EVs and Canada

Earlier this year, Chrysler Canada announced their 39th consecutive month of year-on-year sales growth. The company which has consistently ranked number one in car sales in the country reported double-digit growth in passenger car sales with minivan models like Town & Country seeing massive 399% rise in sales. With the country bouncing back from an economic slump (Canada recorded negative growth in 2009), the rise in the number of cars sold should come as a reassurance of a positive growth outlook for the future. However, can Canada, that is already among the world’s top 10 emitters of CO2 afford this automobile growth?

In a whitepaper published last year, Environment Canada projected the emission of greenhouse gases to reach 720 metric tons by 2020. While this is nearly 15% lower than what the emissions may have been in the absence of government measures, the emissions are still significantly higher than what was measured in 2010 (692 Mt CO2e). Passenger vehicles still contribute a significant chunk to this overall pie.

According to the EC report, transportation related emissions contribute 24% to the overall GHG emissions in Canada. The contribution increase was quite significant between 1990 and 2005 when strong economic growth contributed to a paradigm shift in the way people drive. This 15 year period saw people shifting from utilitarian passenger cars to the more polluting light-duty trucks. Consequent to this, the emission rate also increased by close to 33%. While better technology in cars have improved the on-road fuel economy and thus helped reduce the emissions by 4 Mt since 2005, the fact that the primary mode of transport for a lot of Canadians today is a light-duty truck explains why it is still too early to be celebrating.

Worldwide, environmentalists have been debating the pros and cons of moving towards an electricity driven passenger vehicle. While the advantages of moving away from fuel driven cars are extremely high, critics point out that the actual saving is determined by how the electricity is generated. For instance, electric cars may not help in containing GHG emissions to a great extent in Australia where the major source of electricity generation is coal. However, for Canada, there is a silver lining. Most of the country’s energy needs today are met with renewable sources of electricity. In provinces like British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland & Labrador and Quebec, 100% of electricity generated is from renewable hydroelectric sources.

The Canadian government has hence been actively pushing the market towards the adoption of electric cars. The government has set itself a target to put 500,000 electric cars on Canadian roads by 2018. The government believes that by incentivizing the adoption of electric cars, the adoption of fuel driven cars would drop and that would in turn help in reducing the overall greenhouse gas emission from the country. Canada has announced that it is already halfway towards reaching the Copenhagen Accord target of reducing emissions by 17% (compared to 2005 emission rates).

Given these steep targets, the electric car market in Canada is already starting to surge. Tesla Motors, the premium electric car company in the world announced the launch of their first store in Canada last year. While the high cost of an electric car has been a factor in the past, new entrants like Smart have been working on cheap alternatives. It is believed that the government’s incentivization schemes could potentially make electric cars mainstream which would then help in carrying the momentum forward to reach a stage where electric cars are as much a primary mode of transport as light-duty trucks and diesel driven minivans are at present. This would go a long way in ensuring clean and green transportation in Canada.

Photo Credit: EV Incentives and Canada/shutterstock