With a few long summer weekends still to come, a road trip is a classic way to get out of the city and explore our vast and beautiful country! With record breaking temperatures, rising greenhouse gas emissions, and historic high gas prices in the news, electric vehicles (EVs) are in high demand and an important strategy for Canada’s transition to a cleaner and more sustainable future.
Transportation is Canadian’s single largest personal source of emissions. What, how far, and how we drive determine how large our individual carbon footprint is. The Government of Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan and commitment to reach net-zero by 2050, includes a mandate transition out of internal combustion engine vehicles (fossil fuel burning), reaching 20% zero-emission new light-duty vehicle sales in 2026, rising to 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2035. EVs are becoming more prominent in Canada with a potential increase of 63% in the market share of all vehicle sales between 2017 and 2040, for battery electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV).
Canadian cities are increasingly equipped to handle EV drivers and commuters with increasing charging options in a wider range of locations, like shopping malls, restaurants, libraries, and sports venues. As more and more Canadians transition to EVs they want to take them on road trips to visit our amazing coasts, lakes, mountains and parks.
But is Canada, a country known for expansive landscapes, rugged terrain and remote wilderness, electric-road-trip-adventure ready?
When talking with outdoor enthusiasts about making the switch to EVs, the same concerns often emerge when considering travelling long distances in rural and remote parts of Canada: range anxiety and gaps between chargers, charging speeds and wait times, charging stations in inconvenient places and more. So POW climate scientist and Research Coordinator, Nat Knowles, and Research Assistant, Sam Mitchell, working with Dr. Daniel Scott of the University of Waterloo, analyzed how an average EV (based on NRCan’s estimated 281km average range) may fare compared to an average gas (ICE) engine vehicle in each of Parks Canada's iconic 94 National Park Road Trips. Route were scored for overall EV readiness on if they could reasonably be completed (feasibility criteria include total route distance, charging network capacity and distance between stations) and on if the routes would be a convenient and enjoyable tourism experience (convenience indicators include amount of charging required, destination charging availability)
With routes ranging from 1 to 10 days through urban, rural, and marine parks across Northern, Western, Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic regions, its not surprising that the results varied widely (see Map of Canada). A very positive overall finding was that across all Parks Canada routes, over 70% of the destinations, suggested activities, and itinerary stops already have at least one level 2 or 3 charging station available on site! Road trips in provinces with the strongest policy support for EVs (Quebec and BC) generally scored better.
For one day road trips - often shorter routes near urban and suburban regions – 50 (82%) of the 61 itineraries are possible without needing to recharge and received the highest score (an easy adventure). The remaining 11 day trips require some planning, but with level 2 and 3 charging options enroute and at many destinations and itinerary stops these routes can all be completed.
Average scores for longer, multi-day trips were lower in most provinces, indicating that Canada’s EV charging network needs to expand in many destinations to support the shift to low carbon travel. The 33 multi-day trips range from a one charge, 7 day 80km jaunt through Land's End: Naturally Spectacular in Quebec's Forillon National Park or 3 day trip to Take in the Sea Air of BC's Gulf Islands National Park, to the currently impossible 1610km 7 day trek up Newfoundland's West Coast Wonders and a visit to Labrador's Gros Morne National Park. Saskatchewan's three itineraries to Prince Albert and Grassland's National Parks all have gaps of over 500km between chargers making it impossible for an average EV, while routes around Lake Superior National Park in Ontario and Banff and Jasper National Parks rely on slow chargers making them possible yet highly inconvenient for EV road trippers.
An important caveat is that this study examined EV capacities in peak summer tourism season. If the same analysis was conducted for winter when EV range capabilities are reduced by cold temperatures (an estimated difference of nearly 100km), the EV readiness ratings would decline, substantially for some routes. Advances in EV capabilities in cold weather and expansion of charging infrastructure will continue to improve low carbon access to our winter playgrounds.
While the convenience of EV road trips is not yet the same as ICE engine vehicles, they deliver huge benefits in the form of much lower energy costs and climate change causing GHG emissions. On average EV emit 17% of the carbon compared to a gas car across all the Parks Canada routes. In provinces with low carbon electricity grids like Manitoba, Quebec, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, and BC, EVs emit on average less than 3% of the emissions an ICE vehicle emits over the same distance. In provinces with higher carbon intensity electricity grids powered primarily by coal and natural gas, ICE engines still emit on average 40% more than EVs over the same road trips. As these provinces decarbonize their electricity sources, emissions for EV-based travel will drop even faster.
With recent record high gas prices, EVs are also providing major savings on travel costs. On average, single day trips cost less than $3 in EV charging compared to $25 in ICE vehicle fuel costs at current gas prices (based on average fuel efficiency of 8.9L/100km, this represents 91% savings). The average multi-day trip costs $11 in an EV compared to over $100 for gas cars (89% savings). The Klondike Gold Rush route through the Yukon's Kluane National Park would cost approximately $351 in an average ICE vehicle, but with free level 3 charging stations along the 10-day itinerary electricity costs could be as low as $0.
"Years ago I would have to purposefully plan my trips around the few Ev chargers spotted around the country. Now the options are endless and you almost choose your chargers depending on what activity you want to do while you charge. Eat excellent indian food, go for a walk along a river, or visit a second hand book store...etc.
Traveling with an EV is different, the journey becomes as important as the destination.
I keep been blown away by where I see new charging stations, they are everywhere now. Lots empty and waiting for cars.
I have been worried about the balance of ev chargers to ev adopters yet right now I see many fast chargers empty and waiting for people."
- Greg Hill, EV Adventurer and POWC Ambassador
(1) The Klondike Gold Rush in Yukon - With free level 3 chargers along the Klondike Highway, the only northern route can be done at zero cost! Nunavut lacks any public charging infrastructure and the Northwest Territories only has two slow chargers, meaning EV's aren't yet feasible in most of the north.
(2) Bison Binge in Saskatchewan - This route, like all Saskatchewan routes, is impossible to complete with the current average range EV. With a 565km gap between charging stations, even drivers of long range vehicles would experience serious range anxiety!
(3) A Road Trip Along the Cote Nord in Quebec - While this 7 day 1700 route is slightly inconvenient in terms of added charging times, driving an EV instead of a gas vehicle in Quebec means keeping 99.9% of the emissions out of the atmosphere. Manitoba has an equally low-emission electricity grid.
(4) Connect with Nature in Nova Scotia - While this route is feasible and convenient for EV drivers, a high carbon electricity grid means EV emits 66% of the emissions an ICE vehicle emits. Pushing provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia to decarbonize their electricity grids while transitioning towards EV's will help simultaniously reduce transportation emissions.
(5) A Trip to Pacific Rim in BC - While this route may have some inconveniences due to lack of chargers at remote destinations, BC has Canada's most advanced incentives, mandates, policies and regulations around EVs and EV charging. 21 cities across BC have modified building codes to require EV charging capabilities.
What does road tripping have to do with a sustainable and equitable future?
Great question. While Canada is preparing for the phase out of ICE vehicles, understanding the EV readiness of provinces and territories for inter-city and tourism related travel is a key part of decarbonizing our transportation. Access to parks, trails, and outdoor recreation of all types needs to be comparable to doing so in an ICE vehicle to achieve the policy goal of 100% EV new vehicles sales in 2035. That will only become a reality when access and convenience of charging infrastructure becomes comparable to gas stations.
The EV readiness of Great Canadian road trips is a symbol of the country’s progress on the low carbon transition. The overall EV readiness ratings of the national park itineraries would be improved for EVs with longer range capabilities, like for example the long-range Tesla 3 (530km) or Kia EV-6 (up to 490km), further demonstrating that low carbon summer road trip tourism is already possible and convenient in many parts of Canada, but at a higher cost. This analysis purposefully used a more affordable range of EV but we must further consider everyone in the transition to a greener Canada, which means considering the access, and affordability. Right now, many EV owners in Canada are of or above the upper-to-middle class. By phasing out ICE vehicles, without accessibility in mind, we may be increasing the risk of both pushback on the EV transition, and poverty.
Decarbonizing Canada's travel and transportation sector in a way that is equitable and accessible will require not only increased EV infrastructure and incentives, but wider systemic changes in cross-country and rural public transit, rethinking the life-cycle of vehicle production, and shifting our electricity production to renewable sources.
As members of an impactful outdoor climate advocacy group, there are many ways to help!
- Write to your municipalities about installing EV charging infrastructure and updating development guidelines to include EV infrastructure
- Call your parks agency and tourism authorities and ask about their plans to support the growing market of tourist using EVs.
- Ask your local gas stations when chargers will be added to their stations! We are seeing more energy companies adding EV infrastructure to gas stations, decreasing the costs of EV ownership overall.
- When your ICE vehicle reaches the end of it's lifecycle, look for ways to repair, repurpose, and recycle it and then make the switch to electric! Look for a used EV here! And find rebates available in your province here!
- Need to rent a car? Look into renting electric vehicles! Turo has a section for EVs!
- Share your EV if you own one. Share the car with anyone from family to friends, to renting it to the public.
Notes on methodology:
This analysis compared only the emissions related to operations of an EV and ICE vehicles on each travel route. It did not assess the embedded emissions associated with the construction of each type of vehicle. Because the analysis used an average range of EVs that had been in the market for years, instead of new EVs with higher capabilities, it was assumed the ‘well to wheel’ carbon emissions break-even point (which varies province to province based on carbon intensity of the electricity grid) had been reached.
- Emission calculations are based on an average affordable family EV station wagon with a range of 281km per charge
- ICE trip emissions were calculated based on the average fuel efficiency of 8.9L/100km for a comparable affordable family station wagon.
- EV trip emissions were calculated based on the average battery efficiency of 20kWh/100 and per km emissions based on the energy source profiles of the electricity grid at the provincial level and the corresponding provincial emission intensity (Kg CO2/kWh) times the overall itinerary distance