Stories & Features

Drivers of electric vehicles welcome changes to charging infrastructure in B.C.

Image of the 2015 Kia Soul EV
The Kia Soul Electric Vehicle has just won the first ever Canadian Green Car of the Year from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

Two BC Hydro employees sold on electric cars, even for a family of four

Pak Hui loves his new Chevrolet Volt. He's so excited to talk about the electric vehicle (EV) that he called from Hong Kong, where his family was vacationing over spring break.

Last fall when it was time to change one of the two vehicles in his West Vancouver garage, the BC Hydro staffer swapped out his SUV for the Volt. Even with a family of four, the SUV was more space than he needed, and the 33 km commute to work every day is perfect for the range of the Volt. He's been bragging about it ever since.

More options for people interested in EVs

According to ICBC, about 1,700 EVs (including battery electrics and plug-in hybrids) were registered for use in British Columbia by the end of 2014. The Tesla Model S was the best-selling and there are more Nissan Leafs on B.C. roads than any other EV.

Bill Clendinning was the first B.C. owner of a Leaf. Clendinning said that his Leaf has been used for everything, and in four years he and his wife have never run out of charge while on the road.

"EVs are perfect for the Lower Mainland," he said. "You can get anywhere you want to go, from Squamish to the Fraser Valley."

Four years later, with the lease about to expire, there's no question the couple is going to get another EV.

"We had to wait a long time for the Leaf," said Clendinning, who works at BC Hydro. Nissan rolled out the EV in Asia and the U.S. years before Canadians could buy one. And for the longest time, according to Clendinning, only the Leaf and the Mitsubishi iMiEV were available.

There are many more models of EV available now. Clendinning said he and his wife have narrowed the list to two: another Nissan Leaf, or a Kia Soul EV, which won the first ever Canadian Green Car of the Year from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. That announcement was made as the 2015 Vancouver International Auto Show was about to begin. Unlike EVs from other manufacturers, Clendinning said that Canada was the first country Kia made the Soul EV available in.

Other new EVs in B.C. in the past year include the two BMW models, the i3 and i8, and the Cadillac ELR. Dozens more were at the Vancouver International Autoshow in March.

"The technology made sense," said Hui when asked why he chose the Volt over the other makes and models being sold in B.C. The Volt has a combustion engine that works to extend the range of the vehicle, which comes in handy when he has to travel to other BC Hydro offices in the Lower Mainland.

"I'm free to travel as far as I like without worrying about charging," he said.

Making more charging stations available for EV drivers

It's becoming easier for drivers of EVs to travel further in B.C. "When we bought our Leaf," recalled Clendinning, "I could count on one hand the number of charging facilities in the Lower Mainland. Now there are hundreds."

In the next year, there are more charging stations being added in B.C. than ever before, supported in part by $1.6 million from the Clean Energy Vehicles for B.C. (CEVforBC) program that's been earmarked for charging infrastructure. Details of the renewed program were announced by Minister of Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett, in a press conference on March 23.

"It's very busy," said Alec Tsang, who helps coordinate BC Hydro's EV programs. Tsang explained that the goal is to double the number of DC Fast Charge stations by the end of the year, bringing the total to around 30.

You can easily find all EV charging stations using Plugshare.

Until now, much of the install work was happening in the Lower Mainland, but many of the new facilities are being installed in the Southern Interior, with a few on Vancouver Island.

"We're trying to provide travelable highway networks," said Tsang. It's no different, he explained, than when internal combustion engine vehicles were new. Our neighbourhoods didn't always have gas stations on every corner.

For its part, Tesla Motors is building out its own network of Supercharger stations, which can charge a Tesla Model S to 80 per cent capacity in only 40 minutes, and to full in just 75. There are superchargers now located in Squamish, Hope, Kamloops, Revelstoke, and Golden. Another three are planned for B.C. by the end of this year. Judging by their map, they look to be going into the Lower Mainland, Merritt, and Kelowna.

The cost of charging EVs

Charging at a Level 2 station, which uses 240 volts, will remain free. The suggested cost to charge at the DC Fast Charge stations has been set by BC Hydro at $0.35 per kilowatt hour, which is just enough to cover operating costs. The fast charge stations, though, are being managed by municipalities, most of which have opted not to charge a fee for use.

Tsang says that EV charging stations, as they exist right now, are more of a demonstration project that confirm the technical requirements. It's an opportunity to explore and understand the possibilities. "We benefit from understanding the impacts," he said. "EVs are coming no matter what. Being pro-active means we're getting ready."

The cost of buying an EV just got cheaper

The renewal of the CEVforBC program means that buying an EV will be cheaper. B.C. residents purchasing a qualified new vehicle can save up to $5,000 off the pre-tax sticker price of either a battery electric or plug-in hybrid (up to $6,000 off a vehicle equipped with a hydrogen fuel cell).

"Encouraging and promoting environmentally friendly transportation is part of a broader strategy to ensure British Columbia remains a climate action leader," said Mary Polak, B.C. Minister of Environment in a statement.