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An electric vehicle charging in Ottawa on July 13, 2022.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

British Columbia and Quebec are far ahead of the other provinces when it comes to electric vehicle sales. For the third quarter of 2022, the latest quarter for which statistics are available, British Columbia had 7,508 new registrations for full battery electric vehicles (16 per cent of provincial market share) and Quebec had 9,784 new registrations (10 per cent of provincial market share). While Ontario sold more BEVs (9,720) than B.C. and slightly less than Quebec, the market share in Ontario was much smaller, at just over 6 per cent.

But with all these new EVs needing to charge, are B.C. and Quebec equipped to satisfy the increased demand for electricity? British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (BC Hydro) and Hydro-Québec both say they have confidence in their utilities’ ability to meet future demand. Here’s where each utility stands and how much more electricity they will need.

British Columbia

BC Hydro anticipates there will be about 635,000 electric vehicles on the province’s roads by 2030, which are expected to increase electricity demand by about 1,800 gigawatt-hours each year.

Kyle Donaldson, senior media relations adviser with BC Hydro, said the utility has a surplus of electricity right now, owing to conservation programs and a decline in the energy-hungry forestry sector, and “we expect to have more than we need” until the end of the decade.

“We have been including electric vehicles in our load forecast since 2011 and have carefully planned for this influx of electric vehicles in our 20-year Integrated Resource Plan,” Donaldson said in an e-mail.

The Site C dam and hydroelectric generating station located on the Peace River in northeastern B.C. is scheduled to be completed by 2025, and when up and running, should add another 8 per cent to the total annual supply.

(Plans for the dam have been shelved and revived several times, most recently in 2021, when the province concluded that the cost to taxpayers of terminating the project would be too great. Construction has been delayed by technical issues, supply issues and court challenges. Its price tag has risen to $16-billion, about three times the estimate made in 2007.)

Donaldson said at the moment there are 80,000-plus light duty EVs on the roads in B.C., travelling about 15,000 kilometres each and consuming about 250 gigawatt hours annually.

To help accommodate all the extra EVs, BC Hydro has steadily rolled out its own public charging network. The first Level 3 DC fast charger was commissioned in 2013, and as of Dec. 1, 2022, 124 stations were in operation at 80 locations. According to its five-year plan, by the end of 2025, 325 Level 3 stations are expected at 145 locations. Roughly 40 per cent of the chargers will be 100-plus kilowatts, capable of charging a car in about 30 minutes, although higher output, privately owned stations can cut the time in half.

How much is all of this going to cost British Columbians? In the short term, the utility is proposing a rate hike of 2 per cent in 2023, and 2.7 per cent in 2024, with the revenue also directed toward reliability investments, cybersecurity and vegetation management (inspecting and pruning trees and other tall vegetation growing near power lines).

Quebec

In Quebec, Jonathan Côté, media relations adviser at Hydro-Québec, said the utility is busy preparing for a zero-emissions future.

“We forecast an increase in electricity consumption of around [7,800 gigawatt-hours] in connection with electrification of transportation – so [not only] personal vehicles, but also other types of electric transport – and even now, we would have enough to cover those needs,” he said, adding EVs represent about a third of the overall anticipated demand of 25,000 gigawatt-hours by 2032.

In the meantime, he says Hydro-Québec has projects in the works to prepare for the automotive industry’s transition away from fossil fuels. Maintenance and upgrades are planned for aging hydroelectric plants, some of which are a century old, to ramp up capacity, as well the construction of wind farms.

In terms of charging stations, Quebec is ahead of B.C. – 700 DC fast chargers have already been installed around the province to accommodate the roughly 150,000 EVs currently on the road. The utility has set a target of 2,500 fast chargers by 2030 to accommodate a forecasted 1.5 million EVs as laid out in the 2030 Plan for a Green Economy.

As for the cost, in mid-February the Quebec government said it would permit residential Hydro-Québec rates to increase by a maximum of 3 per cent annually.

‘A pretty predictable path’

So is everything going according to plan? Michael Powell, vice-president of government relations at Electricity Canada, a trade association representing the nation’s largest energy companies, says yes, as preparing for the move to EVs has already been in the works for quite a while.

“The fortunate thing is there’s a bit of a gentle glide path on zero-emission vehicle adoption, and we know roughly what the expectations are for uptake,” he said. “There’s a pretty predictable path for how new vehicles come on and how you can build around it. So what that allows us to do is plan and make the investment.”

Powell said Canada will need to produce two to three times as much electricity by 2050, but that is achievable.

“I think for electric vehicles, in some ways, it’s the more straightforward thing to electrify because [for most people], you can take advantage of off-peak power to charge them and take advantage of differences in demand.”

Where he does see a potential issue charging EVs is in areas with high-density housing.

As more people in condos and apartment buildings buy electric vehicles, accommodating their charging needs “will be more of a challenge” Powell said, especially if the building is older and needs to be retrofitted.

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