Our EV future: addressing the challenges to come
There’s no arguing that EVs can help reduce emissions and fossil-fuel use on an international scale, but how quickly we adopt them could greatly impact their success.
There’s an ongoing tussle in the public discourse around electrification. On one side are the policy makers who are setting global milestones to reduce emissions and (in select states and provinces) incentivizing EV adoption. On the other are those who question the notion of electrification as a cure-all for the environmental challenges we are facing, pointing to issues of infrastructure and battery lifecycles.
We can’t have all the answers. But it’s clear that the time for doing nothing has long passed. As global automotive brands roll out their electrification plans and electric infrastructure evolves to meet future demand, all signs point to a future of mass EV adoption. And what is needed is less all-or-nothing rhetoric and more nuanced conversation around the pace of electrification. The question isn’t “should we?” or “shouldn’t we?” but “how can we” scale to greener modes of transportation?
There are some reasonable concerns that will need to be addressed as we prepare to realize our EV future. “The transition to EVs is going to be messier, more expensive, and take far longer than the policymakers who are pushing it believe,” writes Robert N. Charrette in The EV Transition, Explained.
Charrette, an award-winning author and contributing editor at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, has spent much of his career in information technology and systems risk management and, most recently, has shifted his research to better understanding how two mammoth sectors like transportation and energy are approaching electrification and what it means for both businesses and consumers on a global scale.
Beyond handwringing around range anxiety that many people are familiar with, Charrette cites the need to bolster our current power delivery systems. Mass adoption of electric vehicles will fundamentally change how power is consumed. Overnight charging threatens to tax existing grid transformers. These units that convert electricity voltage in the power grid are generally designed to cool down at nighttime when energy consumption is lower than it is during the day.
“With more people charging their EVs at home at night, the 30-year design life of a transformer will drop—to perhaps no more than three years once mass adoption of EVs takes hold,” writes Charrette. “Transformers can cost more than $20,000 (USD) each, and they’re already in short supply in many countries.”
Palo Alto, California, has the highest EV adoption rate in the United States: one in six households owns an electric vehicle. And the San Francisco Bay city is pushing for 80 percent of its vehicles to be EVs by 2030. However, critics are raising flags about power demand. Some estimate that unless there are proactive infrastructure updates, meeting these EV adoption targets could leave as much as 95 percent of the city’s residential transformers overloaded.But the state of infrastructure is far from static. And evolution that paces with electrification goals can support a smooth transition. At the generation level, renewable energy sources like wind and power are growing, further boosting the benefits of EV adoption. In 2020, renewables became the second-most prevalent U.S. electricity source, while Canada saw 70 percent of its electricity generation from renewables in 2022.
And in California, where there are more than 1 million electric vehicles, EV charging currently makes up less than 1 per cent of the state’s grid total load -- even during peak hours. Developments in vehicle to grid charging will further evolve this picture by allowing EVs to act as a power source that supports the system. This is done by allowing EVs to charge when electricity demand is low and drawing on them when that demand is high.
The issue of raw materials for batteries is another challenge that is increasingly coming to the fore. A 2023 CBC report noted that Canada would have to produce 40 times its current lithium output by 2040 in order to keep up with project demands.
“Supplying sufficient raw materials to existing and planned battery plants as well as to the manufacturers of other renewable energy sources and military systems — who are competing for the same materials — has several complications to overcome,” writes Charrette. “Among them is the need for more mines to provide the metals required, which have spiked in price as demand has increased.”
Improvements in battery recycling continues to reduce the need for new materials, and policy makers are working to boost responsible mining worldwide.
Consumers have more options when it comes to choosing an EV than ever before, from beautifully designed electric models from Audi, BMW, Polestar, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz to everyday drivers from Hyundai, Kia and General Motors. And while a total commitment to EV driving is not practical for every household, it is under consideration for many. Even so, public perception continues to be a challenge.
Although the United States has seen a steady uptick in EV interest, with 61 percent of consumers saying they are very likely or somewhat likely to consider purchasing an EV this year, Canadians tell a different story. A recent study from J.D. Power found hesitancy rising, among Canadians, with 34 percent citing EV consideration since 2022 -- a 13 percent decline compared to the previous year.
“Despite current legislation that is pushing hard for EV adoption, consumers in Canada are still not sold on the idea of automotive electrification,” says J.D. Ney, director of the automotive practice at J.D. Power Canada. “Growing concerns about affordability and infrastructure (both from charging and electrical grid perspectives), have caused a significant decline in the number of consumers who see themselves in the market for an EV anytime soon.”
British Columbians are most receptive, with 46% of residents citing interest in EV ownership, while just 22% of those in the Prairies say they would consider electric. In the middle are Ontario (34%), Quebec (39%) and Atlantic Canada (26%).
Governments and industry leaders continue to play a key role in changing these figures. In Canada, the federal government is providing incentives for Canadians to switch from internal combustion engines (ICE) to battery electric vehicles (BEV). Nationwide grants, like the Incentives for Zero-Emission Vehicles (iZEV) Program offers up to $5,000 in grant money for battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and longer-range plug-in hybrid vehicles (50km range or more), and up to $2,500 for shorter range (under 50km) plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles. There are also tax write-offs for businesses considering EVs.
Here at 7 Communications, we are taking our own steps forward, with two members of the leadership team having adopted a full EV lifestyle. The company also offers employees a $1,000 credit to wire their garage for an EV.
So, while there are real concerns about the accelerated pace of EV adoption, the future is coming, whether we are ready for it or not. Putting our head in the sand and doing nothing is no longer an option. Leading by example and taking meaningful steps forward is what will drive us into a more sustainable future for all.