BC Hydro helps grow B.C.'s electric vehicle fast charger network

Image of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, © General Motors
The extended-range Chevy Bolt (pictured here) and the Tesla Model 3 will soon be available in B.C. But drivers can already plug into dozens of electric vehicle fast charger stations in B.C. that can make longer trips more practical. (Photo courtesy of General Motors)

DC fast charge stations in Chilliwack and Boston Bar the latest added

Note: Since this story was first published, BC Hydro has completed installation of all 30 planned DC fast charger stations across B.C.

In the early days of electric vehicles, it wasn't unusual for a driver to be forced into the disheartening decision to leave the electric car at home and take the gas guzzler instead. It was just a practical decision borne out of a combination of a limited range between charges, and no options except the 11-12-hour charge of a standard electrical outlet.

"For the early adopters, a trip to Vancouver from Chilliwack would have meant an overnight on someone's couch, because there weren't Level 2 chargers around," recalls BC Hydro's Alec Tsang.

But that was long ago on the electric vehicle timeline, way back in 2011. There are now close to 1,000 Level 2 chargers across B.C. – stations that will charge most vehicles in less than five hours – and 27 DC fast chargers that will do that same job in less than 30 minutes. And that's not including Tesla's eight B.C. superchargers that are part of a network of chargers offered, free of charge, to Tesla vehicle owners.

In the past month, public DC fast charge stations have been opened at the Fraser Valley Regional District office in Chilliwack, and in the Fraser Canyon at Boston Bar. Soon, fast chargers at Vernon, Spences Bridge and Malakwa (between Sicamous and Revelstoke) will be operating, and BC Hydro and our partners have plans for many more.

"There will be quite a few more in the Lower Mainland, too," says Tsang. "We know that areas north of the Fraser need to be electrified, because people are not going to want to go over a bridge for a fast charge. Even driving back and forth to White Rock for your kids' soccer games, you can run out."

The Province of B.C. and the federal government are supporting B.C.'s DC fast chargers network as part of a pilot managed by BC Hydro.

What does it cost to charge an electric vehicle? That depends

The public DC fast charger stations set up by BC Hydro are operating on a cost-recovery basis with a 35 cents-per-kilowatt hour charge that's roughly three times the cost of charging at home. For a 2016 Nissan Leaf with the larger 30 kWh battery, that's $10.50 for a full charge that will take you 170 km.

"You do have options," says Tsang. "You can charge at home, but the DC fast chargers meet that need when you're away from home and you need something that's convenient and fast. There are also Level 2s out there, if you're willing to do the three to six hours it takes for a full charge during a trip somewhere."

Many Level 2 stations are free, often set up by retailers as a draw to their businesses, while others charge "parking" fees of about $1 an hour while your vehicle charges for free. And on the Level 1 "trickle charge" at home, regular BC Hydro rates would cost you about $3 to fully charge that same Nissan Leaf.

For a growing number of electric vehicle owners who use their cars mainly to commute to and from work, or for short trips, at-home or at-work charging is the norm. And there's always the option to install at Level 2 charger at home, for costs ranging from around $500 to $1,200, depending on the charger selected and the state of your home wiring.

Leaf owner Paul Shore of Whistler recently had a Level 2 charger installed at his home, and said it was very straightforward because his electrical panel was conveniently located in the garage. But while he's an electrical engineer, he didn't for a second consider installing the charger himself.

"I'm not registered to make significant changes to the wiring in my house," said Shore. "I could probably figure out how to do it, but you need a registered electrician to play with 240 volts and 30 amps. This is stuff you don't want to make a mistake with."

Electric vehicle adoption rises with range and vehicle sizes

BC Hydro's Tsang drives an older Leaf he picked up used and which, because vehicle batteries degrade and lose range over time, will take him a maximum of 100 kilometres on a charge compared to its original 130 km range. He's excited about the range of the newer electrics, as automakers all raise their game to compete with Tesla, whose premium Model S 85D model is rated to go 370 kilometres.

"2017 seems to be the next big step, call it the next generation of EV," says Tsang. "GM's got their Bolt coming out, promising 300 kilometres plus, and there's the Model 3. But the Leaf will also have a new model, with a much improved range, probably quite competitive with the Bolt. It will be a telling year to see, once the range is there, to see how vehicle sales take off."

There's also a huge appetite for the first reasonably affordable SUV-size electric vehicle. The Tesla X might be a dream car for some, but it's an SUV that will cost upwards of $119,000 in Canada. The Porsche S-E plug-in hybrid is a less expensive SUV, but it's not fully electric and it's still a premium-priced vehicle at $90,000 plus. For now, the most popular choice for Canadians looking for SUVs is the 7-passenger Toyota Highlander – which starts at $46,000 and has a rated fuel efficiency of 8.5 litres/100 km – but it's not a plug-in SUV.

There's talk of Nissan introducing all-electric versions of the Rogue and Juke, but that won't happen for awhile. Most likely, the most attractive option for those looking for a roomier EV with a bit of room is the Bolt, which offers seats-down cargo capacity of 56.6 cubic feet at an estimated price tag of $46,500 in Canada. That cargo space isn't close to the likes of an SUV like the Honda CR-V (72 cu ft), but in competing with the likes of the popular Honda Fit, it will be enticing to those looking to go electric.

For the budget conscious, Tsang says used electric vehicles – especially those initially purchased in the U.S. with the benefit of incentives including up to $7,500 from the federal government – are worth considering.

"We feel so much relief driving an electric car," he says of driving his five-year-old Leaf. "With all these kids' activities, we accumulate more kilometres than we ever did before. I ride my bike to work but need the car – thankfully it's the Leaf – to get the kids around."