Aspiring Electric Vehicle Drivers Want to Go the Distance

By Gary Hilson
Women with electric car

Meeting Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions target by 2030 means more Canadians need to drive an electric vehicle (EV), but a significant road bump to making the switch is “range anxiety.”

Given that a quarter of country’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from private passenger cars and light trucks that use internal combustion engines, it seems that getting more drivers into an EV is a no-brainer. However, regardless of the vehicle costs and government incentives, a big concern for Canadians interested in adopting an EV is if they will be able to “fill up,” so to speak, as easily they’ve been able to pump gas into their cars.

According to data from Angus Reid, 75% of Canadians are less inclined to buy an electric car because they’re too expensive, though many insurers offer auto insurance discounts for EVs. Also, 62% say they would be more likely to buy an EV if there were more public charging stations.

If we are to overcome concerns about the distances EVs can tackle, the ability to charge one quickly anywhere in the country needs to be a top priority.

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Driving Canada’s “Electric Highway”

Despite the vast emptiness between cities in Canada, drivers generally don’t have to worry about getting gas. EV charging stations, however, are less common. Many EVs on the market can travel anywhere from 200 to 400 km on a single charge.

In major urban centres, this is less worrisome as most EV drivers are making short trips within the city and can even get away with charging their vehicles at home. But a drive from Ottawa to Montreal or Edmonton to Calgary raises concerns. And once you get to your destination, will there be charging station there that will work with your vehicle? And how long will you have to wait?

The good news is that there’s a global push to move drivers to EVs. Major automakers worldwide including Ford, Daimler, Tesla, Porsche, BMV and many others are significantly investing in EVs, while also promoting a future where EVs are a primary mode of transportation. This is complemented by federal government policy that encourages environmentally friendly transportation. Together, these trends are driving the development and deployment of fast-charging EV infrastructure.

There have been significant developments in the past year to combat range anxiety as infrastructure is being built out across the country. Canadian Tire recently expanded its fast-charging station count in parts of the country with support from the federal government.

Late last year, Petro-Canada finished its “Electric Highway,” a national network of EV fast chargers that spans coast to coast with more than 40 stations along the Trans-Canada highway. The project was funded in part through Natural Resources Canada’s Electric Vehicle and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Deployment Initiative.

Deploying infrastructure where traditional gas stations already exist is certainly a step forward, but challenges remain, especially in dense, urban areas if we want to rev up EV adoption. In the meantime, EV drivers can locate electric charging stations through Natural Resources Canada’s website.

How Accessible Is Electric Car Charging Infrastructure?

A lot of the charging infrastructure being built in cities is part of new housing — new condo towers with underground parking proactively integrate charging stations as part of their design and construction. However, there are many stakeholders and requirements that must be considered in urban environments if these charges as to become ubiquitous as gas pumps.

Aside from the new condo towers that want to incorporate fast chargers as a perk for potential residents, older buildings will need to be retrofitted to accommodate charging infrastructure too, including centuries-old historic neighborhoods. A business with their own fleet of vehicles may want to migrate to EVs, but they also must have enough confidence in the supporting infrastructure because their business will depend upon it.

Each stakeholder has potentially unique requirements considerations. Businesses will want something universal that can charge all their commercial vehicles, while along with municipalities, they’ll want chargers that are rugged and resilient enough to endure wet and dirty environments as well as wide range of temperatures. All EV owners will be watching their electricity bills, but municipalities will need to account for the impact on their power grid, which is a hodge-podge of decades-old equipment and modern systems. The average car owner will want something that’s easy to install.

All stakeholders will want something that lasts many years, even decades. That means not only does fast-charging infrastructure need to be reliable, it has to be flexible to handle the addition of new features, such e-commerce functionality so drivers can be charged for their charge, and bi-directional capabilities so EVs can give back to the grid if necessary.

The Future of Vehicles in Canada

While automakers and governments work to address EV charging infrastructure options, the future of vehicles in Canada may include other green-minded concepts such as a bio composite electric car built with industrial hemp.

But even if drivers’ range anxiety is addressed, there’s another milestone that must be met, and that’s affordability. EV owners need to know how much it’s going to cost them to drive green every day, no matter how far they’re going, and that includes the cost of auto insurance.