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We answer questions from an electric vehicle 'newbie'

BC Hydro employee Nadia Gormley stands next to her new Volkswagen ID.4
A week after picking up her 2023 Volkswagen ID.4, BC Hydro employee Nadia Gormley embarked on a family road trip to Seattle.

B.C. woman heads out on a road trip In her new Volkswagen ID.4

Nadia Gormley wasted no time hitting the road in her new 2023 Volkswagen ID.4. But even as she contemplated that first trip, she stressed that she had a lot to learn about everything from home charger rebates, to how and where to plug in for a top-up on a road trip south of Seattle.

"We finally made this decision on which car to get, and that wasn't easy," says Gormley, a communications advisor with BC Hydro. "My husband John and I suffer from decision paralysis when it comes to something as basic as choosing what food to eat. So this is a big purchase for our family. We're excited, but I kind of feel like a fish out of water right now."

We've tapped into a few of our EV experts to help answer Gormley's questions, starting with a query about home charger rebates.

Should I opt for the smart-charger option for Level 2 charging at home?

Gormley was up to speed on the CleanBC Go Electric EV charger rebate, which offers rebates of up to $350 on the purchase and installation of eligible Level 2 chargers for single-family homes, row homes, and duplexes. But she wondered whether she should also consider going with an eligible smart charger (and a top-up rebate of $250 for going with that option).

Smart chargers connect to the Internet, usually by wi-fi and your Internet connection. They allow you to schedule your charging and get more information about your charging and electricity consumption. The ability to program charging for specific periods would make it easier to benefit from optional time-of-day pricing coming later this year. Available as early as June 1, 2024, the optional rate plan will provide a 5-cents-per-kWh discount for electricity used between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., a popular time for at-home EV charging.

With a qualifying smart charger, BC Hydro customers can also take part in our Peak Rewards program. For each type of device registered – EV chargers, smart thermostats, load controllers, and battery energy storage systems – we pay customers an annual $50 reward. The program allows us to remotely adjust enrolled devices to help shift energy use outside times of peak demand.

Should we consider an EV power management device?

Gormley's husband John is a carpenter who's pretty handy around the home. He suspects that with 200-amp service, the home has the capacity for the addition of a Level 2 charger. But he's getting a certified electrician to do a load calculation to confirm there's enough capacity, as there's additional load from a basement suite and the possibility of a switch to an electric heat pump for heating and cooling down the road.

"You have to think about the future," she said. "How much can our home handle? We don't have a heat pump now, but it's a possibility in the future."

Our transportation electrification program manager, Reid Arkinstall recommends customers use their historical meter data, available online via MyHydro, to get a more accurate assessment of the electrical load in their home. It can be more accurate than traditional load calculation methods.

"Although it's unlikely given this customer's 200 amp service that there's limited capacity for an EV charger, there are technologies to help overcome this," said Arkinstall. "EV power management devices can manage electrical loads that otherwise might overload a residential service."

We recently launched a new $200 rebate for an EV power management device if it's needed to avoid electrical upgrades when installing an EV charger.

What apps do I need to find and pay for public charging around town and in B.C.?

In buying a Volkswagen ID.4, Gormley gets four years of free charging at Electrify Canada fast-charging stations, which in B.C. are mainly located along Highway 1. There are no stations in Metro Vancouver (the closest to her North Vancouver home is in Abbotsford), so she'll need to download at least another app or two.

PlugShare is the established app for finding EV charging stations, but there are at least six apps used for accessing and paying for charging on different networks: BC Hydro EV, Greenlots, Flo, Chargepoint, Electrify Canada, and SWTCH. The BC Hydro EV app was just re-released with updates aimed at making the app more convenient for use across B.C. and beyond.

"Once drivers start using the updated app, and providing feedback on what we need to improve it further, we hope it will serve as a one-stop app," said Chris Trigardi, EV program manager at BC Hydro. "We're working on adding more roaming partners, and we'll eventually have full access to at least two dozen networks customers can use across North America with our app and RFID card."

The new-look BC Hydro EV app adds features including an account balance auto reload, notifications about chargers near your, graphs showing popular times for specific charging stations, and support for kWh-based billing at B.C. charging stations (which currently use time-based billing) once that billing option is approved by the BC Utilities Commission.

Heading out on a road trip to Washington State, which apps will I need and what should I know?

"The hotel we're staying at south of Seattle doesn't have EV chargers," said Gormley. "So what apps do I need to download and set up accounts for charging so it's not stressful as we go south? We'll be stopping for some snacks and groceries en route, so stopping at a grocery store to charge up would be helpful."

"Do your homework and make sure the stations you're planning to use are highly-rated and operational," says BC Hydro's Trigardi. "Download the apps you'll need once you have a plan. Check PlugShare to see if drivers are saying that a station on your list isn't working or has been down for some time."

Recommended apps for a trip to the Seattle area? When road-tripping in the U.S., you can initiate charges at most sites with either a ChargePoint, Electrify America, or PlugShare app. Our EV app will soon be a one-stop app option for use across the U.S. and Canada.

Gormley's 2023 Volkswagen ID.4 is the all-wheel-drive model with an estimated range of 410 km. The family stayed at Great Wolf Lodge near Centralia, Washington, about 380 km away from their North Vancouver home. In advance of the trip, Gormley downloaded the Electrify America app, and used it twice to top up at a station – located at the Walmart in Everett – on the way down and on the way back.

"On the way down, we stopped, used the bathroom, did some shopping," she said. "By the time we were walking out to our car, it had fully charged and we had started our parking grace period. So it was perfect timing."

Gormley said the ID.4 was a hit with the family, and that she used time spent riding as a passenger while her husband drove to get acquainted with all the on-board tech. Once behind the wheel, she was amazed at how easily the Volkswagen climbed hills.

"It was like 'Oh, is this a hill?'," she said, laughing. "I didn't even notice. It just drives so smooth, like butter."

Learn more about charging on the road.

What are other things to be aware of about planning trips and public charging?

"Get to know your vehicle and how conditions affect range," said Trigardi. "As you plan trips, know that if you're going through mountainous areas or in colder weather, that your vehicle's battery is going to drain more quickly than normal. Also get to know the battery size your car is equipped with. Just because you're at a 100 kW or 180 kW station doesn't mean that your vehicle will charge at that output. As a reminder, it's your vehicle that's requesting the power, and not the charger pushing it."

Many new models of electric vehicles can take full advantage of the fastest charging speeds at chargers ranging from 50 kW to 350 kW. Most fast chargers in B.C. are 50 kW, although the BC Hydro network already includes several 100 kW and 180 kW chargers.

For specifics on how to use chargers in our EV network, there's a wealth of information in our How to use our EV chargers section, and you can get customized advice by calling our EV support centre at 1 866 338 3369.

"You can ask our advisors questions about specific vehicles, travelling tips, and home charging," said Trigardi. "You paint the picture and they'll get back to you with recommendations."

Don't overlook EV owner groups online, too, including reddit discussions that can do deep dives into the likes of trip planning through specific regions.

I think I'll need to pay for roaming cell coverage in the U.S. to use an app. Is there an alternative?

Depending on which station and app you're using, it's possible to charge via the RFID scanner on the charger. Sometimes it can be from a code in your smartphone's wallet, and other services (such as our network) offer physical RFID cards.

"Usually, the safest thing is to have both the app and an RFID card," says Trigardi. "If you don't have cell coverage, or your phone's battery dies, you can use an RFID card."

So far, the majority of our EV network is opting to use the app only. But a quarter of members have ordered an RFID card.

What do I need to know about driver etiquette?

Gormley is determined to be a responsible EV owner, somebody who doesn't overstay her welcome at a fast charging station or forget to put the charging cable back in the station's holster.

"My husband and I were joking this morning about people parking in EV charging spots when they're not charging," she said. "Imagine the anger you'd feel if you rolled up to a gas station and somebody was just parked at the one available pump for an hour."

BC Hydro's Trigardi chimed in with a few more tips around etiquette:

  • There are two good reasons for keeping your fast charging session reasonably brief: freeing the charger up for other drivers, and the fact that after you hit 80%, charging slows down considerably. In general, we recommend a maximum of 40 minutes at a 50 kW fast charger, or 30 minutes or less at chargers 100 kW and faster.
  • No matter how tempting, never unplug a vehicle, even when its owner appears to have stayed too long. Only in an emergency, where your battery is nearly drained, might you consider unplugging another vehicle. And if you do, please leave a note explaining why you did it.
  • Help inform other drivers. Use the BC Hydro EV app and/or PlugShare to tell other drivers when you're checking in and checking out, and alert others if the station isn't working. Also consider leaving a note on your vehicle to let others know how long you're likely to stay.

It was really easy to claim my rebate on the purchase of my new EV. Is it always that easy?

Depending on your personal and/or household income, combined federal and CleanBC rebates on the purchase of a new electric vehicle can be as high as $9,000. Gormley was able to claim both rebates when she bought her Volkswagen ID.4, which qualifies as a car with a retail price of $55,000 or less.

"The dealership just had me sign a form for the federal rebate, and forward the CleanBC provincial rebate email I got by applying online," she said. "Is it really that easy?"

Trigardi confirms that yes, new EV rebates seem to be going smoothly. And you don't have to wait for your rebate. Here's how it works:

  • For the B.C. rebate, you apply online for pre-approval at CleanBC Go Electric. Once you receive your pre-approval, you have up to a year to use it to save on the purchase of a qualifying new EV at a dealership.
  • For the federal rebate, you fill out a consent form at the dealership and, once they confirm your eligibility, you fill out a second form so that the rebate is applied directly to your bill of sale or lease agreement.
  • In both cases, your qualifying rebate amount is applied to your bill of sale.