A electric vehicle charging at the University of Victoria this month. (Photo Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions)

Can B.C. cleanly power every car if we go electric?

Low-cost renewables are closer than appear, UVic study

B.C.’s switch to electric powered cars is a big step toward its role in helping slow the climate crisis.

But will we be able to cleanly produce enough electricity for vehicles in B.C. by the time all vehicles have switched over?

Not yet, but it’s easily doable says a new study from a team of University of Victoria researchers with support from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS).

The study will be published in the November issue of peer-reviewed science journal Applied Energy.

READ MORE: Drivers are ‘ICE-ing’ electric car charging spots in Greater Victoria

It found that if all vehicles in B.C. were powered by electricity instead of liquid fuels by 2055, B.C. would need to more than double its electricity generation to meet the forecasted energy demand. That takes into account B.C.’s law that all cars sold in 2040 are electric or non-oil burning.

“We fixed our assumptions based on current policies in the world,” said Curran Crawford, who co-authored the study with a team of UVic researchers.

However, the move could prove surprisingly cost-effective. But the answer isn’t new dams like Site C. The likeliest solutions are a multitude of renewable resource energy, primarily from wind and solar on the Island, and also new hydro sites. They also looked at longer term options such as floating off shore wind energy, biomass and geothermal, saying overall the resources are there.

“Depending where they go, the challenge is transmission [of the electricity or energy back to urban centres],” Crawford said.

For instance, B.C.’s planned Site C project will provide 1.1 GW, which merely “scratches the surface of potential increased power and energy needs.”

READ MORE: One out of three drivers have had their car unplugged at an electric pump

“Solar photovoltaic and wind power look very promising for BC due to their falling costs,” the study says. “By 2055, B.C. will need to increase its electrical production capacity from a 2015 baseline of 15.6 gigawatts (GW) to 23 GW. This factors in all-electric road transportation as well, and up to 60 per cent additional capacity will be needed. This would more than double BC’s electricity generation capacity to 37 GW.”

Right now, transportation is responsible for more than a third of B.C.’s GHG emissions. The province’s CleanBC plan relies on getting cars, SUVs, buses and truck fleets off fossil fuels and onto cleanly produced electricity.

The trick is waiting out the building of renewable energy facilities as the cost is coming down every year, thanks to rapidly advancing technologies and the human expertise that goes with it.

“The longer we wait the less it will cost to build the infrastructure,” Crawford added.

Under BC’s current Clean Energy Act, at least 93 per cent of grid electricity must come from renewable resources such as hydro power, wind or solar.

As long as that policy remains in place, electrifying the entire road fleet would reduce total emissions from the combined transportation and electricity sectors by 38 per cent between 2015 and 2055, relative to the current picture.

The key is ensuring that the policies enforce the creation of renewable electricity and not relaxing the standards around greenhouse gas options such as natural gas, Crawford said.

PICS is hosted at UVic and runs in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Northern British Columbia.

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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