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Yukon studies electric vehicle feasibility in Arctic conditions

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Essential Energy Insights - February 2021

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Yukon studies electric vehicle feasibility in Arctic conditions

The range of electric vehicles may be severely impacted atminus-30 degrees Fahrenheit, but short commutes in and around the YukonTerritory capital of Whitehorse and an abundance of outdoor outlets could makethem viable in the region, according to a report prepared by ICF Internationalfor the territorial government's power company.

Use of plug-in electric vehicles has the potential to reducepetroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in one of Canada's northernmostpopulation centers, according to the report by ICF's San Francisco-basedoffice, which was submitted to YukonEnergy Corp. in February and released in March. On-road gasolineand diesel use accounts for about half of the emissions in the Yukon. Use ofelectric vehicles could reduce greenhouse gas output by between 120 megatonnesand 140 megatonnes by 2025 and between 650 megatonnes and 2,800 megatonnes by2035, the report estimated.

The report looked at three scenarios and considered thevariations in the availability of electric vehicles, their prices and the costof competing fuels. About 75% of Yukon's population lives in Whitehorse andmost of those residents have outdoor electrical outlets that are currently usedto keep vehicles warm enough to start in cold weather. A potential challenge isthe large number of trucks and utility vehicles that are used in the region andthe limited availability of electric-powered models of those types of vehicles.

"Limited electric vehicle offerings, notably limitedavailability of plug-in electric light-duty trucks, is a major hindrance toelectric vehicle adoption in the Yukon Territory," the report said. "About60% of new vehicle registrations in the Yukon Territory are light-duty trucks;if this pattern of vehicle ownership persists over time, then it will bechallenging for the Yukon Territory to increase electric vehicle adoptionmoving forward."

Electricity distribution is a challenge throughout Canada'snorth as its relatively small, spread-out population makes it difficult toprovide affordable service. Yukon Energy, which commissioned the report, doesnot distribute electricity in Whitehorse. ATCO Ltd., the Calgary, Alberta-based owner of the powerutility in Whitehorse, said an increase in electric vehicles could strain itsgrid.

"They highlighted that there are a variety of issuesassociated with managing load and assets in the downtown core [of Whitehorse],with a focus on a planned 25 kV conversion project," the report said. "ATCOnoted that ICF's forecasts for increased load from electric vehicle adoptionwould change ATCO's annual load increase from about 2.2% per year to 2.24% peryear and 2.39% per year in the low and high cases, respectively."

Vehicle range is also a major consideration in adoption ofelectric vehicle technology in the Yukon. The territory's Pacific locationmoderates average temperatures to between minus-6 degrees Fahrenheit and 68degrees Fahrenheit, although temperatures below minus-30 can be reached.

"ICF's literature review indicates that residents inthe Yukon Territory will have difficulty maintaining normal functionality ofelectric vehicles during the coldest months of the year; however, electricvehicles, particularly plug-in hybrid electric vehicles [PHEVs], are still aviable transportation option," the report said. "The main hurdle forelectric vehicle adoption in the Yukon Territory will be vehicle performance inbelow-freezing temperatures."

Electric vehicle range could be cut by half in lowtemperatures, ICF found.

"Notably, even a halving of the range of many PHEVs onthe market today will keep the electric range of the vehicle within the scopeof the average Yukon commute," ICF said. "One factor bolstering thepotential for electric vehicles in the Yukon Territory is the ubiquitousavailability of vehicle charging at homes and business, which is tied to theavailability of plug-in engine block heaters."