Prepare to be electrified: Zero-emission cars will soon be a much more common sight on our streets

andrea katheder for Car2 Go, Berlin 2013

by Paul Kariya and Merran Smith

It’s an internal combustion world out there. Spotting a zero-emission electric vehicle — a Nissan Leaf, say, or a sparkling Tesla Model S — on the streets of Vancouver remains something of a cheap thrill, at least for some of us.

But that’s about to change.

Thanks to the Pacific Coast Action Plan — inked last fall by British Columbia and the states of Washington, Oregon, and California — starting two years from now, one in every 10 fleet vehicles purchased by British Columbia governments or companies should emit no carbon pollution whatsoever.

That’s a remarkable commitment: Going off ICBC data and some simple assumptions, that adds up to about 3,000 new zero-emissions vehicles on the road in the province each year from the likes of Budget and Hertz, car2go, Canada Post, FortisBC, Modo (the Vancouver-based car-sharing co-op), municipal vehicles, universities, and others. Though the “zero-emissions” requirement is broad enough to include vehicles that run on fuel cells and biofuels, in reality the majority of the fleet vehicles meeting the requirement will be battery-electric.

Fortunately, several public and private fleets already have a jump-start.

Canada Post has run a fleet of electric mail trucks in Vancouver for several years. And every new light-duty vehicle purchased by the City of Vancouver runs on batteries unless there is a technical requirement for a different sort of vehicle due to size, range, or operational requirements. In fact, the City of Vancouver already meets and beats the 2016 requirement; last year, 16 per cent of the city’s new vehicle purchases were electrics.

Others can follow the City of Vancouver’s lead. In a recent study, Ontario consulting firm FleetCarma concluded that more than 90 per cent of our province’s existing fleet routes could be covered with electric vehicles. The Action Plan commitment will help reduce pollution in British Columbia — since B.C.’s electricity is overwhelmingly clean and renewable — but it will also play a critical role in accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles.

That’s because fleets offer people an opportunity they would not otherwise have to drive and ride in EVs. That familiarity is sorely needed — despite the success of the provincial government’s policies to support EVs, such as rebates for vehicles and charging stations as part of the clean vehicle program.

There are now plenty of places to plug in, and plenty of people doing so — more than 600 charging stations dot B.C. roads and parking lots, and dealers sold more than 500 EVs last year. Still, according to recent WWF Canada research, only eight per cent of West Coasters have ever seen or ridden in an electric vehicle.

This will change quickly as the action plan commitment starts to kick in. It’s already well underway in London, England, on a bigger scale. By 2018, every new taxi in the city will be a zero-emission vehicle — again, mostly electric.

B.C.’s action plan commitment will doubtless inject fresh energy into our province’s small but vital low-carbon transportation sector, which currently employs about 1,500 people and contributes $110 million to the economy. The sector is developing batteries and power systems for current and future vehicles, while figuring out how to best integrate electric vehicles with our mostly clean energy grid.

Their solutions to these challenges will offer lessons to the rest of the world.

Energy systems around the planet are changing rapidly, and B.C. needs to remain competitive to stay in the game. According to research firm IHS Automotive, worldwide sales of electric vehicles grew by 44 per cent between 2012 and 2013, and the market is expected to increase by an additional 67 per cent by 2014 — or just shy of half a million vehicles. Navigant Research forecasts six million electric vehicles will be plying planet Earth by 2022.

In sum, zero-emission vehicles are here to stay, and B.C.’s Action Plan commitment will help ensure this sector remains competitive.

Not that it will be easy. The provincial government is not planning to continue its rebate program and the zero-emission fleet commitment is non-binding. In addition, opinions differ how to achieve the commitment. Should rebates be reinstated? Should the province legislate its zero-emissions fleet requirement?

We look forward to working with the province and the other companies and organizations to wrestle these questions down to earth and advance electric mobility in B.C. — for cleaner air, a stable climate, and a prosperous and diverse economy.

Paul Kariya and Merran Smith are members of The Energy Forum (, an industry-NGO collaboration promoting better climate, energy and environmental policy and practices in the clean energy sector.

This oo-ed originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun.

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