Research, subsidies key to EV transition

Research shows the transition to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) at present is likely to be more costly than anticipated and subsidies will be needed, professor Genevieve Giuliano said during a lecture on May 5.

The Margaret and John Ferraro chair in effective local government, and director of the METRANS Transportation Center at the University of Southern California Price said the rapid increase in e-commerce is fuelling demand for same-day and now two-hour deliveries, leading to fragmented freight systems and increased pollution.

The market for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) is heavily influenced by range, weight, and operating practices. (Photo: iStock)

Guiliano said during the online lecture organized by University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute (UTTRI), research carried out by her team found the market for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) heavily influenced by range, weight, and operating practices. Adoption depends on progress of battery technology, charging infrastructure and grid capacity. Financial assistance will be needed to offset vehicle costs, stranded assets, charging facilities and restructuring of freight operations.

Panelist Aman Johal, vice-president of Pride Group Enterprises says his company’s experience matches Giuliano’s research. Despite the aggressive mandates and timelines set by government, adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is progressing very slowly. The price of an EV is three times more than a conventional diesel truck. Customers would like to purchase an EV, but the costs are prohibitive. Owner operators and small fleets survive on slim margins and support is needed from the government, he added.

Johal said there are application problems for EVs and lots of unknowns. Fleets need specialized plans, dedicated routes where nothing can go wrong and battery charging infrastructure.

Panelist Carolyn Kim, regional director, Ontario, Pembina Institute, says the time is now for ambitious climate action in Canada as emissions due to freight transport have skyrocketed. A positive is that municipalities in the GTHA are setting carbon cutting targets but the reality is that they are not on track to meet them.

Transition to EVs would benefit from increasing regulations at the national level paired with investments, not only from the government but also from the private sector, Kim says. Challenges include refueling stations and supporting services.

Aman Johal, vice-president of Pride Group Enterprises, speaks during panel discussion after a lecture by professor Genevieve Giuliano. (Photo: UTTRI screenshot)

Johal says more public infrastructure is needed to charge vehicles, especially those in the longhaul sector. Superchargers are needed for drivers to charge vehicles within 30 to 45 minutes. This would help with trips in the 500- to 1,000-mile range, he added. Rebates for purchasing EVs would also be helpful, Johal says.

Giuliano says California has a long history of pollution regulation. The U.S. state uses the carrot-and-stick method. The cap-and-trade program generates significant revenues, and the state uses some of that to fund EV demonstration projects and subsidy programs. But these are not enough to significantly move the needle to make people buy electric trucks. Her research shows the future is brighter, as technology evolves.

Moderator Dr. Judy Farvolden, executive director, UTTRI said lessons learned elsewhere, like in California, may not work here in Ontario. Giuliano says batteries do not do well in cold places and that is going to be a problem in Ontario. The delivery and pickup patterns are different from California as well.

Farvolden asked the panel what they would focus on if they were funding EV projects. Kim would love to see a demonstration project in the GTHA and get academics involved in the process. There is need for homegrown operational data, so we can learn and adjust, she says.

Guiliano says hybrids are being undersold as a middle term option. We could put hybrid EVs on the road tomorrow and we would be cutting green house gases tomorrow, we cannot do that with EVs, she says. Taking carbon dioxide out of atmosphere today is way better than doing it 10 years from now, so we must be more flexible, she added.

Invest in more research on hydrogen fuel cells because that technology, though hugely expensive, performs way better in the trucking sector, the professor advises.

Farvolden says the approach should be solution based not technology focussed.

Johal says there is no data to rely on, especially about how winter will impact batteries as the studies are from California, using shorter routes and in warmer weather. Weights are another big factor on battery life. Research support is required as he can’t give customers answers since this is a test and learn environment.

Guiliano says California is 10 years ahead of other jurisdictions regarding EVs. It would not take that long to catch up and will be easier for others as they can learn from the U.S. state’s early experiences.

Report by Leo Barros