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More charging stations for electric vehicles should be priority, industry experts say

Auto industry and government leaders say that in order to help spark electric vehicle sales in Canada, charging stations need to be made more widely available across the country.

Speaking on a panel at the Electric Vehicle Conference in Markham on Wednesday, Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said the most significant challenge in bringing more electric vehicles to Canada’s roads is a lack of supportive infrastructure.

“I think infrastructure, charging stations in particular, being deployed more pervasively and being available in more consumer-friendly venues is probably the most important thing at this point in time,” he said.

The Ontario government invested $20-million from the Green Investment Fund to build around 500 electric vehicle charging stations. As of May 23, 208 stations at 96 locations — amounting to 43 per cent — have been installed, said Del Duca’s press secretary Celso Pereira.

Canada’s electric vehicle market remains small, amounting to 0.56 per cent of all vehicles sold in 2016. That, and commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is in part why the federal government created an advisory panel aimed at bringing more zero-emission vehicles to Canada’s roads.

General Motors Canada president Steve Carlisle and Nissan Canada president Joni Paive agree that a challenge in convincing consumers to go electric has been addressing range concerns and fears about recharging options.

“When you look at who is buying electric vehicles today, they are arguably different people than the people we need to be able to sell to. They are early tech adopters and people who have an inherent interest in electric vehicles,” Carlisle told the conference on Wednesday.

“To really move the needle, we have to work the idea into other parts of population.” 

Part of that, Carlisle said, includes building out public charging infrastructure. 

According to a report released Wednesday by the International Council on Clean Transportation, cities in California that have the most extensive public charging networks tended to boast the highest electric vehicle market share. For example, San Jose — which boasts a 10 per cent electric vehicle market share — has more than five times the U.S. average number of public charging stations per capita. California is widely considered a leader with its zero-emissions mandate, and represents 48 per cent of the U.S. market for plug-in electric vehicles. 

Recharging vehicles can be a particular challenge — and significant expense — for condo-dwellers in buildings that haven’t been equipped with the necessary equipment. But some cities are taking the lead in ensuring that changes going forward. 

Vancouver changed its building bylaw in 2008 to require 20 per cent of parking stalls in apartments and condos to be electric-vehicle ready. In 2013, legislation was updated to require 10 per cent of stalls in mixed-use and commercial buildings to be outfitted for electric vehicles. 

The newly installed stations in Ontario will be a mix of level 2 systems, which use a 240 volt system and can fully recharge vehicles from zero in about four to six hours, as well as level 3, which are a more powerful, 480 volt system that can recharge cars to 80 per cent capacity in about 30 minutes.

eCAMION, a Toronto-based energy storage system developer, is currently developing charging stations that would be similar to a gas station model, allowing for quick, powerful charging in a short amount of time.
Paiva admits that when he first drove his new electric Nissan Leaf car home, the first thing he did was plug it in — even though he didn’t need to.  

“We need to decrease this range anxiety by providing more charging station points ,and making them more visible,” Paiva said.

“At the end of the day, you want it to be affordable for your customer, and our focus is the mass market, not niche or premium. So we need to make it easier to bring that infrastructure to people.”

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