Gasoline prices are surging. That's forcing owners of gasoline-burning cars to pay a lot more to drive around. In some areas of Canada, gasoline now costs more than $2 a litre.
Canadians who own electric-powered vehicles (EVs), however, are filling up for less than 35 cents per "litre equivalent." The reason EVs are so much cheaper to fuel is because they only require a quarter as much energy to drive them around. A rough rule of thumb for comparing fuel prices is that two kilowatt-hours (kWh) in an EV provides the same driving energy as one litre of gasoline does in a gasoline-burner. (See the endnotes for all the geeky details.)
My chart below lets you compare the current costs of filling up with gasoline versus electricity in major cities across Canada. Those tall red coin stacks show the average price for gasoline in each city right now. The short gold coin stacks show the local price for the litre equivalent of two kWh of electricity for an EV.
For example, the bars on the far left show that in Vancouver, it currently costs nine times more to drive with gasoline than with electricity. And since all of B.C.'s gasoline is imported, a lot of the money spent at the pump leaves the province. In contrast, filling EVs with made-in-B.C. electricity keeps those energy dollars and energy jobs in the province.
In many other cities — like Calgary, Toronto, Moncton and St. John's — gasoline currently costs seven times more to drive on than local electricity.
The biggest winners in Canada right now are EV drivers in Quebec. As the chart shows, charging an EV at home in Montreal costs around 13 cents per litre equivalent. Oh, and as a very nice bonus, Quebec's electricity is also 700 times less climate-polluting to drive on than burning gasoline. (Yes, 700 times cleaner … see endnotes for details.)
Despite electricity being many times cheaper and cleaner for Canadian drivers, only three per cent of the new passenger vehicles bought in Canada last year were all-electric EVs. That's five times fewer than the number Europeans bought. It's also fewer than Americans bought. It's even below the global average.
The reason our peers in many other nations are choosing electric over gasoline far more often is because their governments introduced policies that make EVs the better choice for them. These policies are helping their citizens lock in a future of lower fuel costs, less deadly air pollution and declining climate emissions.
If Canada's federal and provincial governments want to provide the same benefits to Canadians, they know how to do it. For example, Canada could adopt the policy package that has worked so spectacularly well in Norway — where 80 per cent of the new cars Norwegians buy now are all-electric EVs. If that northern oil-exporting nation can do it, surely ours can, too.
Analysis: Columnist @bsaxifrage breaks down how much it costs right now to power a car with gasoline versus electricity in cities across Canada.
- 2 kWh for an EV = 1 litre gasoline. This is the rough rule of thumb I used in this article to compare fuel costs. Here's the data and math:
One litre of gasoline — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says a litre of gasoline contains 8.9 kWh of heat energy, but that just 20 per cent of that energy ends up turning the wheels. The rest is lost in friction and waste heat. That means each litre of gasoline supplies 1.8 kWh of driving energy (math: 8.9 kWh x 20% = 1.8 kWh).
A litre equivalent in electricity — EVs are far more energy-efficient. The EPA says that 88 per cent of the electricity put into an EV makes it to the wheels. So, to deliver a "litre equivalent" of 1.8 kWh in driving energy to the wheels requires fuelling an EV with two kWh from the grid (math: 2 kWh x 88% = 1.8 kWh).
- CO2 from filling up in Quebec — Burning a litre of gasoline emits 2,350 grams of carbon dioxide (gCO2). Quebec's electricity emits 3.4 gCO2 to generate the litre equivalent of two kWh for an EV (see Canada's National Inventory Report, Part 3). That makes gasoline 700 times more climate-polluting to drive on than Quebec's electricity.
- Gas prices — The gas prices in my chart are per-litre averages for each city on March 10, according to the popular GasBuddy.com.
- Electricity prices — The electricity prices in my chart are the average cost in each city for two kWh (a litre equivalent), according to Hydro Quebec's "2021 Comparison of Electricity Prices in Major North American Cities" report.
- Fuel costs for average Canadian passenger vehicle — The average new car in Canada will burn 28,000 litres (21 tonnes of gasoline) over a 200,000-mile lifespan. At $1.50 per litre, the gasoline bill would add up to $42,000. At $0.14 per kWh, the electricity to drive an equivalent EV would cost $8,000.