If we switch to electric vehicles, how much more electricity will we need and how environmentally friendly will it be?

An electric vehicle at a charging station in Ottawa on July 13, 2022. By 2050 we could be using almost three times the electricity we are using now, but it’s possible that all of that energy could come from renewable sources, including wind and solar.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Does anyone know how much electricity we will need to generate if more people switch to electric vehicles? And more importantly, will that electricity be zero-emissions—that is, not generated with coal or natural gas?

Robin, Calgary

If we switch to electricity to power our vehicles and heat our homes, by 2050 we could need nearly triple the amount of electricity we use now, an energy expert said.

But it’s possible that all of that energy came from renewable sources, including wind, solar, and hydropower.

“By 2050 we will need 2.8 times the electricity we use today, but for 2035 it’s a little less dramatic – it will be about 1.6 times what we use today,” Stephen Thomas, Clean Energy Manager at the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF), a Vancouver-based nonprofit environmental organization, said last year. “It’s not just about these new electric vehicles – it’s about movement [from natural gas] up to highly efficient electric heat pumps in buildings happens at the same time.”

Last year, a DSF report showed that Canada could fully rely on zero-emission electricity by 2035 using technologies that exist now — even as our energy needs grow.

“We don’t have to wait for a breakthrough,” said Thomas.

According to Canada’s Energy Regulatory Agency, several provinces, including British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec, typically generate more than 80 percent of their electricity from hydroelectric power.

Ontario uses a combination of nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, biomass and natural gas.

But Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia generate most of their electricity from fossil fuels, including natural gas and coal.

“[Over all], Canada starts from a good position; We have some of the cleanest electricity in the world,” Thomas said.

How do wind and sun stack up?

Using wind to generate electricity is now cheaper than using natural gas – and is projected to be 40 percent cheaper by 2030, according to a report by Clean Energy Canada, an energy-based think tank at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, last month.

Even factoring in the cost of batteries to store wind and solar energy, both technologies are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels. according to the Clean Energy Canada report.

“Wind and solar are the cheapest sources of electricity in history,” Thomas said.

So how do we get cleaner electricity across the country?

The federal government has proposed clean power regulations that would lead Canada to zero-emission electricity by 2035 — the same year that all new vehicles sold must be battery electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, or plug-in hybrids.

These regulations are expected later this year.

But the fossil fuel industry is pushing for changes to proposed regulations, including carbon credits and carbon capture, which would mean natural gas energy could go ahead, Thomas said.

“Because we haven’t formally committed to these regulations yet… it’s fair to say that almost no province is attempting to achieve such a goal,” Thomas said. “We need good, strong federal regulations that send a clear message to achieve the 2035 goal.”

With electricity consumption projected to nearly double by 2035 and triple by 2050, making sure electricity is green will require huge investments.

“The kind of transformation we’re seeing now has never happened before,” Thomas said. “It’s unprecedented growth in the electricity sector and in clean power.

But even if you live in a powered province where most electricity comes from fossil fuels, it’s still a good idea to switch to an electric vehicle right now to help reduce carbon emissions, Thomas said.

“It makes sense across Canada to go electric now, even with a dirtier grid,” Thomas said. “That’s because EVs are so much more efficient than [gas-powered cars] – they consume a quarter of the total energy.”

Do you have a driving question? send it [email protected] and include “Driving Concerns” in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada is big so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.


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