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Electrifying Toronto: The Crucial Path to Sustainable Transportation | In conversation with TAF’s Ian Klesmer

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This interview originally appeared in Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) Insights on April 24, 2024. The TRBOT team is interested in the shift in cities towards sustainable transportation, and the collaboration efforts of both the public and private sectors in expanding the EV charging infrastructure that is becoming increasingly vital.

In Toronto, where transportation accounts for about 32.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the push for electric vehicles is a crucial element of the city’s strategy to achieve net zero emissions by 2040. Toronto has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 65% by 2030. TRBOT wanted to know: how can a shift to EVs help reduce the city’s carbon footprint and what steps do we need to get there?

To help answer these questions, their team interviewed Ian Klesmer, Director of Strategy and Grants at TAF, to learn more about the steps Toronto must take to support the growth of EVs.


TRBOT: Let’s talk a bit about the role the public sector should play when it comes to EV charging. Why should cities be involved in this space in the first place?

Ian Klesmer:
All levels of government have climate commitments and carbon reduction goals, and electric vehicles are a crucial part of achieving these goals. But it’s still a nascent sector that needs public support, especially until industry becomes more mainstream and reaches a tipping point. The public sector can help accelerate and scale EVs through incentive programs, smart policy frameworks and direct investments.

At the local level, hundreds of cities across Canada have declared climate emergencies and are actively seeking new and effective ways to reduce their carbon footprints. In urban environments, transportation is a major source of emissions, often second only to buildings. A wide range of actions are needed to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, including expanding cycling and transit options and densifying cities. However, from strictly a carbon perspective, the most impactful action many cities can take is to help electrify the way people and goods move around.

In terms of EV charging, municipal authorities often have both the jurisdiction and the local community connections that make them well-positioned to accelerate the rollout of EV charging infrastructure.

TRBOT: For gas-powered vehicles, fueling stations have not been a responsibility of governments and have been left to the private sector. Do you see a time when cities and government will completely hand over charging station responsibilities to the private sector?

IK:
Supportive policy frameworks will likely be necessary for a few more years. As time progresses, the cost of electric vehicles is expected to become more competitive with gasoline-powered cars. They’re already cost-effective over their lifecycle, but there is still an upfront premium that should decrease over time, reducing the need for public support as the industry matures. Currently, we’re facing a chicken-and-egg problem where people hesitate to buy EVs due to insufficient charging infrastructure, and the private sector is reluctant to invest because there aren’t enough EVs on the road. All levels of government can play a crucial role in breaking out of this dilemma by supporting early investments in EV charging. Over time, it’s expected that business models will evolve, the case for private investment will get stronger, and the private sector will take a more active and eventually exclusive role in rolling out EV charging infrastructure.

TRBOT: You have the ear of the business community here. What do you want to convey to these leaders about their role in advancing EV charging infrastructure?

IK:
The private sector has a critical role to play in the expansion of EV charging infrastructure, offering innovation, investment, and operational expertise. Businesses can drive advancements in charging technology, making it faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective. This includes developing faster and more convenient charging solutions and developing vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies which can stabilize the intermittency of renewable energy and allow more of it to be integrated onto the electricity grid, mitigating the environmental impact of increased electricity demand. Companies can also form partnerships with municipalities to develop and expand charging networks. By participating in public-private partnerships, businesses can leverage public incentives while contributing private capital and expertise, creating a win-win scenario that accelerates infrastructure rollout.

TRBOT: Back to the public sector’s role in this space. Which cities are leading on EV charging, in terms of what they’re doing right, but also what we should avoid doing?

IK:
Montreal and Vancouver serve as excellent examples of how cities can effectively support the expansion of EV infrastructure. Both cities have made significant investments in charging networks, which not only improve accessibility but also signal to consumers and the private sector that electric vehicles are viable. Montreal’s approach of continually building out a robust charging network, and Vancouver’s innovative programs for multifamily dwellings, provide strong models.

However, one cautionary note is the risk of over-reliance on public funds. Cities should strive to create a balanced ecosystem where private enterprises are incentivized to contribute, ensuring sustainability and scalability of charging infrastructure without overly burdening municipal budgets.

TRBOT: It’s always good to know what our peer cities in Canada are doing. What specific steps should Toronto take to improve its standing and catch up to our fellow Canadian cities?

IK:
Toronto is already doing some great things. It recently introduced a requirement that all new residential parking spaces include an energized outlet capable of providing Level 2 charging. This will support the city’s transition to electric mobility while saving building owners from having to do costly retrofits down the road.

Toronto can also use its convening powers to accelerate EV charging expansion. For example, the City recently passed a requirement and strategy for the ride-hailing sector to be net zero by the end of 2030. As part of this strategy, the City will be developing a plan specifically to meet the sector’s EV charging needs; this is so critical because the high-milage ride-hailing drivers can provide the stable and predictable charging demand needed to attract private investment for a wider rollout. Developing an effective plan will require engaging a range of stakeholders beyond the City, including ride hailing companies, charging operators, landowners, and investors. These players can collectively define their respective needs and contributions to the charging rollout and, together, develop a plan that’s greater than the sum of its parts. The City can play a key role in facilitating this discussion and co-creating a solution that works for everyone.

TRBOT: The electricity grid is already strained on certain days. Adding millions of new vehicles to that grid will obviously pose challenges. What policies and programs could help manage demand on the grid? What role could the private sector play?

IK:
Supporting EV adoption at scale requires innovative demand management strategies. Time-of-use pricing, which encourages EV charging during off-peak hours, can help balance the load on the grid. This can be supplemented with utility- or industry-led managed charging programs, such as the pilot program TAF recently launched with Optiwatt(Opens in a new window). The private sector can play a crucial role by developing and deploying smart chargers that respond to grid demand signals, investing in energy storage solutions, and participating in grid services markets to help stabilize the grid. At the policy level, strong frameworks are needed to properly compensate customers for providing demand flexibility for the grid and to incentivize utilities and private sector players to invest in the right technologies needed to scale these solutions.

TRBOT: As pointed out in the new report, Futureproofing multifamily buildings for EV charging, the most affordable and convenient way to charge an EV is at home. However, so many residents in our region live in condo towers that weren’t built with charging stations. What’s the best way to retrofit these buildings? And, how should new builds be adjusting their construction plans?

IK:
Making sure that condo and apartment dwellers have easy access to home charging is key to meeting our ambitious climate targets – and increasingly, it’s also a source of competitive advantage for developers and building owners looking to attract and retain residents.

As you suggest, the first step is to make sure that all new multi-family buildings are built to be EV-ready, meaning that all parking stalls either have an EV charger installed or have an energized outlet that supports the easy installation of Level 2 chargers down the road. It’s way cheaper to rough in this infrastructure during construction than to retrofit the building afterwards.

The bigger challenge is how do we futureproof existing multi-family buildings for EV charging? The report you mention found that it’s more cost-effective to do one comprehensive retrofit to make all parking stalls EV-ready, than to do a series of piecemeal EV charging installations. But of course the upfront costs are higher with a comprehensive approach. There are a few things that need to happen to incentivize comprehensive EV-readiness – including government programs that fund comprehensive EV-ready planning and infrastructure, utility frameworks that recognize EV-readiness as a non-wires solution, and financing solutions to help building owners and condo boards bridge the upfront investments. TAF is working on all of these things and is keen to work with the private sector to advance and scale this critical solution.
 
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