Government, industry experts and activists share their insights on how Canada can build a robust public electric vehicle charging network to meet the anticipated demand
More public charging infrastructure is required to support the growing number of electric vehicles on Canadian roads.
Last year the Canadian government hired Dunsky Energy and Climate Advisors to assess how many public charging stations will be necessary for the country to reach its climate goals. The analysis estimated 50,000 charging stations will be required, and since then, the federal government has committed to installing this number over the next four years.
Representatives from Indigenous Clean Energy, Natural Resources Canada, FLO, General Motors and global management consultants Roland Berger, discussed government-supported funding for EV chargers, overcoming barriers to EV adoption in remote communities and ensuring reliable uptime for chargers, during a recent webinar hosted by Electric Autonomy Canada called “Installing 50,000 EV chargers by 2026.”
You can watch the full discussion in the video player and read the summary of the panel below.
Meeting growing demands
Canada has an average of 13.4 EVs to every one public EV charger compared to the world average of 13.5, according to a Roland Berger survey.
Rahul Gangal, a partner at Roland Berger and leader of its automotive and industries practice, noted on the webinar that while Canada is “well-placed” to meet its goals, the ratio of chargers to vehicles will need to improve as more EVs enter the market.
“We’re expecting EVs — because of the push by OEMs like GM, Ford, Chrysler, [and] Stellantis — to come in at a much faster rate,” he said on the webinar. “We would want charging networks to keep up pace, which means that there has to be much more investment, much more focus and much more promotion to building solid charging networks that can back the very substantially EV growth that’s coming out.”
Studies to determine use-case and driver needs also will be required to determine what level of chargers are needed.
“There are different charging need” Gangal explained, “So it’s not that fast charging or high-speed charging is the necessary answer, or the only answer for our world. We will need a mix of charging solutions and a lot of that will actually be low cost, low-speed charging, interspersed with high-speed charging.”
For its part, the Canadian government has promised to install 50,000 EV chargers nationwide by 2026. This is in addition to the previous 34,500 chargers the government has already committed to funding.
Asked during the panel if the 50,000 additional EV chargers are enough to meet future demand, Thierry Spiess, senior manager of advanced vehicle programming at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) responded “no,” but said the number will complement chargers installed by the private sector, with that number expected to grow over time.
“The federal government will not be funding chargers indefinitely,” said Spiess. “We are seeing the business case and value proposition in many areas such as densification in metropolitan centres [and] important charging hubs along the Montreal-Toronto corridor. This business case is improving where this densification is happening and we anticipate the demand being high enough that such projects will become financially more attractive without federal support.”
Instead, the government’s funding efforts for EV infrastructure will continue to focus on locations where there isn’t or won’t be a strong business case for installing the chargers.
This includes underserved areas such as rural remote areas, multi-unit residential buildings, Indigenous communities and some workplaces.
“We are going to be focusing on these underserved areas by targeting future [request for proposals] and we’re going to be developing maps and tools to help us and industry better locate these target areas,” said Spiess.
Supporting remote, Indigenous communities
Eryn Stewart, managing director of Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE), an Ottawa-based not-for-profit organization, noted that the government must work to ensure equitable access to chargers in underserved areas.
Joining the panel from Nunavik, Quebec, Stewart said that some of the challenges remote Indigenous communities face when wanting to install chargers have a lot do with the limits of government funding, lack of capacity building around community learning and understanding of EVs and the inability to keep up with demand due to supply chain challenges.
To help remove barriers to charging infrastructure in Indigenous communities, ICE covers 50 per cent — up to a maximum of $75,000 per charger — to install the chargers through its Charge Up program (which distributes allocated federal government funding).
“But even with that 50 per cent it’s still pretty slow in terms of people wanting to get involved and that comes critically in terms of a couple of things that I feel are needed,” said Stewart. “If we look to places like the B.C. government, they’re offering a 90 per cent subsidy that is not available in any other province or territory in the same regard from a provincial or territorial level.”
Moving forward, Stewart said she would like to see greater federal government support in helping communities develop partnerships that can assist them with technical services and better understand how to complete charging installations.
“I think it’s the one-to-one relationships here that are more important than anything else,” Stewart said. “To be able to hold those relationships and help people understand and get there, that’s where we’re going to have the most uptake.”
Future-proofing for all EV applications
The construction of a public EV charging network suitable for EV drivers today and in ten years from now is a top priority for FLO, a Quebec-based public charging network operator and EV charger manufacturer and supplier.
“It’s really important to see that the investment we are all doing right now might not always have a return on a specific charger but it’s really important to drive adoption,” said the company’s president and CEO, Louis Tremblay.
The customer experience is also a key component of having a successful charging network and increasing adoption, according to David Paterson, vice president of corporate and environmental affairs at General Motors.
“We want that customer experience to be fantastic. Using all the technology you have so that you can plan your trip, so that you can know exactly if there’s a charger available – can I book it? Can I be assured that when I pull up it’s available? And will my car work with that charger?” said Paterson.
“This is a team sport and I think that’s the most important thing; it’s when we’re in the industry and we’re working with governments, they got to do it with us, not to us. We’ve got to do it together.”
Part of that future-proofing will include ensuring that the chargers are reliable and working.
“A charger is a promise that when you get there, you’re going to get the energy to charge,” added Tremblay.
“I think this is really something that we need to make sure that in the next round of investment from NRCan…for instance, there are requirements on uptime to making sure that we’re deploying 50,000 more chargers but they are going to be working because that’s a big challenge in North America.”