CTV’s Misleading Math and Incomplete Reporting on Electric Vehicles for Alberta
By Michelle Stirling with contributions from Robert Lyman and Kent Zehr, P. Eng.
On March 17, 2021, CTV Calgary reported that electric vehicle (EV) use was expected to skyrocket in Alberta over the next five years. The report relied on an opinion poll by KPMG which suggested that 54% of Albertans were likely or very likely to buy an EV.
The article featured some random math, though it is not clear who did it, but the numbers sounded wildly exaggerated to me:
Between 2016 and 2020, Alberta averaged 222,998 new vehicle purchases every year. If that trend continues, with 54 per cent being EVs, there will be more than 600,000 more electric vehicles in the province in the next five years.
That also means more than 600,000 cars plugged in, drawing power from the grid.
So, I asked Robert Lyman for his off-the-cuff thoughts on the article’s numbers. Robert Lyman was formerly the Transport Canada senior manager responsible for environmental policy and programs. He has contributed a number of reports on these issues to Friends of Science Society (see links below the article). He replied by email:
It has been characteristic of EV advocates that they always exaggerate the increase in EV sales, and always under-estimate the growth in oil consumption.
The current estimate of EV sales in Canada in 2020 is 53,000. That is 3.7% of vehicle sales in a year in which car and truck sales declined by almost 20%. In other words, it was an unusual year. I don’t know what percentage of Canadian EV sales were in Alberta, but given that the majority of sales tend to be in the provinces with the high subsidies (Quebec and British Columbia), my guess is that Alberta EV sales were less than 10%, or less than 5,300.
If the article is right that Alberta car sales average 223,000 per year, and one assumed that EVs will triple their share of sales to about 10% (possible, but unlikely in my view), then the maximum EV sales in the next five years would be 22,300 per year.
Projecting that EV sales will grow to 54% of Alberta car sales is not based on credible analysis of the trends in motor vehicle markets.
Indeed, then I ran across an article quoting StatsCan and IHS figures on EV sales in Canada.
Zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) sales saw significant gains in the third quarter of 2020, with 18,771 new vehicles registered across Canada between July and September, according to data just made available by Statistics Canada. That number, which is more than twice the 9,069 vehicles sold in the previous quarter, consists of 67.1 per cent battery electric vehicles and 32.9 per cent plug-in hybrid vehicles….
While StatsCan has yet to release fourth-quarter sales, the private market research firm IHS Markit recently reported that Canadian ZEV sales in that period were up 9 per cent versus 2019. If correct, that would equal roughly 13,337 vehicles, and would bring the full-year total to 53,175 — roughly 4.4 per cent less than the 55,629 ZEVs sold in 2019. (StatsCan defines ZEVs as fully battery electric vehicles and also plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.)
And just as Robert Lyman had predicted, most of the sales were in provinces with the highest subsidies.
Regionally, the vast majority of ZEV sales (92.9 per cent) in Q3 2020 came from just three provinces: British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario.
So, the CTV report, based on a KPMG opinion poll and then some random math is very misleading. If only 53,175 EVs were sold in all of Canada in 2019, and 92.9 percent of those were in the provinces with the highest subsidies, it is highly unlikely that Alberta buyers alone will be buying about half that number per year, let alone a projected 600,000 over the next five years!
The CTV report had also gone to the trouble of checking with the Alberta Electric System Operator (The AESO) and with Enmax to see if the power grid would have sufficient power to support the very large numbers of 600,000 EV cars they projected for Alberta in the next 5 years.
So, I consulted with Kent Zehr, Professional Engineer, who has written a number of papers on this topic, including one article that assesses the available power in Canada’s present grid. He also noted that not all vehicles sold in Alberta are cars – many are trucks or large SUVs. He said:
The numbers are interesting. If you accept the 54% intention number, and I suspect it errs on the high side due to virtue signaling, and look at the average number of new vehicles sold, the simple arithmetic arrives at the 600,000 number. OK, but in Alberta, the number of pick up trucks and large SUVs is a substantial fraction of new sales every year. And looking around today, I do not see that segment of the market being satisfied by an electric vehicle. So, the 600,000 number is very questionable.
Regarding the power generation capacity to meet the demand for the 600,000 cars, he did a quick assessment to come up with this:
The 400 MW number is also very interesting. If you use the 80 KWH battery that is sort of the standard today, and if you said they will all need at least 50% charge daily, the annual requirement is then 600,000 X 80 KWH x 50% X 200 days per year or so, and on the same basis the daily requirement would average 600,000 X 40 KWH = 24,000,000 KWH. Dividing by 1,000 gets to MWH, 24,000 MWH per day and if we are generous and say that load will be spread out over 12 hours at night, the grid will need to supply an additional load of 2,000 MW. Not the 400 MW talked about by the AESO spokesman, Mike Diesing. The only way the 400 MW works is based on the usage pattern of the Enmax spokesperson, Jana Mosley, who was interviewed for the article. No commuting, no great distances travelled, the vehicle is a sometime convenience. In other words, not the average user.
So, overall, a very rosy colour of glasses was worn by all named in the article with the possible exception of the Enmax spokesperson. There is no doubt this additional loading will have serious effects on residential distribution. Be thankful it is not added onto a big air conditioning load like it is in the southern states where the air condition load goes up in the evenings at the same time car charging would be likely to occur.
In fact, as Jana Mosley of Enmax pointed out, once there are two or three EVs on a street, that will be too much.
“We could have the potential to overload residential area transformers, with just as many as two to three EV chargers plugged in charging at the same time in the same neighborhood,” she said.
Being ‘plugged in on the street’ means, of course, plugged in at someone’s house in their garage. There is no reasonable likelihood that the thousands of Calgarians who presently park on the street will be able to simply ‘run a cable’ from their house to an EV on the street. Likewise, the opinion poll wanders into ‘wishful thinking’ territory that the respondents hope their condos would install EV chargers ‘soon’, or that gas stations should have EV chargers.
Some of the problems here are related to the costs of installing EV chargers in a condo setting and fair access to the chargers for all, not to mention possible rewiring of some or all of a building or street.
Jana Mosley of Enmax notes that transformers would need to be upgraded. Along with that, depending on the age of the distribution lines installed, there might be a necessary upgrade for those lines as well. To do this on any scale, even much less than the 600,000 proposed cars, would cost in the hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars. These costs would be spread out to all consumers, no matter what type of vehicle they drive, or if they drive at all (many people do not drive or own a car). Effectively, once again, this creates an EV subsidy that benefits the rich but has no broader benefit to the general public.
To explain, by contrast, a gas or diesel vehicle owner is not subsidized and pays significant fuel taxes. The combined fuel taxes in Canada is equal to more than $192/t carbon tax equivalent. But from this fuel tax, all people gain the benefit of paved and maintained roads – so bike riders, scooter fans, pedestrians, car and truck drivers of conventional Internal Combustion Engines (ICE), and electric vehicle owners have a shared benefit. The reverse will be true of the adoption of electric vehicles. All non-EV owners will be paying for the charging needs of the few – most of whom are reasonably well-to-do or wealthy people to begin with, and EVs are already subsidized heavily by taxpayers on the purchase price and/or tax rebate. At present, EV owners will not pay a fuel tax (though some places are instituting a kind of road user fee as a replacement). As EVs proliferate, if they do, society will bear the brunt of billions of dollars of grid upgrades for vehicles that are less efficient, more expensive, and only have a market because they are subsidized.
Additional ‘behavioral’ regulations or technology (Smart meters) may be imposed upon citizens at additional cost for no benefit. Though people claim that EVs will make urban air quality much better, hybrid vehicles already address that need. Likewise, in Alberta, many of the taxi fleets were switched up to hybrids over a decade ago due to the findings of the “Hail a Hybrid” Alberta government climate and environment initiative and a detailed cost-benefit assessment.
Generally speaking, Canada has some of the best air quality in the world, with few exceptions. https://waqi.info/ EVs will not make a huge difference except that they will require the building of more power plants, which are GHG emitters and which will also have ‘embedded emissions’ in the manufacturing and construction phases that are unlikely to be offset by electric vehicle use.
Kent Zehr’s assessment of power generation capacity in Canada shows that we would have to build an additional 10,000 MW of power to meet the EV policy of 2019. That would be the equivalent of a dozen of Calgary’s Shepherd natural gas plant (800 MW), or several more Site C or Muskrat Falls dams. These dam projects are hopelessly over budget and stalled, now fraught with various technical difficulties. Such large generation projects, whether natural gas or hydro, need at least a 20-30 year horizon for planning, environmental impact assessments, financing, commissioning, construction and final operation. The Shepherd Energy Centre cost $1.4 billion. Along with the construction of such power plants, there are additional multi-million-dollar costs for transmission and distribution lines and related infrastructure for each one. The recoupment of these costs to investors are drawn from rate hikes to consumers’ electricity bills which would clearly skyrocket – or, if not enough capacity was available, constraints on power use would be implemented. In this case, the power grid operators (The AESO) could require large industry to curtail work during peak hours. In return for this loss of productivity and inconvenience, industry is typically paid hefty curtailment fees that, once again, come from taxpayers. Another option for grid operators is to impose rolling brownouts or blackouts similar to those that recently occurred in California.
Clearly, the idea of EVs adoption as a popular and easy to do is being ‘pushed’ by this opinion poll and the media, presenting it as a new market filled with the opportunity of an astounding 600,000 vehicles in 5 years. In fact, the forced adoption of EVs for Canada (as per existing legislation) and a more accurate analysis as shown above, reveals that nominal adoption of EVs will leave taxpayers mired in billions of dollars of debt for decades, and likely sitting in the dark in the near present.
As much as it is interesting and useful for mainstream media like CTV to report on KPMG opinion polls showing what the public thinks about the implementation of new technologies or products, it is more important the proper cost-benefit analysis is done, and that those results are reported, particularly on issues that affect all of society with burdensome costs, but benefit only a few.
Kent Zehr, P. Eng.