The Future of Driving is Electric! Is Canada on Track?

In Canada today, only 3.5% of newly registered vehicles are considered electric vehicles (EVs). However, the federal government aims to have half of all cars sold to be zero-emission by 2030, reaching 100% by 2035. In Europe, market shares for electric vehicles have been making huge jumps in recent years. In 2020, Germany saw the market share increase from 2.9% to 13.5% and from 2.8% to 11.3% in France in the same year. In China, which is the largest consumer of electric vehicles in the world, the domestic market share in 2020 was 5.7%1. As the world begins to transition and adapt to the new electric market, it seems that Canada may be falling behind. If, however, Canada can implement effective incentives and programs, we can begin to catch up and even exceed these other markets to emerge as a world leader.

Zero-Emission Vehicle Description and Comparison

Electric vehicles differ from typical gasoline vehicles as they have electric motors rather than internal combustion engines, batteries instead of fuel tanks, and produce no exhaust from the car directly. Hydrogen vehicles, or fuel cell electric vehicles, use electric motors like electric vehicles but require hydrogen fuel in the form of pressurized hydrogen gas. They also have fuel cells for converting the gas to electricity and a battery for storing excess electricity. This battery is much smaller than EVs and serves to provide extra energy to smooth the delivery of overall power throughout a trip. Plug-in hybrid and hybrid cars are a combination of typical combustion engines and electric engines in which they alternate on use depending on certain conditions. These cars also have both fuel tanks and small batteries.

Life Cycle Considerations

A critical aspect of ‘zero-emission’ vehicles is to consider the well to wheel emissions, which means taking into account that the electricity used in the fueling of these vehicles may not be generated using sustainable practices (i.e. coal power). In Canada, the generation of electricity comes mainly from renewable/non-emitting sources, with over 60% from hydroelectric sources (see figure 1)2

Figure 1


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Data from 2019 shows that greenhouse gas emissions, in C02 equivalents, from electricity in Canada have declined by 35% between 1990 and 2019! As such, it would only be a matter of continuing to push for renewable energy sources and shifting to 100% zero-emission generation of electricity as soon as possible. In addition to the energy production for use in the vehicles, it is also important to critically analyze the sustainability of the entire life cycle and production process of the car itself and the materials needed. 

Current Government Programs

The current federal government has implemented a Zero-Emissions Vehicle Infrastructure Program aimed at helping local governments, corporations, and businesses fund projects related to EV infrastructure. It began in 2019 and will run until 2024 and will have $280 million available to support EV charging and refueling stations that have been a major barrier to EV adoption country-wide. 

The program seeks to build localized electrical charging stations and hydrogen refueling stations where Canadians work, live, and play. Within the program are five streams: the public places stream (for parking areas that are for public use), the on-street stream (for public use and operated by local governments), the workplace stream, the multi-residential stream, and the commercial/public fleets stream (for on-road or off-road vehicles managed by common ownership)3.

Currently, the government of Canada also has in place an incentives program for zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) providing financial incentives for consumers purchasing or leasing these vehicles. Vehicles that qualify for this program fall into two categories; the first is those with six seats or less, where the base model Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) is less than $45,000; and higher-priced versions, up to a maximum MSRP of $55,000, will also be eligible. The second is vehicles with seven or more seats, where the base model MSRP is less than $55,000, and higher-priced versions, up to a maximum MSRP of $60,000, will also be eligible. The incentives offer up to $5,000 for fully electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and long-range hybrid (battery capacity of at least 15 kWh) vehicles. Shorter range hybrid vehicles (battery capacity under 15 kWh) are eligible for this program but only for an incentive up to $25004

This program has also provided businesses with tax incentives when purchasing electric vehicles for business purposes. Eligible ZEVs for the tax write-off include a motor vehicle that is a plug-in hybrid (with a battery capacity of at least 7 kWh) or vehicles that are fully electric or fully powered by hydrogen, including light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles purchased by a business. ZEVs purchased between March 19, 2019, and before January 1, 2024, are eligible for this program. Businesses that receive an incentive from the federal incentive program cannot use the 100% write-off for ZEVs—they can only use one or the other.

With these incentives, the government hopes to push for increased purchase and use of EV’s nationwide to bring us closer to a sustainable and net-zero economy. By 2024 when these programs (as they are now) begin to end, they will need to have increased the market share from 3.5% to around 7.5% (just under 50% annual increase) to be on track to meet the 50% zero-emission vehicle market share target for 2030. 

Given that the transportation sector is one of the biggest emitters in Canada, this will be instrumental in achieving our overall sustainability goals. This will require public and private entities working together to revolutionize the entire system, from private consumer vehicles to business transport fleets and eventually beyond, to aviation and marine shipping. 

With the current federal EV programs and others specific to each province, such as Ontario’s Used EV and Scrappage Incentives5, the Canadian market is well on its way to becoming a global competitor and even a possible global leader in EV adoption. 

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