Front view of a yellow school bus parked in front of a hydro sub-station
There a huge potential opportunity for Ontario and the rest of Canada. What if a new electricity demand on the grid — electric vehicles — could be part of the solution to Canada’s electricity woes? 

Canada needs a stable supply of electricity to ensure that electrification — a critical component of Canada’s net-zero strategy — can proceed. We should be going all-in on V2G from electric school buses, writes Lion Electric’s Christopher Ralph

Parts of Canada are facing an electricity capacity crunch and looming price surges from grid instability, inefficiency, or unsustainable generation practices.

Ontario is one of the recent leading examples of this as it faces the loss of much of its power generating baseload with the planned decommissioning of the Pickering nuclear plant.

To make up for that loss of power — especially during Ontario’s electricity peaks — the provincial government is considering a wide variety of mechanisms, including expanding peak-load reduction programs and reviving the idea of peak-load reduction plants powered by natural gas.

It has been reported that this way of electricity generation may be both cost-prohibitive and could cause a 400 per cent increase in the emissions intensity of Ontario’s grid. Additionally, many provinces in Canada like Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia still utilize carbon-intensive coal to generate electricity, while many communities in the North still rely on diesel generation.  

Obviously, from coast-to-coast, these are not ideal scenarios and something must be done.

Luckily there a huge potential opportunity for Ontario and the rest of Canada. What if a new electricity demand on the grid — electric vehicles — could be part of the solution to Canada’s electricity woes? 

Efficient clean energy

Vehicle-to-grid technology (V2G) offers the ability to take power from the grid when electricity is plentiful, cleanly made and cheap — usually at night — and store it in electric vehicle batteries. Once an EV has completed its duty-cycle, it can discharge its supplementary energy to send power back to the grid. While only certain automobiles are currently capable of performing V2G, many heavy-duty manufacturers, including Quebec-based Lion Electric, all have V2G-capable vehicles. Lion Electric already has V2G projects ongoing in California and Florida that are using this technology to stabilize the gird, lower carbon emissions, and reduce reliance on new generation that responds to peak loads.

The potential here is astounding.

Circling back to Ontario, by using this technology the province can solve two of its most critical issues at once: sustainable mobility (and, by extension, emissions reduction) and lowering the burden on its electrical grids by ensuring that every electron transmitted is used in the most efficient manner.

In theory it’s win-win and it could be played out across every jurisdiction in Canada. This is one of those rare times when there is a one-size-fits-all solution.

Here is the catch: in practice one vehicle will not make a difference. But an entire fleet of school buses at a single parking lot would be able to offset the electrical load of an entire neighbourhood.

V2G school buses in action

Lion Electric buses are one of several fleet vehicles available on the market purpose-built with V2G technology.  Our V2G projects in Florida and California, using buses with an output capacity of 40kW, have shown that fleet operators can create a secondary revenue stream on their vehicles, while bringing renewable energy onto the grid from vehicle assets that are not in service for the period. This means that the total cost of ownership for electric vehicles, the cost of electric propulsion as a fuel source and carbon emissions from electricity generation all decrease.

By adopting these fleet-supporting-grid strategies Ontario could save on costly investments in new infrastructure by using existing electricity production more efficiently.

But grid stabilization is only the beginning.

What if there is no power on the lines? That was the case for much of British Columbia in 2021, eastern Ontario and southern Quebec this summer, as well as Atlantic Canada in early fall, as massive storms knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of Canadians. Many were without power for more than a week.

With better planning and understanding of the technology, EVs could have played a prominent role in the re-establishment of power in any of these locations. Electric ambulances, school buses and utility trucks can respond to emergencies and provide power to emergency shelters that might not have a generator or grid access in an emergency. Many fleets have dozens or hundreds of electric vehicles at a single site.

With that amount of power, it is not inconceivable that a single fleet could keep an emergency shelter online for a few days during a storm.

Foundation of a clean energy transition

Canadian policy makers and utilities should move quickly to ensure that adequate support is in place from utilities, municipalities, and school boards to collaborate on V2G opportunities. As we have all seen during recent outages caused by storms and forest fires, having access to emergency centres that are powered by clean electricity means many at-risk people can avert a full crisis.

Simply put, V2G solutions should be the foundation of a clean energy transition for electricity consumers across Canada. They have the potential to make the payback period of electric adoption a lot faster by providing a secondary revenue stream — reselling electricity — for companies. And they can make our grids more stable, secure and resilient as well as steer energy generators away from reviving carbon emitting electricity generation.

Cleaning up the air and decarbonizing the energy required to send our children to school is a tool that combats climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions, while reducing pollution that our children breathe.

It really is a no-brainer.

Christopher Ralph

Christopher Ralph is the manager of client solutions and design at LionEnergy, the electric vehicle charging division of Lion Electric. He has been involved in the EV and renewable energy space since 2012 and has worked for companies such as Brookfield Renewable Energy, Hydro Ottawa and Envari Engineering.