Investing in electrification

By Mathieu Descheneaux

There is no getting around the fact that transportation is responsible for a significant portion of the carbon emissions much of the world is trying to reduce. In Canada, the transportation sector accounts for at least 25% of the country’s overall GHG emissions, with freight sources representing almost half (42%) of total transportation emissions. As such, transportation companies can make a real difference when it comes to meeting our country’s carbon-reduction targets.

One way for the industry to cut back is to embrace the energy transition, including the shift to electric vehicles (EV), which are becoming ever-more popular among consumers. In 2021, 5.3% of total car registrations were EVs, up from 2.9% in 2019 and 1% in 2017. Car and battery manufacturers are also investing billions into new facilities to meet anticipated demand, and governments are following suit with myriad of investments and tax incentives to encourage consumers and industry alike to adopt EVs.

EVs are also finding favour among medium and heavy truck buyers, and for good reason: At an average of 120kWh per day, our Class 6 EV trucks cost 90% less than fueling an ICE truck. The EV delivery trucks we use – from smaller vans to different types of trucks for our existing in-home delivery service – are saving 294 metric tons of CO2 per year, which is the same as removing emissions produced by 125,000 litres of gas.

But while EV truck registrations more than doubled in 2021 year-over-year, a lot must happen before adoption becomes widespread. As of 2021, worldwide there were only 66,000 electrically powered heavy trucks on the road, accounting for just 0.1% of the total global fleet.

Encouraging EV adoption

At Metro Supply Chain, we will continue to invest in a variety of EV vehicles. We want to see more companies adopt EVs, too, but the pace of change is challenged by several factors. One immediate problem is that acquiring appropriately large vehicles has so far not been easy in Canada, with insufficient supply on the market. With cost of an EV truck still high, internal combustion engine rides still have the economic advantage.

One of the biggest issues, though, continues to be infrastructure. EVs require a network of reliable and accessible charging stations, and thus far, the rollout of stations capable of servicing heavy duty vehicles (HDVs) has been slow. At the moment, lead times are too long to build stations, while the investment requirement in a Level 3 charger – the type needed to service medium and heavy-duty trucks – can range between $30,000 and $80,000 per charger. Much more strategic planning is needed to design and develop infrastructure that suits the HDV market’s needs.

We are trying to do our part to help ease infrastructure issues. For instance, our Quick Contractors team has helped install, service and maintain charging stations for multiple manufacturers, retailers and utilities providers. To date, we have helped put more than 4,000 rechargers on Canadian roads and highways. With each installation, our expertise has grown to the point where we can provide labour support on a national level for multiple brands of charging stations. We also created a mobile charger, which can be used to recharge truck batteries wherever required.

Committed to investing in electrification, we recently sponsored and participated in the Electric Autonomy EV & Charging Expo held in Toronto, Canada. With over 2,000 attendees and more than 70 knowledgeable speakers, the conference was a great opportunity for our team to share and discuss strategies that improve the EV transition in our industry and others with a variety of industry experts.

We know a successful path to electrification will not be possible without government support, so we were proud to be able to introduce the Honourable Victor Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, for the Government of Ontario, for his keynote speech at the Expo. Minister Fedeli reiterated that the EV supply chain is a critical component of our provincial strategy, driving economic growth and sustainable development.

Alternatives to charging

We are also paying attention to how EV battery and charging infrastructure is evolving elsewhere. One strategy is a battery swap, that is, exchanging a spent battery for one that is freshly charged, an operation that would require no more than a few minutes of downtime. Another proposal in Europe calls for certain busy corridors to be equipped with electric road systems that provide power to a vehicle as it drives, something similar to what’s used for many train or subway systems.

Clean fuel such as hydrogen fuel cell technology, which converts the chemical energy from hydrogen into electricity, is also on the horizon. Given that its only by-products are water and heat, a hydrogen-powered vehicle would not emit any carbon dioxide or other smog-creating emissions. Hydrogen-powered vehicles do not require an external charging source. Instead, fuel is generated from cells that are powered by the hydrogen that is stored in a tank in the truck. A truck can fill up within 15 minutes and drive for 1,000 kilometres before needing to refuel again.

It will still be a while before hydrogen technology becomes a viable alternative to EVs, though. Today, fuel cells are expensive to produce, while hydrogen is currently created from non-renewable sources such as coal and gas. Storage is an issue, too, as hydrogen must be compressed to a liquid state and stored at lower temperatures to be effective – and that kind of infrastructure is not readily available. Still, it’s a technology worth watching.

Still miles to go

While EV infrastructure is not there yet, if the Netherlands is any indication, we can get there. They have developed a national strategy that commits the country to tripling its charging stations by 2025 and increasing them eight-fold by 2030. This in a country that already boasts the densest EV charging network in Europe. Obviously, the geographical differences between the Netherlands and Canada are vast, but their aggressive approach is one that can be emulated here to ensure that in Canada, trucks will soon be considered a key part of the solution to the climate problem.