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Electrifying the Waterloo Region | Part One: The Story So Far

By: Valerie Chong and Miranda Burton

August 18th, 2020

Progress on Community Climate Action Blog Series 

In 2013, ClimateActionWR, led by Reep Green Solutions and Sustainable Waterloo Region, collaborated with the Region of Waterloo, and the Cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo to create the first Climate Action Plan for Waterloo Region. This Climate Action Plan aimed to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below 2010 levels by 2020. Next year, a community greenhouse gas inventory will be conducted to determine if we have met that ambitious goal, which will be an important first step towards our overall 80% reduction goal by 2050. 

The following post is part of a new series of blogs highlighting the hard work our action owners have been doing to move us towards our community targets. This one will focus on the transportation sector.

The Transportation Sector

Transportation is responsible for almost half of Waterloo region’s carbon footprint (full report in Our Progress, Our Path). In a 2015 re-inventory,  it was calculated that transportation in the region caused a total of over 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions into our atmosphere – the equivalent to powering 468,384 houses in one year. This was an increase from 2010, mostly due to personal vehicles. We knew that if we were going to reach our community’s 80 by 50 GHG reduction target, we needed to seriously re-examine our personal choices, from our daily commute to our regular grocery runs. 

To tackle this issue, action owners such as TravelWiseWR, ChargeWR, Grand River Transit and ION, University of Waterloo and others have been working hard over the past five years to ensure that there is not only adequate infrastructure, but an increase in community education about EV technology . And thanks to the commitment of our municipalities and leaders, key infrastructure projects like the ION Light Rail Transit are also making it easier for us to make better choices.

“Sustainable transportation is the capacity to support the mobility needs of a society in a manner that is the least damageable to the environment and does not impair the mobility needs of future generations.” – Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Professor, Hofstra University

Why Go Electric?

As we become more dependent on single-occupancy vehicles, our road spaces are increasingly congested and pollution is continually impacting our atmosphere. This dependency does not have to continue to trend upward, however. Many sustainable transportation options are readily available, including; car share programs (e.g. VRTUCAR, now known as Communauto), ride-sharing apps, expanded public transportation options, and networks for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles. The benefits of removing cars off our roads go far beyond just emission reductions, it will mean cleaner air, healthier and happier citizens, reduced congestion and smoother movement of goods. 

Another key piece in this mobility revolution to improve sustainable transportation is the provision of zero-carbon transportation options. 

“Most of the fuel used to power a car is either lost or used to propel the massive vehicle, whereas fuelling a bike’s engine — that’s you — requires only a healthy diet.” – David Suzuki 

For decades, our main source of transportation fuel has been gasoline, a fossil fuel that produces carbon dioxide when combusted. Gas-powered vehicles are extremely inefficient; around 70% of the energy that goes into the average car engine is lost. In addition, gasoline is a single-use fuel source, and cannot be recycled once it has been burned. Oil extraction methods such as “fracking” release methane, another significant greenhouse gas. Other impacts include disruption to natural ecosystems due to spills or drilling. 

“Electricity would progressively become the central energy carrier, growing from a 20% share of final consumption to an almost 50% share by 2050.International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) 

Electricity, on the other hand, is an extremely efficient and versatile form of energy. Replacing our energy sources with renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal allows for the production of electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions. Deep carbon reductions in Canada will be driven by the passenger transportation sector; according to a study conducted by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, following electrification, this sector would experience a 70% decrease in energy demand thanks to the efficiency of electric vehicles. By 2050 under this electrification model, passenger vehicle transportation emissions could reduce by the equivalent of over 20 million tonnes of CO2e.

Electric Choices in our Community  

There is a growing electric network in the Waterloo region community, led by the Region of Waterloo/Grand River Transit, ChargeWR, and a number of other dedicated organizations and individuals. 

The ION Light Rail Transit (LRT) officially launched in Kitchener and Waterloo in June 2019. The LRT features fully electric, zero-emission electric trains that operate separately from traffic, which allows for a more efficient, comfortable, and effective way to travel. It is projected that by 2031, the LRT will result in the reduction of 22,260 tonnes of greenhouse gasses annually

The LRT has also had other positive effects on Waterloo region. GRT reports that, before COVID-19 drastically reduced the use of public transit, revenue and boardings had increased by 10% since the launch of the light rail. And since the Regional Council endorsed light rail in 2011, there has been $3.2 billion economic investment along the ION route, encouraging residents and businesses to remain in the urban core rather than sprawling ever outwards beyond the city.

On the private ownership side, local ownership of electric vehicles continues to grow. Local adoption of electric vehicles has continued to grow in the Waterloo region, from 181 in 2015 to 2,047 in 2019!  To support this increasing need, there is now a network of over 100 public charging stations in the area. ChargeWR, Region of Waterloo and the regional municipalities also recently cooperated on a joint application to NRCanada, resulting in 33 new Level 2 chargers to be installed in public spaces around the region. 

Lime Scooter Pilot Project at the Research and Technology Park in 2019

In recent years, e-scooters have emerged as an exciting new option for Canadians. In 2018 and 2019, the electric scooter company Lime conducted a pilot program in Waterloo.  In the first season of the pilot, which ran for just two months, more than 6000 different riders completed over 18,000 e-scooters rides. E-scooters have also been introduced to Calgary and Montreal. Despite some excitement about this new electric option, however, a lot of work remains in order to update by-laws and other regulations for the safety of everyone on the road. The Province of Ontario has announced a five-year pilot program which is to begin in 2020, leaving it to each municipality to determine if e-scooters will be allowed on trails or in parks. Check out our recent blog “When Life Gives You Limes” for more information.

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