds the electrification of vehicles is cost-effective for B.C.’s electricity and transport system. The researchers hope that one day this study will be used to inform government policy toward a more aggressive plan for electrification in the province, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the process.