Electric vehicles to push demand for electricity in Alberta, says AESO

William York is a director with the Electric Vehicle Association of Alberta. He's pictured here next to his 2018 Tesla. (William York - image credit)
William York is a director with the Electric Vehicle Association of Alberta. He's pictured here next to his 2018 Tesla. (William York - image credit)

The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) predicts thousands of electric vehicles will hit the streets and highways in Alberta over the next two decades as more people switch from gas to battery-powered vehicles.

AESO, which manages and operates the province's power grid, recently published its 2021 long-term outlook for electricity supply and demand in Alberta and it predicts an increase in EVs ranging from 200,000 in a conservative estimate to two million by 2041.

The peak demand on the energy system from all of those EVs charging at the same time would amount to 3,900 MW of electricity — enough to power two cities the size of Calgary.

The lower estimate, an average 10,000 new EVs in Alberta every year, would result in a peak power demand of 400 MW.

The outlook predicts where electricity demand is going over the next 20 years and what's driving it.

"When it comes to peak load growth, we're noticing that electric vehicles is going to be the game changer here," said Leo Tovar, a senior analyst with the AESO. He made the comment during a webinar last month when the outlook was published.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

The power grid operator calls the higher EV projection its "clean-tech scenario" that would see the most "aggressive penetration" of EVs over the next 20 years — on average 100,000 vehicles per year.

To the end of March, there were 3,527 electric vehicles registered in Alberta — a nearly 10-fold increase since 2017. There's another 27,500 hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles in the province. Those numbers are tiny, though, compared with the total of 3.6 million vehicles registered in Alberta.

Supply meets demand

If you're potentially adding electricity demand equal to the peak demand of two Calgarys, would the system be able to handle that load?

Tovar believes it will.

"We suspect that the supply will be sufficient and will be reliably there to meet this increase in consumption due to electric vehicles," Tovar said in an interview with CBC News.

He says while EVs will drive energy demand, overall consumption in Alberta is expected to stay relatively flat with a modest half-percentage-point increase over the next 20 years — one of the lowest growth rate predictions in years.

"It just so happened that electric vehicles is the only one that is offsetting a lot of those other negative factors that have been pushing down energy consumption."

It's an important point, considering demand for electricity can impact prices. It's something Albertans have seen through several heat waves this summer.

All new cars to be zero-emission by 2035

The federal government has said it wants all new car sales by 2035 to be zero-emission vehicles. It could mean the AESO's "extreme" EV projection may be closer to reality.

A senior analyst with the Pembina Institute, who studies the clean energy transition, says with potentially tens of thousands of new EVs on the road, we could see energy demand spikes at the end of each day, when people get home and plug in their cars.

Saeed Kaddoura says electricity providers might have to consider incentives and even disincentives to encourage people to change their vehicle charging behaviours.

"Obviously, building new generation capacity is expensive," he said.

"So the more affordable way is, what signals can these system operators send to the consumer to really encourage them to charge in off-peak hours?"

Demand growing

William York, 35, has owned a Tesla for three years and he's noticed battery-powered cars are growing in popularity.

He said he's not surprised by the AESO's long-term projections.

"It really shows that there is consumer demand for electric vehicles," said York, who is a director with the Electric Vehicle Association of Alberta.

He agreed with the AESO that EVs represent "a big source" of expected demand on the power grid.

"But we advise caution because many detractors use this as an argument against EVs."

He said the argument doesn't consider several solutions that EV owners and electricity retailers can adopt.

"Incentives for time of use might be one of them. There might be penalties for drawing too much power from the grid at one time or another," he said.

He said EV owners who have solar panels on their roofs could program their vehicles to charge at a rate that is proportional to the amount of renewable energy generated by solar.

"Electricity systems over time have always grown and so too has the global consumption of oil. If we managed to meet the growth in demand for oil then surely we can manage to meet the growth in demand for electricity."

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan

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