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What are the Emissions Benefits of an Electric Vehicle in Canada?

A guide to better understanding the current-day benefits of an EV in Canada.


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The global transition towards battery electric vehicles (BEVs) represents a critical step in our mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. But while BEVs offer a promising solution, the benefits might not be uniformly distributed across regions due to various factors. Power generation in many areas relies heavily on fossil fuels, influencing the overall environmental impact of BEV adoption.

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Additionally, the energy-intensive BEV battery production contributes to significantly higher power consumption during manufacturing and, therefore, higher manufacturing emissions than internal combustion vehicles (ICE). Although BEVs don’t have direct emissions, the electricity generation used to charge the vehicle creates emissions in most regions around the globe.


This article is available for download at the end of the article.

 

Estimating the Benefit of Battery Electric Vehicles


In this article, we will discuss the lifetime emissions of two classes of vehicles: SUVs and small cars. For each class of vehicle, we will compare the BEV model and ICEs throughout their entire lifecycle, encompassing manufacturing, operation, decommissioning, and battery recycling.


Several assumptions have been made to perform this analysis, including the location of manufacturing of both the vehicle and the battery, the lifetime of vehicles and batteries, the locations of recycling and decommissioning as well as the emissions of the electrical grid in the various locations for each. These estimates rely on many factors, each with uncertainties, and process changes over time. The goal here is not to provide exact emissions values, but rather to show the impact of electrical grid emissions on the benefits of adopting BEVs in an effort to provide a better understanding of the lifetime emissions in each case.


Provincial Grid Emissions Differences


Different provinces in Canada have highly varying power generation methods and, therefore, dramatic variation in their emissions from power generation. Some provinces, such as Quebec, have extremely clean grids since they rely almost completely on hydropower generation from dams. Provinces, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, rely primarily on fossil fuels for power generation and therefore emit significant amounts of CO2 during power generation.

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This graph shows the estimated GHG emissions per kWh across the Canadian provinces [2]. It is obvious that a BEV operated in a province such as Saskatchewan will produce much higher emissions than in Quebec. But how much more? And is a BEV in Quebec or Ontario better over its lifetime than an ICE given the increased resources needed to manufacture the batteries in a BEV? These differences need to be taken into account when we consider the benefits of BEVs relative to ICEs.



The Approach and Assumptions

First, we need to consider the emissions during the manufacturing process. These include the vehicle and components. In the case of a BEV, a large part of the manufacturing emissions are in the production of the battery. Depending on the type of battery and where it was made, there can be a big difference in the greenhouse emissions during this process [5]. Xu et al (2022) have estimated battery manufacturing emissions as these can vary depending on the region of production, and the type of battery [5]. For the purpose of this article, we are assuming the worst-case scenario for emissions in the manufacturing of a battery which is China. We also assume BEV battery production uses the chemistries with the highest emissions (graphite batteries). For the manufacturing of the vehicle, we are assuming that the emissions will be the US average grid emissions [1].


Vehicle manufacturing energy consumption has been estimated by Sato and Nakata (2020) [4]. The average energy consumption for car manufacturing is estimated to be 41.8 MJ/kg. Mining and material production processes dominate energy consumption, representing 68% of the total, followed by the part production processes, 19%, and vehicle assembly, 13%. For the purpose of this article, we assume that the lifetime of a battery is 150,000 km.


We will look at two scenarios and estimate emissions for BEVs at the 150,000 km mark and the 300,000 km mark – representing one battery replacement at the midpoint in the car’s useful life.


Emissions of BEVs Compared to Similar ICEs - Small Cars

In the first example, we will look at a small car and compare the equivalently sized BEV and ICE. Based on the assumptions mentioned above, the lifetime emissions have been calculated for using the relatively high emissions rates for Alberta’s grid, and the relatively low emitting grid of Ontario. For comparison, we have looked at two scenarios in terms of vehicle lifetime, 150,000 km and 300,000 km, the latter including a battery replacement.

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The emissions are presented as the amount of CO2 emitted per km driven. We have also included the results assuming the average Canadian grid emissions [1]. We estimate the lifetime CO2 emissions for the ICE and the BEV to be 61 tonnes and 15 tonnes respectively based on Ontario’s grid. In Alberta, the total emissions would be approximately 44 tonnes for the BEV. Still better than the ICE, but significantly less benefit than in a clean grid region like Quebec or Ontario.


Emissions of BEVs Compared to Similar ICEs - SUV

In terms of SUV emissions, there is still significant savings in emissions vs. the ICE version in clean grid areas. The benefits are less compelling in other areas where the grid is fossil fuel-based.

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Comparing the SUV ICE to the equivalent BEV we estimate the total carbon emissions over the car's life to be 79 tonnes vs. 23 tonnes based on Ontario’s grid and driving 300,000 km, including a battery replacement at 150,000 km for the BEV. In Alberta, the total emissions would be approximately 52 tonnes for the BEV. Once again, still better than the ICE version but less benefit than in a clean grid region like Quebec or Ontario.



Small Car and SUV in Ontario and Saskatchewan


We estimate the emissions for both SUVs and small cars based on the power grid emissions in different regions – specifically, here we are looking at Ontario, having a very clean grid, and Saskatchewan, having a high emissions grid.

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We assume that the BEV must have a battery replacement at 150,000 km or ten years at 15,000 km/yr–seen in the graph as an increase at the ten-year mark for the BEVs. For both the SUV and the small car, driving a BEV would show no real benefit over the ICE versions in Saskatchewan.


Driving a BEV SUV in Saskatchewan would have similar emissions to a small car ICE! In Ontario, the benefit is very significant and would contribute positively to meeting our emissions reduction goals. What is also clear is that a BEV SUV has large benefits over even a small, efficient ICE vehicle in terms of emissions if operated in a clean grid.


Canadian Government BEV Incentives

Perhaps a time to rethink this program


An interesting result is that in a region such as Saskatchewan, the BEV SUV actually emits more than an efficient ICE and yet would qualify for a federal rebate, while the efficient ICE would not.


In fact, the SUV would not be taxed any differently than the ICE currently in Canada, meaning there is no upfront tax incentive to purchase an efficient ICE in Saskatchewan [3].


Between 2019 and May 2023, nearly $35M has been given out in BEV rebates in Alberta, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island [6]. We should not be incentivizing BEVs in these provinces based on their grids. These are funds that could be put to use elsewhere. Since BEVs will become more popular, we expect the incentive payouts to increase. We need to rethink this now — the sooner, the better.


Final Thoughts


Investing heavily in BEV infrastructure and supporting electrification could help address our CO2 emissions goals. Unsurprisingly, grid greenhouse gas intensity is the most critical factor in determining BEV’s effectiveness in emissions reductions.


Highly emitting grids negate any potential benefit of vehicle electrification.

The Canadian government needs to become more proactive in implementing tax incentives and deterrents to drive emission reductions. The current federal program provides the same rebate in Saskatchewan as in Quebec or Ontario. This is a poor use of funding.


Before pushing electrification in regions with dirty grids, the top priority needs to be cleaning up the grid. This will yield far more benefits towards reducing Canada’s carbon footprint than giving rebates on BEVs in provinces such as Saskatchewan.


References

  1. Carbon Footprint. 2023. Country Specific Electricity Grid Greenhouse Gas Emission Factors. Updated: February 2023. https://www.carbonfootprint.com/docs/2023_02_emissions_factors_sources_for_2022_electricity_v10.pdf. Date accessed: Aug 26, 2023.

  2. Government of Canada, 2023a. Electricity consumption intensity values (g CO2e/kWh electricity consumed). https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/climate-change/pricing-pollution-how-it-will-work/output-based-pricing-system/federal-greenhouse-gas-offset-system/emission-factors-reference-values.html. Date accessed: Aug 26, 2023.

  3. Government of Canada, 2023b. Rates of excise tax on fuel-inefficient vehicles. https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/technical-information/excise-taxes-special-levies/list-vehicles-associated-rates-excise-tax-fuel-inefficient-vehicles.html. Date accessed: Aug 26, 2023.

  4. Sato, F.E.K., Nakata, T. 2020. Energy Consumption Analysis for Vehicle Production through a Material Flow Approach. Energies, 13(9) 2396. https://doi.org/10.3390/en13092396

  5. Xu, C.; Steubing, B.; Hu, M.; Harpprecht M.; and TukkerA. 2022. Future greenhouse gas emissions of automotive lithium-ion battery cell production. Resources, Conservation and Recycling 187: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2022.106606

  6. Government of Canada, Statistics on the Incentives for Zero-Emission Vehicles (iZEV) Program. https://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset/42986a95-be23-436e-af15-7c6bf292a2e1,Date accessed: Aug 26, 2023.


Contributors


Researchers

Chukwudi Amadi, Ph.D.

Mauro Aiello, Ph.D.


Authors

Denis Koshelev

Mauro Aiello, Ph.D.


Lark Scientific Financial Support

Axel Doerwald


Graphics

Adri Poggetti



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BEV Benefits In Canadian Provinces
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