Adoption of electric vehicles in Canada and net zero

March 7, 2022  |  Charles Lin

Image by Lee Rosario from Pixabay

Image by Lee Rosario from Pixabay

Electric vehicles (EVs), including battery and plug-in hybrid versions, offer a promising way to reduce emissions. In this article, we examine how Canada has adopted the use of EVs and the implications for its net zero goal.

How much would EVs contribute towards net zero in Canada?

The transport sector in 2019 accounted for a quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions with passenger cars accounting for 18% of these emissions, or 4.5% of the country’s total emissions. EVs emit little or no GHGs in their operations, assuming carbon-free charging sources. Widespread adoption of EVs would thus be a significant step to reach Canada’s net zero goal.

How widespread are EVs in Canada currently?

The Toronto Star reported in December 2021 that “Canadians bought more electric vehicles in the last two years than in the previous eight combined. But those sales are uneven across the provinces.” The leaders are British Columbia (BC) and Quebec – the share of EVs as a fraction of total vehicle registrations in 2020 are 8.4% in BC, 6.8% in Quebec, and 1.3% in all provinces except BC and Quebec. The current EV adoption rates in Canada are low, at less than 10% even for the leading provinces.

What are the Canadian federal and provincial governments doing to promote EVs?

In the summer of 2021, the federal Liberal government committed to have all new light-duty cars and passenger trucks sold be zero emissions by 2035. The Canadian federal government offers financial incentives of up to $5,000 for consumers to purchase EVs, with conditions on eligible EV models. Provinces offer additional incentives. It is not surprising that BC and Quebec are among the provinces with more generous incentives.

British Columbia passed the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act in May 2019, the first jurisdiction in the world to legislate a 100% zero emission vehicle target, set for 2040. The 2019 BC Act set targets of zero-emission new light-duty vehicle sales at 10% by 2025, 30% by 2030, and 100% by 2040. The province reported 9.4% of new zero-emission vehicles registered in 2020, already close to the 2025 target of 10%. (Note the 9.4% figure is slightly higher than the 8.4% reported in the Toronto Star article. This is likely due to the different vehicle types – zero-emission vehicles include both EVs and hydrogen powered vehicles.) As a result, BC announced in the Roadmap to 2030 accelerated zero-emission vehicle targets of 26% by 2026, 90% by 2030, and 100% by 2035.

Ontario is Canada’s most populous province. After the 2018 provincial election, the incoming Conservative government cancelled the rebate for EV purchase put in place by the previous Liberal government. EV sales in the province dropped sharply after the rebate was cancelled.

Which country is the worldwide leader for EVs?

The Toronto Star article also reported EVs accounted for 75% of the market share in Norway in 2019, the highest in the world. The uptake has increased to 87% in 2021, and was only 22% in 2015. Norway accomplished rapid EV adoption largely through government incentives: waiving of taxes and registration fees for EV purchase, and providing EVs with lower road tolls, access to bus lanes, and cheaper public parking. The country also installed 16,000 chargers, including 3,300 fast chargers. However, in an attempt to recover lost tax revenues due to the incentives, the government could be taxing the more expensive models starting 2023. This could slow the EV uptake rate.

What does this mean for Canada’s net zero goal?

Adoption of EVs is a long way from 100% in Canada. The BC experience shows an encouraging but small step in increased adoption. The Norway example shows government policies that provide the right incentives with appropriate costing are important for EVs to fully contribute to net zero. We will continue to monitor and evaluate Canada’s progress and report them in future articles.


Unrelated ending joke

I saw a TV on sale with the volume stuck on max, and thought to myself “Well I can’t turn that down!”

Charles Lin

Charles is a retired atmospheric scientist based in Toronto. He stays busy as founder and lead of ImpactNetZero, keeping healthy in mind and body, and reading stories to his two grandchildren.

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