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Powering Plug-In Electric Vehicles with Renewable Energy Supply in BC

Lead Proponent: University of Victoria
Location: Victoria, BC
ecoEII Contribution: $600,800
Project Total: $1,688,000

Project Background

Plug-in electric vehicles (PEV) began to enter the automobile market in British Columbia (B.C.) and elsewhere in significant numbers in and around 2011, and as such present both opportunities and challenges in relation to their energy use and environmental impact. Their environmental benefits relative to conventional vehicles are closely tied to the real-time source of electricity used to charge the vehicles.  Furthermore, charging larger numbers of PEVs may also pose peak-power and grid constraint challenges. However, PEV’s also present and opportunity as they are a deferrable load (owing to their on-board batteries) and are dispersed throughout the grid. PEV’s offer an avenue for harnessing intermittent renewable electricity sources, eliminating the requirement for dedicated grid-based storage. Understanding how PEVs interface with the grid, temporally and spatially, is critical to mitigating the challenges and seizing the opportunities posed by PEV deployment.  To that end, the University of Victoria proposed the project Powering Plug-In Electric Vehicles with Renewable Energy Supply in B.C. for ecoEII funding. The project was awarded $844K to examine the technical and socio-economic challenges and opportunities for PEVs in B.C., including the use of renewable electricity sources such as wind and photovoltaic solar to manage incremental PEV demand on the grid.


plug-in electric vehicle

Simon Fraser University (SFU) published a report on plug-in electric vehicle adoption in Canada called Electrifying Vehicles: Insights from the Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Survey. The report highlights the research outputs of the last three years, which integrate the results of the mainstream consumer and plug-in electric vehicle pioneer owners surveys into analyses of consumer segments and preferences, future market adoption, electric system and greenhouse gas emissions impacts, and utility controlled charging acceptance

The project brought together researchers from four academic institutions - University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University (SFU), University of British Columbia, and British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), with experience in modeling and analysis, and expertise in their respective disciplines. Together with partners from government and industry, the project utilized a range of research methods, across engineering, economic and social science disciplines to develop models and conduct studies that inform effective PEV deployment.

SFU surveyed and interviewed a representative sample of B.C.’s population, including existing PEV owners and prospective PEV buyers, in order to collect data on attitudes and preferences for PEV purchases and use.  Cluster analysis and revealed preference experiments were conducted. Results were used to build behaviourally-realistic models of PEV utilization, including driving, parking and charging behaviour.

Proprietary generation data was obtained from BC Hydro, then combined with publicly available BC load and interconnection data, in order to identify temporal connections between conventional and renewable generation types. A temporally-explicit model of potential renewable electricity supply in B.C. was constructed and used to inform the development of predictive models of the interconnected B.C. grid.  In addition, data on the B.C. grid was combined with PEV user preference data to obtain near-term estimates of GHG emissions associated with PEV use. A range of scenarios were simulated using variable inputs, including renewable energy penetration, GHG pricing, regulatory incentives.

The models developed were used to validate and refine existing guidelines for PEV public charging infrastructure, which inform the placement of charging stations to ensure maximize utilization. Moreover, data from live PEV charging stations throughout the province was collected, analyzed and also used to update the guidelines.

BCIT’s battery-solar PV parking lot installation was augmented with interactive kiosks to facilitate experimentation with messaging queuing, which enabled PEV users to choose charging options based on the availability of energy sources – local solar PV or grid. Eliciting PEV driver’s attitudes helps charging infrastructure developers and grid operators understanding the willingness of EV users to adapt charging needs to the availability of renewable energy.

Benefits to Canada

A better understanding of the behaviours and preferences of current and prospective PEV users, as well as insight into the impacts of PEV on the electrical grid with renewable energy sources will help to ensure successful deployment of PEVs in B.C. and across Canada.

Next Steps

Participate in “Transportation Futures in British Columbia”: a five-year, interdisciplinary research project supported by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) and hosted by UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC).

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