British Columbia can support electric vehicles


Professor Curran
Crawford, University
of Victoria
Victoria, BC, Canada — (METERING.COM) — November 5, 2009 – British Columbia has sufficient underutilized generation capacity in its electrical grid to support the introduction of more than two million plug-in electrified vehicles – enough to eventually replace nearly every registered vehicle in the province – provided that recharging occurs in off-peak demand periods, according to new research from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS).

The report, “Electrifying the BC Vehicle Fleet: Opportunities and Challenges for Plug-in Hybrid, Extended Range & Pure Electric Vehicles,” finds that on the basis of recent transportation studies, that most BC commuters travel a median one-way trip length of 6.5 km by vehicle, current plug-in hybrid and extended range electric vehicle (PHEV, EREV) technology would allow most BC commuters to travel to and from work on electric energy alone.

However, a large number of electric vehicles connecting to the electrical grid in an uncontrolled fashion may present problems for BC Hydro. In large numbers, these vehicles would create a signifi¬cant increase in aggregate demand. If the vehicles are plugged in during times of peak electricity demand, BC Hydro would be forced to increase its generation and transmission capacity, driving up electricity prices and also affecting the ability to sell electricity to the Alberta and U.S. markets during peak times, as is presently done. However, during non-peak times, the grid is underutilized and may accommodate a large number of electric vehicles. Several methods of controlling vehicle electrical load to match these non-peak times are under investigation.

The report, the latest in a series of PICS independent research white papers to government, examines the possible benefits and obstacles related to widespread adoption of PHEVs, EREVs and fully electric vehicles in British Columbia.

The report also notes that large-scale electric vehicle adoption may also have positive impacts on the electricity grid, with their ability to act as energy storage devices, accepting power from wind and solar plants whenever they are plugged in. It has also been proposed that if vehicles have energy remaining in their batteries after driving, they might sell energy back to the grid during periods of high demand, increasing the grid’s reliability.

The diffusion of significant numbers of electric vehicles into the personal vehicle market will take many years, although conversion kits are being developed to electrify the existing fleet, says the report. Currently, consumers are reluctant to invest large amounts of capital into vehicles with a limited track record in real world conditions. However, uptake is encouraged by gov¬ernmental up-front purchase incentives and tax rebates. Diffusion is also accelerated with rising gasoline prices, which have been directly correlated with the number of hybrid vehicle purchases. Finally, installation of a public charging infrastructure, allowing drivers to charge at work, grocery stores, shopping malls and other destinations, will maximize return on consumers’ investment.

“The transportation sector currently contributes 36% of the province’s total greenhouse gas emissions,” says the report’s co-author and spokesperson, UVic engineering professor Curran Crawford. “If BC is to meet its 2020 emission reduction targets, incentives and regulations for alternative technologies need to be put into place.”

The report notes that BC’s electrical generators have the capacity to charge nearly 2.5 million light duty vehicles – almost the same number of registered gasoline-powered vehicles on BC roads right now – even during winter when there is heavy grid demand.

In summer, the generators could theoretically support more than 8.8 million vehicles. However, such high volumes could be detrimental to the grid and force up electricity prices if charging occurred during day and early evening peak demand periods. Also, some distribution lines in the grid would likely have to be upgraded.

“Passenger and heavy-duty vehicles account for 23% of BC’s greenhouse gas emissions and electric vehicles offer an excellent opportunity to significantly reduce that load. However, large-scale introduction would require external controls and/or consumer incentives to ensure overnight recharging.”

The report also suggests a vehicle odometer tax be created to offset the loss of gasoline tax revenue (currently used for road maintenance) caused by people switching to electric vehicles. Other issues covered include the potential of electric vehicles as a storage facility for intermittent clean energy from wind and solar and for selling energy back to the grid during peak demand periods; the need for government investment in socially equitable public recharging infrastructure and battery recycling/disposal schemes, and BC business opportunities offered by electric vehicles.