• Keefe, A., Duffy, R., and Wu, H. (2024) Considerations for the Electrification of Paramedic Emergency Vehicles in Canada, Canadian Standards Association, Toronto, ON.

Executive Summary

In Canada, the health care sector is estimated to account for approximately 4.6% of the country’s net carbon dioxide emissions. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles are substantial emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and significantly contribute to the health care sector’s overall carbon footprint. Therefore, transitioning to electric ambulances holds tremendous potential in reducing GHG emissions for both the health care sector and the country as a whole.

The purpose of this research report was to gain a better understanding of the impacts and potential risks to the operations of Canadian paramedic organizations as they move toward electrifying their fleet of ambulances and other emergency vehicles. This report synthesizes the findings of a review of the scientific and grey literature, an environmental scan of regulations and standards pertaining to ambulance design, key informant interviews, and a workshop.

Key findings include:

  • The top three barriers to electrifying ambulances are inadequate and insufficient charging infrastructure, high upfront vehicle costs, and technology-related issues such as limited driving range, slower charging rates, and the inability of current technology to meet worst-case duty cycles. Key informants and workshop participants identified these as (a) general barriers to ambulance electrification and (b) specific barriers within their jurisdiction.
  • Two critical parameters that need to be considered in ambulance electrification are operating theatre (i.e., urban vs. rural vs. remote vs. mixed) and deployment model (i.e., static vs. dynamic vs. mixed). Both vary by jurisdiction in Canada. There is very little information in the literature about the impact of these operational parameters on the uptake of electric ambulances.
  • There are some significant gaps in how the design of ambulances is regulated in Canada. At present, regulations pertaining to ambulance design are found at the federal and provincial levels, and few provinces include minimum design requirements for ambulances in their regulatory frameworks.
  • The lack of electric ambulance design standards, the lack of standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicle charging equipment (e.g., charger compatibility), and the lack of standardized data and performance metrics were identified as key gaps. Addressing these gaps via standardization solutions would help move the electrification of ambulances forward.

Given these challenges, it may not be financially feasible at this time for ambulance services to make an immediate transition to fully electric ambulances. Introducing electric ambulances in a phased approach is one way to overcome the barriers associated with the current state of electric vehicle technology, the lack of charging infrastructure, and the high upfront costs.

Making the transition to a fully electric fleet of ambulances is a complex issue that will require a coordinated and multi-faceted effort by a broad spectrum of interested and affected parties. To resolve the key barriers identified, it will be important to include representatives of the federal and provincial governments, municipalities, utilities, paramedics, hospitals, designers, and funders. Engaging in such an effort could demonstrate the health care sector’s commitment to lowering its overall carbon footprint and contributing to building a sustainable and resilient future for all Canadians.