Electrical industry experts are brainstorming strategies to help address the issue of improper EV charger installations in Canada after 400 non-permitted EV chargers were discovered in Toronto
The rise in electric vehicle purchases across Canada is setting the country in a more positive direction for combatting climate change, but it’s also revealed a troubling trend: cutting corners on EV charger installations.
In July, the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), the regulatory body in charge of overseeing all electrical installations in Ontario, found over 400 electric vehicle chargers installed in single-family homes without permits just in Toronto alone, after conducting blitz inspections.
In British Columbia, it’s the same story, as electrical industry watchdogs report a pattern of improper setups and inadequate knowledge.
“These are relatively new products on the market. So, these are new to a lot of the installers. We are seeing installations where there could be potential overload. We are seeing installations where people aren’t following the manufacturer’s installation information,” says Michael Pilato, technical leader of electrical at Technical Safety B.C. in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.
Putting families at risk
For a number of reasons these results have set off alarm bells with electrical oversight bodies from coast-to-coast and are underscoring the need for swift remedial action.
“[People] might spend $100,000 or more on some of these electric vehicles but, for some reason, they don’t want to spend any money on…the electric vehicle charger?,” says Paul Murray, the ESA’s acting general manager, speaking with Electric Autonomy.
Murray says the stakes for skimping on safe, regulated personal EV charging infrastructure can be dire. Improperly installed EV chargers can overload electrical infrastructure and create fire or shock hazards, which can result in serious harm to wire panels and homes.
“I’ve seen people just dangling cords out of windows from their kitchen stove outlet and running them across trees, their yards, sidewalks and things like that because they don’t have a driveway in Toronto, for example. People will get very creative but it’s not worth put[ting] your house and your family at risk,” says Murray.
So, why are people doing it, and, more importantly, what’s to be done?
Awareness and training needed
For Murray, a primary factor behind many of the improper installations is a lack of public education. Many people are simply unaware of the official requirements needed to put up an EV charger at their houses, which can lead to them being installed incorrectly.
Few members of the public have been told that the electricians must be licensed electrical contractors to install an EV charger and it’s essential to check this specialization before letting anyone tinker with your home panel. (Even DIYers hoping to save a few bucks doing a charger installation themselves still need to take out a permit and get a post-installation inspection, says Murray.)
Pilato echoes Murray’s belief that “education is a key component” at the public level, but adds that there is also a need for more education in the workforce for electricians who have limited experience and skills doing these types of EV charger installations.
To help upskill electricians in EV chargers installations, the National Electrical Trade Council (NETCO), a pan-Canadian voice for electrical contractors and unions, offers a specialized Canadian Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (Can-EVITP), which provides training and certification for electricians installing electric vehicle supply equipment.
“People are really adapting to the idea [of EVs] and they’re liking it. But we just want to make sure that everybody is properly trained,” says Chris Swick, executive director of NETCO in an interview with Electric Autonomy.
The three-day online program ends with an exam based on the Canadian electrical code.
Swick adds that the program is offered in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia and, soon, New Brunswick. Last year, through Ontario’s skills and development fund, NETCO was able to train over 400 electricians in the Can-EVITP.
“This program gives [installers] a better awareness. There are certain things you need to be looking out for just to make sure that you actually do the installation properly. It’s just an extra upgrade training and you almost become like a specialist in the field.”
Motivating behaviour with incentives
On the public side, a more varied approach is required.
BC Hydro requires a certificate of successful inspection for an EV charger installation done by anyone that is not a licensed electrician at the start of the rebate application process. If the charger was installed by a licensed electrician, they require to see the electrical permit number.
“There’s something to look at in terms of how are we going to get people to have the behaviour that we’d like them to have. Is it with a carrot or a stick? What’s going to be the game plan?” says Marmer.
Apart from the government role, Marmer also sees an opportunity for insurance companies to motivate behaviour.
“If this is becoming a ubiquitous [problem], insurance companies could give a discount when people install the charger and insist on the ESA certificate as part of [granting] the discount,” says Marmer.
NETCO’s Swick agrees: “I think it needs to get to a point where the insurance company is actually asking for proof of permit because if you have something that’s installed incorrectly, it can cause potential hazards.”
Swick also adds that auto manufacturers can help move the needle toward safer installations too.
“They might actually put something in there saying you have to have the proper installation and EV charging station in order to warranty the battery,” says Swick. “If you don’t properly charge things or have the proper sizing you could do damage to the batteries, so they would want to make sure that proper installations will be done.”
Installations getting more complex
According to Marmer, installing an EV charger in a single-family home is usually not particularly difficult (it can be a different story in multi-unit residential buildings, though).
However, as EV technology progresses, more complicated installations will emerge that will call for skilled electricians to ensure the proper installation steps are followed — as well as a suite of initiatives to entice or compel drivers to ensure they have the proper infrastructure securely installed.
“The [Ford] F-150 Lightning is one of the cars that will start to have vehicle-to-home or vehicle-to-grid technology and this will be a more complex installation,” says Marmer as an example.
“It is not going to be a matter of simply hooking up the charger power over this way or that way. It will need a transfer switch, you’ll need a secondary battery — there’s quite a bit more to it.”