Re: NS Power plans for future with electric cars, 2 January 2015

Larry Hughes

Your headline writer got it wrong – Nova Scotia Power isn’t just planning for a future with electric vehicles – they’re hoping for one.

The past decade has seen a significant decline in electricity consumption in Nova Scotia, from a high of 11,772 GWh in 2007 to an estimated 10,431 GWh in 2014.

As the attached chart of NSP’s electricity demand shows, the residential sector has experienced an 8% growth over this period, while the commercial sector and “other” are essentially flat. Industrial has collapsed by over 12%.

Residential sector growth can be attributed almost entirely to the shift to electric heating, primarily heat pumps, in new homes. Although this trend will probably continue well into the future, additional growth will be needed in other sectors if NSP is to increase its sales of electricity.

Hence NSP’s interest in plug-in electric vehicles (PEV).

A PEV like the Nissan Leaf with a combined fuel economy of about 0.2 kWh/km and driven 16,500 km/year (about the Nova Scotia average distance for a passenger vehicle) would require 3.3 MWh a year. For every 300 or so of these vehicles on the road, NSP could hope to sell another GWh of electricity. To paraphrase former U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen, “A gigawatt-hour here, a gigawatt-hour there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money”.

PEVs present NSP with another potential benefit – when they’re connected to the grid they can be used to absorb “excess” generation from variable renewable sources such as wind. Some research suggests that when connected to the grid, PEVs could operate as batteries, supplying the grid with electricity, thereby offering a way to smooth out those periods when the renewables are unable to meet demand.

While NSP is concerned over the need for the installation of charging stations throughout the province to meet its hoped-for growth in PEVs, Nova Scotians should be equally concerned and demand answers to two questions. First, who will pay for the charging stations and associated grid upgrades? And second, since electricity is not subject to the motive fuel tax, who will pay for the upkeep of the province’s roads?

Published (6 January 2015)