Stories & features

Driving a Volt plug-in, from Vancouver to Manning Park

Image of BJ Mayer standing next to a BC Hydro Chevrolet Volt
BC Hydro community team member B.J. Mayer is all smiles after completing the first half of his trip – from Vancouver to Manning Park and back – in a Chevy Volt hybrid electric car.

BC Hydro community rep gets taste of what it's like to drive electric

B.J. Mayer
For bchydro.com

I recently had the opportunity to drive a Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid vehicle from Vancouver to Manning Park, southeast of Hope, B.C., to help launch the new BC Hydro fast charging station in the park.  

I grew up in midwestern Ontario, where conversations about tractors were more common than about electric vehicles. However, what I had heard in the past about EVs was mostly negative: they were slow, took a long time to charge, and were awkward to drive. Based on my limited knowledge, I knew I had some research to do before my trip to Manning Park.

What's the difference between a battery electric vehicle and a plug-in hybrid?

I quickly learned that there are two types of electric vehicles that you'll find on the road in B.C. The first is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), which has a battery and a small gas engine. They can vary in range from about 20 km to 100 km on a charged electric battery, and 200 km-plus on the gas engine.The other vehicle type is the battery electric vehicle (BEV), which only has a battery. Typically, these vehicles have a range of somewhere between 100 km and 480 km, depending on the specific vehicle model. Since I was traveling 175 km in each direction on this road trip, and I wanted to avoid range anxiety, I chose to take the PHEV so that I could rely on the gas engine as back-up.

A fast charging station is going to save you a lot of time

The next step in planning my trip was to locate the charging stations along the way. I found a full list on the PlugShare site and was also able to download their handy app on my smartphone. I was shocked to find there are more than 500 public charging stations in B.C., but I was confused by all the different types of stations on the map. Through quick research, I learned there are three different types of charging stations in B.C. and across North America:

Level 1 station: This is your standard wall outlet. A level 1 charging plug comes with most electric vehicles, and it's the standard way to charge a vehicle at home. But it's also the slowest: it can take roughly 12-16 hours to fully charge a vehicle.  

Level 2 station: A level 2 charger works with a 240V plug that's similar to a dryer outlet in your home. For most vehicles, you'll need to purchase a charger and work with an electrician to install it in your home. You may also find these chargers at your local mall, on certain streets, or in condo buildings. If you own an EV, they're a great addition to your home because they only take 4-8 hours to charge a vehicle. Using PlugShare, I was also happy to find that there was one next to my favourite restaurant, so I gave my vehicle a charge on Friday night before my Saturday adventure.

DC Fast Charger: These stations are strategically located throughout the province to provide a quick 20 to 30-minute charge for EV drivers who are traveling longer distances. BC Hydro has installed 27 fast charging stations in B.C., and plans to add three more before the end of 2016.

Image of BJ Mayer driving a BC Hydro Chevrolet Volt
B.J. Mayer enjoys the surprising acceleration of the Chevy Volt hybrid electric vehicle, which made it almost to Abbotsford on electric power before shifting to a gas engine to produce that electric power.

Wow. Driving an electric vehicle is something unique

My personal vehicle is a Volkswagen Rabbit and I love it, but driving the Chevy Volt was a completely different experience. It handled beautifully, the brakes were responsive and it ran quietly.

My drive from Vancouver started at 9 a.m. with a fully charged battery, and as I approached Abbotsford, the battery was almost depleted. The vehicle seamlessly transitioned to start using its gas engine to produce electricity to power the car. At my first stop in Chilliwack, I pulled off the highway and right into a Level 2 charging station.

The first step was plugging in the vehicle. I was concerned that it would be challenging to use the EV charger, but it was as simple as putting a plug into an outlet. I also worried about waiting around while the vehicle charged, but it was conveniently located next to a coffee shop and a grocery store, so I used the stop to grab a coffee and some lunch.

As I pulled out of Chilliwack, the weather took a turn for the worse. Having just charged up my vehicle with clean hydroelectricity, I gained a new appreciation for the rain. The bad weather might have made the road trip less scenic, but it was cool to think that B.C.'s rainy climate helps fuel electric vehicles around the province with clean energy.

At Manning Park, I talked about my road trip to people from across B.C. who were interested in learning more about the electric vehicle experience.  

On my way home, I reflected on my EV experience. The 350-kilometre road trip was easier and more enjoyable than I'd anticipated, thanks to planning ahead. Maybe one day, even the tractors in midwestern Ontario will be electric.

Read more about electric vehicles in B.C.

B.J. Mayer is a member of BC Hydro's community team.