Electrical engineers at the Schulich School of Engineering found that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) could release 40 to 90 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional passenger vehicles, but the environmental impacts in the province would depend on factors such as vehicle battery size, charging time and wind production levels.
Infrastructure with smart charging systems would include technology with communication links to allow system operators to distribute electricity to vehicles when wind power production is at its highest, usually at night. Optimal use of clean energy is especially important in Alberta, which has the highest amount of thermally generated power in Canada.
More than 90 per cent of Albertas electricity is produced by methods that emit greenhouse gases, including burning coal, oil or natural gas.
The whole idea is to consume the wind power in the system as much as possible, said Professor Mahdi Hajian, a co-author of the study. Unfortunately, the wind is unreliable because its not always blowing when we need it. Smart charging systems would help us harness the wind so we can store it in the vehicles batteries for later use.
The results of the study are specific to Alberta, but the researchers said the conclusions can be applied elsewhere. Other provinces should also have smart charging systems, but the need would depend on electrical load patterns and the availability of clean energy sources such as hydro.