The road to 100% emissions-free vehicle sales

B.C.’s new vehicle emissions mandate will help pave the way for emissions-free vehicle sales in 2040

An EV charging station outside the Burrowing Owl Estate Winery in Oliver, B.C. | Plug In BC

This article was originally published in BIV Magazine's Climate Change issue.

A 2020 road trip from Vancouver to Prince George proved markedly different from a year earlier for Michael Stanyer as he rolled through the province in a Volkswagen e-Golf.

He’d made the nearly 800-kilometre journey countless times after moving from B.C.’s north to the Lower Mainland. 

The 2019 trip was made in a longer-range electric vehicle (EV), but there was a key difference: the fast-charging infrastructure dotting the landscape had notably filled out over the course of a year.

Stanyer, the program co-ordinator for the Plug In BC initiative that seeks to inform West Coast residents about the EV market, would drive for about 150 kilometres on this trip in the e-Golf before stopping to charge for about 20 minutes on his way to Prince George.

“It’s especially useful to people in my position where I have no shortage of things to do for 20 minutes in responding to emails and such. So doing it in a vehicle like that adds to a person’s trip, but again, if you’re leaning towards an electric vehicle that you’re going to take on road trips rarely, it shouldn’t necessarily deter you. You’re going to add some time to your trip for sure, but you know there’s the benefit of saving quite a lot of money,” he says.

“Some of the anxieties that people have around range are really to do with the number of fast-charging stations that they know are available. And so I think that that rings true. What doing those trips myself illustrated to me is that with the fast-charging station network, those trips are very doable.”

It’s a network more British Columbians will need to rely on in the coming years after the province passed its Zero-Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Act in 2019, which has set the target of requiring all new light-duty cars and trucks sold in the province to be emissions free by 2040.

The act also calls for 10% of new vehicle sales to be ZEV by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

While Stanyer says it will be a long road getting there, he does not see any red flags indicating B.C. can’t achieve that goal and create the charging infrastructure necessary to support the thousands of new ZEVs taking to the roads.

“The whole world is going that way,” he says. 

“There’s a lot of innovation out there that is being used in other parts of the world that we haven’t really had to rely on so far. We’re running into situations where it’s difficult to get power into some remote areas. I think we’ve only just begun to get creative with how to do that, having things like battery backups made from reused EV batteries, once they’re taken out of vehicles, to store power for [rural] charging stations.”

Meanwhile, infrastructure investments have already been ramping up in 2021.

In early March, Ottawa and Bosa Properties committed $275,000 to install 34 chargers at six sites across Metro Vancouver.

Days later, the federal government said it was earmarking $2.75 billion over five years to help the nation’s public transit systems to further electrify.

Part of that money will go towards electric buses manufactured by Vancouver-based GreenPower Motor Co., as well as the infrastructure necessary to support the new vehicles.

Meanwhile, a 2019 report prepared for Transport Canada reveals that of the 31,054 battery-electric vehicles registered in the country that year, 10,881 were registered in B.C.

The only other province to exceed B.C. was Quebec – which has its own ZEV mandate – with 13,378 registrations.

And while Ontario has three times the population of B.C., it recorded 5,502 registrations.

Unlike B.C. or Quebec, Ontario does not have a ZEV mandate or rebates comparable to those provinces.

California, with a population comparable to Canada, and a dozen other American states also have ZEV mandates. The European Union is seeking to have at least 30 million ZEVs on the road by 2030, meaning the growing number of jurisdictions adopting such mandates is putting further pressure on manufacturers to meet growing demand.

“Demand is relative to the cost so the issue is not supply but supply of affordable ZEVs. Also, most OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] are global and will continue to prioritize supply to the markets that have the biggest demand. As cost comes down for ZEVs sold within [North America], market demand will rise and supply will adjust to meet the demand,” says Mark Cann, CEO and co-chief technology officer of Cryo Energy Tech.

And Stanyer is quick to point out that B.C.’s auto market won’t dictate what unfolds in the rest of the world in terms of manufacturers meeting increasing demand for supply.

As it stands now, the West Coast is not facing any supply issues, according to Blair Qualey, president of the New Car Dealers Association of BC.

“You’ll find some dealership lots have EVs just sitting there, not selling at the moment. So supply doesn’t seem to be as big a challenge as some people might try and make it out to be,” he says.

“Individual manufacturers may have challenges, especially those that haven’t introduced battery-electric vehicles yet. But I think over time, as I said, we’ve got 120 new models by 2023. That’s pretty good selection I think for Canadians and British Columbians.”

He added B.C. has been ahead of the curve for a long time now in terms of adoption, and that dealers are on board with the province’s ZEV mandate.

“Dealers have recognized here in this province for some time that it was a good market for electric vehicles and car dealers want to sell something that people want to buy,” Qualey says.

He hopes there will be an ongoing commitment from the B.C. government in the next budget to provide further financial stimulus – such as rebates – to help drivers make the leap to electric vehicles.

“Nearly every market that has ZEV mandates also has some form of generous incentives or other subsidies,” Cann says.

“Infrastructure is the trillion-dollar question that’s being asked right now. Adoption of ZEVs will require massive upgrades and build-outs in infrastructure and everyone is trying to determine who will get stuck paying the bill.”

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This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue of BIV Magazine under the title 'The road to 100%.' The digital magazine can be read in full here.