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Calgary expects half of residents to switch to electric vehicles in 30 years: Report

If the electric vehicle revolution is coming, the City of Calgary plans to help usher it in with infrastructure and moral support.

The city’s Electric Vehicle Strategy, which was released late last week, lays out concrete actions the city needs to take to help encourage the uptake of EVs in the city.

Eric MacNaughton, senior transportation engineer with the city and one of the authors of the report, said it was a spin-off from the city’s Climate Resilience Strategy, which council approved last June.

“It lets us detail out a bit more how we’re going to accomplish those actions and put time frames to them,” he said.

According to the report, the city expects 10 per cent of cars in Calgary to be electric by 2030. By 2050, it projects that about half of the vehicles on the road will be electric, or some form of hybrid.

The report says the city should encourage and nudge people in that direction when possible, because EV uptake will be a big factor in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in the city.

As of 2017, 34 per cent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation. A further 39 per cent came from non-residential buildings, and residential buildings made up 26 per cent.

“Of the 34 per cent – the majority [of greenhouse gasses] are coming from people driving,” said MacNaughton. “There is a portion that comes from medium and heavy duty trucks, but the vast majority is from those passenger vehicles.”

He said in getting those emissions to go down, the shift to walking, cycling and transit will help, but the expected shift by 2050 to EVs will have four times the impact on emissions than the planned transit, walking and cycling programs expected in that same time frame.

“Given that the majority of the trips are driving[…] changing where the energy source is coming from is the biggest opportunity,” said MacNaughton.

“If we get that shift to electric vehicles, it will reduce the emissions, reduce the local air pollution, it is a huge impact in terms of reducing emissions while people are still driving.”

EV naysayers note that those vehicles still have to get their energy from somewhere, and about 89 per cent of Alberta’s electricity currently comes from fossil fuels, according to the National Energy Board.

MacNaughton said that’s fine, because Alberta is already making the switch from coal to natural gas. So EV is a technology that will get cleaner as time goes on – an advantage that won’t be available to gas and diesel vehicles.

“Even with the coal that we’ve got on the grid today, since most people tend to plug in their EVs when they get home from work, that’s when there’s peak demands on the system,” said MacNaughton. “We’re maxing out the natural gas on the system, and we’re actually importing hydro power from British Columbia – so it’s essentially a cleaner grid at that time of day.”

He notes that even today, an EV plugged into Alberta’s current electric grid only creates about half the greenhouse gasses of a conventional vehicle.

The report lists 10 actions the city is to take to meet its goals on EV adoption. The first action in the report is to partner with the private sector and other levels of government to see more charging infrastructure installed where possible.

Jim Steil, co-owner of Calgary’s only used EV dealership Go Electric, said increasing charging infrastructure availability will be an important part of making people feel comfortable switching from gas to electric.

“The more charging infrastructure there is, the more people will be willing to buy an electric vehicle,” said Steil.

“I believe that the emphasis should be on highway travel versus city travel. But as the number of EVs increases, there will be charging stations at shopping malls and movie theaters and places where people park. And you’ll probably have to pay for it.”

The city’s report notes that there will be economic spin-off for businesses looking to get into the industry, either through sales, but also through privatized charging stations.

The report suggests the city could see $59 billion in investment due to EV uptake.

The city is already starting to experiment with EVs in its own fleet. It already has 44 hybrid vehicles (24 SUVs, 17 sedans, two trucks and a street sweeper). Last week, a tender closed on an order for a hybrid front end loader, with the option to purchase ten more.

In an email, a city spokesperson said they don’t yet have a cost benefit analysis on the front end loaders, but they will be looking at them with a triple bottom line approach that includes financial, environmental and social impacts.

MacNaughton said the benefits of making sure the city is ready for the EV revolution will be twofold.

“I think the two big things with this is, we’re seeing this as a chance to reduce our emissions, but it’s also about trying to future-proof the city a little bit, and making sure we’re ready for the new technologies that come on board.

“One of our goals is to try to make sure that Calgary stands out as a city that is ready for and is embracing new technologies and trying to attract those economic opportunities.”