Electric Vehicles Are Only As Clean As Their Power Source
Sustainability Electric vehicle technology is improving every year while their prices are coming down and government incentives are going up.
e’re quickly reaching the point, if we haven’t already, where EVs are going to be an option for the average car buyer to seriously consider. When weighing the advantages of an EV though, there is one factor that is often forgotten: Buyers may be excited about reducing their carbon footprint, but they need to remember that an EV is only as clean as the electricity you charge it with.
“The carbon advantage of an EV really depends on the emissions of the electricity generation system as compared to the emissions of gasoline,” explains Andrew Pietrewicz, Director of Resource Integration at the IESO, the Crown corporation responsible for operating Ontario’s electricity market. In other words, if you live in a jurisdiction with a heavy reliance on coal for electricity generation, then replacing your gas-burning car with an EV would be effectively the same as buying a coal-burning car. If, on the other hand, you live in a region with a clean electricity supply, then the environmental advantage of an EV can be massive.
For Ontarians, that means understanding the benefits of an EV necessitates taking a closer look at the province’s electricity supply mix. Fortunately, the news is good. “Ontario, over the last ten to fifteen years, has undertaken a very significant transformation of our electricity system through the phase out of coal power,” says James Scongack, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Bruce Power. “Today we have a supply mix that is very low carbon. More than 90 percent of our electricity output comes from sources that do not generate greenhouse gasses, the majority of which is nuclear.”
Our infrastructure is ready
Considering transportation is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario — exceeding the combined total output of the iron, steel, cement, and chemical industries — EVs represent a major opportunity to reduce Ontario’s carbon footprint. “Ontario is well positioned to take advantage of the benefits of electric vehicles,” says Pietrewicz. “We have enough generation, we have the right kind of generation, and it’s all stitched together by a robust electricity infrastructure.”
Indeed, our electricity system is almost perfectly designed to accommodate EVs. We have plenty of clean power available, particularly at night, when people would typically charge their vehicles. “Ontario’s system is adequately supplied and will remain adequate for the foreseeable future to accommodate the projected uptake in EVs,” says Pietrewicz. “Adding even as many as a million new EVs to the road would only add about 3 terawatt hours (TWh) per year in demand to a system which currently generates over 160 TWh each year.” Which is not to say no new infrastructure will need to be built. “There are still a lot of very important infrastructure considerations,” says Scongack. “Local distribution companies are going to need time to enhance the infrastructure in their areas to be able to manage the new demand from EVs.” But, a million new EVs won’t appear overnight and, by all accounts, the required infrastructure upgrades will be quite manageable.
So, for the hundreds of thousands of Ontarians who will be purchasing a new vehicle this year, it will definitely be worthwhile to look into whether an EV fits your needs. And, when you’re weighing the pros and cons, remember the benefit of an EV is inextricably tied to the characteristics of your region’s electricity system. And, Ontario’s is just about perfect.