Local demand for electric vehicles is high as federal mandates on the vehicles continue to increase.
On Dec. 21st, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said that the federal government would be setting sales targets for automobile manufacturers that will require at least 20 per cent of new vehicles sold in Canada to be zero emission by 2026, at least 60 per cent by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2035.
In St. Albert this upward trend in EV demand has led to chronic obstacles for dealerships in maintaining a sufficient inventory, especially with strained global supply chains and a critical chip shortage.
“Keeping inventory of all kinds is still an incredible challenge,” said Tiffany Hodgson, general manager at Ron Hodgson Chevrolet Buick GMC on St. Albert Trail.
“The manufacturers are working hard to make up for the supply and demand imbalance of the past couple of years, and we're beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
According to Statistics Canada, while 95 per cent of all registered light-duty vehicles remained gasoline-powered in 2021, there were also 303,073 hybrids,152,685 battery electric vehicles, and 95,896 plug-in electric vehicles registered — figures that have been sharply rising for the past decade.
A sales mandate for zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) ensures market certainty, said Adam Thorn, transportation director at the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based think tank focused on Canadian energy policy.
“We’ve seen the difference a ZEV sales mandate has made in British Columbia and Quebec where most of Canada’s zero-emission vehicles are purchased. With a federal mandate, all Canadians will benefit from a greater supply of electric passenger vehicles, lower sticker prices over time as manufacturing scales up, and no longer being tied to the volatility of gas prices at the pump,” Thorn said.
As EV mandates start in Canada, the variety of vehicles offered by dealerships also increases.
“We currently offer 2 different models of EVs —the BoltEV and BoldEUV,” said Hodgson, “but we are on the cusp of GM releasing another 6 models for 2023 with more to come in 2024, 2025, and 2026. What we currently have has been selling as fast as we can get it.”
EV chargers in Alberta
Alberta lags behind Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia when it comes to charging infrastructure.
Throughout the province, the infrastructure for Level 2 charging (the type of charging enabled by the large 240V or 208V outlets that power industrial appliances like washing machines) and Level 3 or direct-current fast charging (DCFC), (the more powerful type of charging enabled by specialized EV products like Tesla’s Supercharger) is currently provided by a medley of public and private organizations.
The fastest type of charging stations have been built by a mixture of public and private investment, said William York, director of the Electric Vehicle Association of Alberta, adding that recently a lot of funding has come from the Natural Resources Canada’s Zero Emissions Vehicle Infrastructure program.
Level 2 charging stations have come from private investment, York said, noting that Tesla has lead the way in Alberta.
“Much of the infrastructure (Tesla) put up is privately funded and Calgary owes many L2 charging stations to Tesla’s municipal infrastructure grant program,” York said.
In order to increase the quality and quantity of chargers in Alberta to keep pace with the EV targets laid out by Ottawa, private industry, government agencies, or some combination thereof will need to take a more active role in coordinating a functional network.
And York said that coordination could prove to be a major challenge.
“I don’t envy the difficulty of what lies ahead for the private industry and the federal government.”
Customers are growing rapidly, but there still aren’t many drivers across the province, which has caused charging stations to be focused in urban areas and major corridors, York said. The chargers that are installed tend to be small, with few ports and less power output in those ports.
Modifying the grid
With so many more EVs on the roads in future years, the provincial electricity grid will be faced with the challenge of charging all the vehicles.
Greater EV adoption means that additional chargers will be installed in homes, urban parks, parking lots, office buildings, and shopping centres, which could have a major impact on the power grid, said Omid Ardakanian of the University of Alberta’s department of computing science.
The increase in vehicles could strain distribution grids and increasing the peak electricity demand on the entire system.
“Utility companies need to identify potential hotspots in their network, then upgrade transformers and other network components in a piecemeal fashion so they can accommodate the electric vehicle charging load in future,” Ardakanian said.
Places where the power grid is already congested will need some extra reinforcement, said Ardakanian, but noted the upgrades would be costly.
Right now, the province doesn’t need to worry about the peak grid capacity, as there hasn’t been enough EV sales in Alberta to increase demand.
Ardakanian, estimates there will be 35,000 new zero-emission cars in Alberta annually starting in the 2026, and most of those cars will use lower-level charging capacity.
As a result, the worst-case scenario will result in an increase to the grid of 252,000 kW (or 252 MW) per year.
Currently, the peak electricity demand in Alberta is roughly 12,000 MW, so EVs will increase the peak demand by approximately two per cent per year if all of them are parked and being charged during peak hours, Ardakanian said. But it is unlikely they would al be charging at the same time.
To help mitigate grid-demand challenges in the future, Ardakanian said smart EV charging stations and stationary batteries can help.
Smart EV charging equipment has the ability to adjust charge power based on the real time network congestion. For example, a smart charger can draw 7 kW from the grid to charge the vehicle faster, when fewer EVs are charged simultaneously in that neighbourhood or during off-peak hours. During peak hours, however, or when more electric vehicles are being charged in that neighbourhood, the smart charger can reduce its charge power (to 2 kW for example) to avoid congestion.
Stationary batteries can be installed directly in driver’s garage and are constantly connected to the grid. They are able to pull electricity during off-peak hours and the driver can use the battery to charge their EV without making the grid more congested.