Modelling the greenhouse gas emissions intensity of plug-in electric vehicles in Canada using short-term and long-term perspectives

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Plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) have the potential to achieve deep greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions. However, the magnitude of these reductions depends largely on the source(s) of electricity, which can vary regionally and over time, making it unclear how policymakers should regulate PEVs over the short and long-term. To contribute to this discussion, I model the short and long-term operational (source-to-wheels) greenhouse gas emissions intensity of PEVs in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario. I use empirical data on vehicle preferences, driving patterns, and potential recharge access from the Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Survey (n=1754) to construct a temporally explicit model of PEV usage and emissions over the short-term. Fleet-wide emissions intensity of PEVs varies substantially between the three regions studied, with the greatest reduction potential in British Columbia (78-99%), followed by Ontario (58-92%) and Alberta (34-41%) relative to conventional (gasoline) vehicles. I then model the potential long-term dynamics of technology, behaviour, and emissions with the CIMS energy-economy model under three policy scenarios. Emissions intensity of electricity decreases by at least one-third by 2050 even under current policies, with the deepest reductions in Alberta (64%). Consequently, by 2050, fleet average PEV emissions are 23-40% (BC), 51-68% (Alberta), and 25-40% (Ontario) below 2015 levels. Despite the large range of emissions intensities between regions and over time, PEVs offer substantial GHG emissions benefits compared to conventional vehicles. Therefore, policy makers should look to design policies that concurrently promote vehicle electrification and decarbonisation of the electricity supply to help achieve long-term mitigation targets.
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