As Canada’s electric car leader, B.C. can now pave the way for electric trucks

If you have noticed a lot more electric vehicles on the roads lately, your eyes are not deceiving you. One in five vehicles sold in B.C. is now electric, a milestone that makes B.C. Canada’s undisputed EV leader.

With transportation responsible for 42 per cent of all climate pollution in the province, which is more than any other sector, B.C.’s early lead bodes well for our climate ambitions. There’s just one problem: B.C.’s commercial transport sector accounts for approximately 60 per cent of B.C.’s transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, and 25 per cent of total provincial emissions.

That’s a truck-sized problem, but one whose solution could scale from Metro Vancouver.

B.C. has an impressive history of pioneering climate policies that are eventually adopted nationally or by other provinces, not unlike California in the U.S. context. With its pre-existing EV advantage, population density, abundant clean electricity, and political environment (B.C. has its own zero-emission target for commercial trucks), Western Canada’s most populated region is a natural building point for a bigger wave of adoption to come.

In order to better understand both the opportunities and challenges unique to the commercial transport sector, Clean Energy Canada convened industry stakeholders and experts to advise on accelerating the adoption of commercial EVs throughout the Lower Mainland.

In terms of benefits, cleaner air is a big one. Air pollution was the cause of over 15,000 premature deaths in 2016, according to Health Canada estimates, with an economic bill of around $120 billion. Nearly 30 per cent of Canadians live within 250 metres of a major roadway, and the number can be higher for urban centres such as Metro Vancouver. Diesel trucks and buses emit a disproportionate amount of air pollution, and electrifying just 10 last-mile delivery trucks has the same benefit as 56 households buying an electric car.

Cost is another consideration. Diesel prices have remained persistently high for more than a year. As we’ve seen with passenger EVs — which typically save drivers $10,000 to $20,000 — lower fuel and maintenance costs can add up to big savings for businesses. In California, for example, the price of charging a small fleet of step vans is about a third of the price of fuelling similar vans with diesel. And at 7Gen, a Vancouver startup that helps companies electrify their fleets, we are seeing cases of box trucks projected to earn back their investments in four to six years when incorporating provincial and federal rebates — it can be even sooner for electric cargo vans.

It’s one of the reasons why large corporate fleet operators such as DHL, FedEx, and Comcast are leading the charge on fleet electrification, citing both corporate social responsibility and cost savings. Collectively, commercial fleet operators have pre-ordered more than 100,000 zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in the U.S. Here in Canada, Purolator aims to purchase 3,500 electric last-mile delivery vans across 60 terminals in B.C., Ontario and Quebec.

Despite this progress, the logistical challenges of shifting to zero-emission freight shouldn’t be understated. With a variety of vehicle weight classes, business models, fleet types, distances driven and operating conditions, the commercial transport sector is more complex than personal cars. And total ownership costs don’t always yet favour commercial EVs, although studies suggest total cost parity will be reached as early as 2026 in North America, with battery-electric commercial vehicles across all segments achieving it by 2030.

At a high level, the participants we spoke to this spring wanted to see government support programs streamlined, better coordination with electric utilities, demonstration projects and pilots to help illuminate the way forward, and better data collection to measure the true markers of success.

Indeed, a successful strategy will be evaluated in waves, starting with the trips most easily electrified, such as last-mile deliveries, short-haul trucking, garbage services, and drayage.

Done right — with coordination between governments, utilities and the private sector — B.C. can pave a smoother road for the rest of Canada, while reaping the benefits of cleaner air, cost savings and a safer climate.

This post was coauthored by Shayna Rector and originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun.

Print this article