Op-ed: Hum hum, not vroom vroom: Electric cars are Manitoba’s road forward
Nazim Cicek professor and associate head of the department of biosystems engineering wrote the following op-ed for the Winnipeg Free Press. It was originally published on August 29, 2017.
Name this place: it’s north of the 49th parallel, has long winters, is geographically spread out with a dominant capital city; its people love the outdoors and enjoy using nature even in the winter; 98 per cent of its electricity is generated by hydro; and the most popular indoor sport is hockey.
Oh… one more thing: last month, 42 per cent of all vehicles sold there were electric. Until the last sentence, you wouldn’t be faulted for guessing that this is Manitoba. But the right answer is Norway, which is the leading case study for disruptive change in the transportation industry.
With the highest percentage of electric car sales in Canada currently in Quebec, at 1.2 per cent (Manitoba sits at less than 0.1 per cent), how did Norway get to over 40 per cent? It’s worthwhile to consider, as it demonstrates how Manitoba could use its natural advantages to make a similar transition.
Just six years ago, electric cars represented less than 0.5 per cent of all sales in Norway. The change to electric was exponential in its rate and exceeded all expectations, including government targets, which were thought to be extremely ambitious at the time. The original goal of 50,000 electric cars on the road by 2018 was reached by April 2015, more than two years ahead of schedule.
Beyond the fast-paced developments in technology over the years (in batteries, cars and charging options), the prime motivation in Norway’s transition were a number of impactful incentives. They include an exemption from the Value Added Tax (25 per cent in Norway, similar in structure to our PST plus GST) and any vehicle fees when purchasing an electric car, exemptions from any road tolls (which can be extensive) and ferry fees, free parking in most urban areas and use of bus lanes by all electric cars to reduce travel time.
The country has also built an extensive network of public charging stations, which currently totals more than 7,000, made possible by early government investment, but now operated privately. Added to all of this is the average savings in fuel costs, which is in the range of $3,000 per year in Norway when switching to all-electric driving.
In a recent survey of 8,000 Norwegian electric car owners, three-quarters of the respondents said economics was the major reason for their purchase, with the remainder choosing the environment as their main motivator. Most of the charging takes place at home or at work, with less than five per cent consistently charging their cars in public stations.
Satisfaction is extremely high (primarily due to lower operating costs, environmental performance and free usage of toll roads and parking) with less than two per cent of the owners stating that they would not buy another electric vehicle. Despite some criticism of the incentive structure (primarily by ferry operators, municipalities due to lower parking revenue and complaints by bus drivers), Norway will keep most of the incentives in place and will slowly phase them out as the economics of electric cars improve.
Their new target is to eliminate the sale of all gasoline/diesel-powered cars, buses and light commercial vehicles by 2025, and judging by the already rapid growth of electric vehicle owners, who could doubt them?
Closer to home, we all know Manitoba has a 100 per cent renewable electricity generation mix, but few would know that regardless of season, there is a consistent drop in power demand by more than 500MW from the peak daily load every night (between midnight and 6 a.m.). Since all of our electricity infrastructure is designed based on peak daily loads, a substantial reduction in local demand for electricity at night provides a unique opportunity.
Currently, Manitoba Hydro is unable to sell this nighttime power at market prices, and would love to see local consumers pick up this slack. Looking at the power demand of an average electric vehicle (which is similar to that of an electric household water heater), nightly charging would allow 250,000 vehicles (about a third of the total number of cars in the province) to be operated with no extra capacity required.
Even at a reduced rate of $0.06/kWh (a 25 per cent discount to incentivize nighttime home charging), this would add an additional $50 million to the bottom line of Manitoba Hydro, a sum that could be used to structure our own set of incentives.
Taking 250,000 vehicles off of fossil fuels would eliminate the need to import about $500 million worth of gasoline/diesel to Manitoba per year, substantially improving our trade balance, enhancing air quality and mitigating noise pollution. If a $50/tonne of CO2 federally mandated carbon tax comes into effect by 2022, that’s another $50 million benefit to the province.
What type of new electricity generating capacity would it take switch to 100 per cent electric vehicles in Manitoba? It could be achieved with two additional wind farms, similar to the size of the one in St. Joseph. Manitoba Hydro already offers Power Smart loans for Level 2 home charging stations and encourages the use of nighttime charging through programmable chargers (similar to programmable home thermostats).
Level 3 public charging stations, which can fully charge an electric vehicle in 15 to 30 minutes, would need to be built along highways in Manitoba to relieve “range anxiety,” but there are already reports that companies such as BP are looking to build a global network of chargers at their fuel stations to encourage shopping at their convenience stores.
Would anybody doubt that these types of charging stations, which will bring customers to rest area stores or fast-food restaurants, would be invested in by private operators? A Norwegian entrepreneur, who already operates a charging station with 28 high-power chargers on a busy highway, is considering expanding his business by converting a nearby gas station to an electric charging station — a sure sign of our times.
We can learn from the successes and challenges of the disruptive transition to electric vehicles in Norway, a place in many ways indistinguishable from our province. Manitoba should get on board.