CALGARY -- Heather Campbell drives a 2017 BMW hybrid electric car. It has both a gas and electric power, but Campbell says she almost never uses the gasoline engine.

"The last time I bought gas it was only because I needed a carwash," she said. "And that's where the car washes are.”

Campbell might be an early adopter of electric vehicle (EV) technology, but a 2021 survey done by KPMG shows she’s on the leading edge of a wave of EV adoption.

The survey showed 68 per cent of Canadians are likely, or very likely, to purchase something electric as their next vehicle.

That number drops to 54 per cent in Alberta, Burt even so means a massive increase in electric vehicles on the road in the province.

Between 2016 and 2020, Alberta averaged 222,998 new vehicle purchases every year. If that trend continues, with 54 per cent being EVs, there will be more than 600,000 more electric vehicles in the province in the next five years.

That also means more than 600,000 cars plugged in, drawing power from the grid.

Mike Deising, a spokesperson for the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), says based on current projections looking ahead to 2040, Alberta’s power grid is well poise to handle the increase.

“In Alberta, by 2040, we're anticipating about 400 megawatts of increased load for electric vehicles. To put that in context, we set a new all time record earlier this year of 11,729 megawatts," said Deising.

“So,  based on what we're seeing with electric vehicles, right now, the overall Alberta grid will be able to integrate those from a megawatt capacity standpoint, there will be enough megawatts to meet that demand."

Deising cautions that "the grid" he’s referring to is the large province-wide system moving megawatts of electricity from power producers to power distributors.

Deising says while the grid can handle the expected rise in EVs, distributors will face challenges.

“Definitely at the local level, we're going to have to have upgrades in communities and on the distribution system," he said.

ENMAX vice-president Jana Mosley says the real strain EVs will put on the electric system will be close to home.

“We could have the potential to overload residential area transformers, with just as many as two to three EV chargers plugged in charging at the same time in the same neighborhood," she said.

Mosley stresses that doesn’t mean the distribution system is running out of power, “But what it does mean is we’re likely stressing our equipment more than we would like to for the long haul, and we may need to replace that equipment sooner than later."

A pilot program underway by ENMAX is gauging the effect EV charging has on is system, monitoring everything from how much power is used, where it is used, and at what time EVs are usually put on charge.

Most EV charging is happening at home about 80 to 90 per cent of Evie owners tend to come home plug in around 5 p.m., and charge overnight.  

Mosley says small changes in the way EVs are charged could yield big savings.

“If we could shift that charging time, and not be charging all at the same time — or at system peak — we could double the amount of EV chargers we could connect to our system without having to do any system upgrades," she said.

Ontario has already moved some customers to time-of-use pricing, where customers have a so-called smart meter installed which allows the utility to offer favorable rates to customers who draw power at off-peak hours.

Mosley says it’s something consumers should be thinking about.

“As a society, and with our customers we should have a conversation about (it) and just see, Is there an opportunity to perhaps change some of our behaviors, to shift when we're using electricity and, and why?” she said.

Mosley adds the tests being run by ENMAX might push the idea forward.

"(It’s) early days, it's something we want to do in the second phase of our pilot program," she said.

"And it's something that we'll be talking with our regulator about the Alberta Utilities Commission, at what the opportunities are for customers.”

Campbell is part of ENMAX’s pilot program monitoring her EV electric use.  An engineer, she says she pays close attention to the data, and says her energy usage has only risen a tiny amount since buying her EV.

"I'd say it's negligible, but that's based on my driving habits," said Campbell, who admits her lifestyle may contribute to the low charging cost.

"I live in an inner city neighborhood where it's a walkable community," she said. "That even factored into my purchase of an electric vehicle, my driving patterns and my annual kilometers."