The Case For a National EV Charging Network

LEAF_319When we first started out with our goal of accelerating the adoption of EVs in Canada, the task seemed somewhat daunting. There were only three battery-powered vehicle models available, if you could find one at all (many dealers didn’t carry them). Most people had never even heard of an electric vehicle, let alone sat behind the wheel.

At Plug’n Drive, we believe that Canadians need more opportunities to learn about the benefits of these new cars and kick the tires. After hosting more than 150 events in Ontario—and witnessing the incentives, growing awareness of benefits, rising gas prices, and climate change concerns that are spurring interest—we are more convinced than ever that we are approaching a tipping point.

There are now more than 180,000 EVs on the road worldwide, including more than 3,000 in Canada. The United States recently passed a milestone with 100,000 vehicles now on the road. The all-electric Nissan LEAF is the top selling car in Norway and the Tesla is the Motor Trend car of the year, also earning Consumer Reports’ highest rating ever. (The latter publication said the Telsa deserves top honors not because it is an electric but in spite of it!) More makes and models are rolling into Canadian showrooms, including the frisky Chevy Spark, due later this year.

Canada has every reason to be a leader in EV adoption. Power grids in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec are predominantly hydroelectric—making for very clean “fuel.” Ontario will kick coal off the grid forever later this year, in lieu of nuclear, natural gas and an increasing share of renewables. Depending where you live, the EV you buy today will likely run even cleaner tomorrow.

But then there’s “range anxiety.” The idea of running out of juice beyond reach of a charging cable still scares off many would-be EV drivers. Even though the majority of plug-in owners today charge up at home overnight, for many this presents a serious psychological barrier.

Enter the opportunity and imperative of well-planned public-charging infrastructure.

Canada needs a national charging network that links all public chargers together, from coast to coast—and that drivers could access at any time via smartphone or web browser. The network would tell drivers where the closest charger is, as well as its availability and cost. Such a system would be convenient, and would also enable electrical utilities to anticipate and plan for capacity crunches. This is not an unachievable dream—it is already beginning in Quebec, B.C., Ontario and New Brunswick.

This is a critical time for the evolution of our surface transportation. Awareness of EVs and their environmental and economic benefits is increasing, our electricity systems are getting cleaner, and every major  manufacturer either offers an EV or is about to.

Infrastructure is expanding, but we don’t want to end up with 10 different EV networks—each with its own payment card or app.  We have the opportunity to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and at the same time help consumers save money on fuel if we figure out how to remove these barriers.  If we create one easy-to-use network, we all win.

By the way, if you’re in Toronto on Thursday, July 18th, come to Yonge-Dundas Square for Plug’n Drive’s second annual EV Day, where every make and model of EV will be on display, and available for a test drive.

Cara Clairman is the President and CEO of Plug’n Drive.

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