All new trucks need to be electric as early as 2025 if the province is to keep to its legislated emissions targets, researchers conclude.
Eliminating most of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from trucking in British Columbia will require a colossal amount of clean electricity, researchers have concluded, as much as just over half all the electricity the province currently generates. The finding puts in the frame the scale of the task of decarbonizing the entire economy, of which heavy-duty freight is just one element.
Since 2007, the baseline year for Canada’s emissions pledges included in the Paris Agreement on climate change, passenger vehicle GHGs have dropped 4.8 percent in BC and bus GHGs an impressive 16 percent. But emissions from trucks have soared 13.5 percent over that same period.
Worse still, GDP in the province and emissions from trucks, which amounts to 13 percent of the province’s emissions as a whole, tend to march in lockstep, and emissions from transport as a whole are the single largest source of GHGs in the province. This means that decarbonizing trucking needs to be a high priority for BC if economic growth is to be decoupled from causes of climate change.
So UBC-based transportation researchers with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions explored how much electricity would be needed if trucking in BC were to be decarbonized either by switching to battery electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles in order to allow the province to keep to its legislated emissions target of an 80 percent reduction on 2007 levels by 2050.
The researchers findings, published this month in Energy Policy, based their analysis on GDP projections and forecasts of electricity production and demand in the province from the National Energy Board, and assuming an 80 percent reduction for the sector by mid-century. While the province’s target is for 2050, these data were only available up to 2040, so the researchers had to evaluate what scale of electrification would be required by 2040 to keep in line with the 2050 target, a mid-term goal of a 64 percent reduction of GHGs.
They excluded biofuels as a potential option for trucking decarbonization as most first and second-generation biofuels have a higher emissions full-lifecycle emissions profile than fossil fuels. Synthetic hydrocarbons were also not considered, but their production would likewise still depend on substantial amounts of electricity.
To keep to the target, trucking would have to achieve a 65 percent electrification rate by 2040, regardless of which powertrain technology opted for. To achieve this target would in turn mean that 100 percent of new sales (light, medium and heavy-duty) would have to be of electric trucks only as early as 2025.
At the bottom end of projections, if all these trucks were battery-electric, the new demand amounts to 12 terawatt-hours (TWh). For comparison, total annual electricity generation in BC as of 2015 clocks in at 60 TWh. If all the trucks were fuel-cell electric, the new demand amounts to 33 terawatt-hours, or 55 percent of current generation.
The National Energy Board forecasts that in 2040, BC Hydro will enjoy a surplus of 11 TWh, meaning that if battery-electric were prioritized, the province could come close to supplying the new demand.
But the researchers warn against complacency, as there is considerable uncertainty in both the supply and demand forecasts. In addition, battery-electric long-haul trucking faces a challenge from range, weight, and volume limitations, as well as from cold temperatures. Some amount of fuel-cell electric trucking will likely play some role in the Canadian context, meaning that the increased electricity demand could lie somewhere between the upper and lower figures.
As a result if trucking is to be electrified, a considerable increase in electricity generation from clean sources will be needed. This is in addition to the increased generation required to decarbonize the rest of transportation, heating and industry in the province.
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