Industry leaders taking part in the latest Electric Autonomy Canada charging panel discussed charger deployment, design and funding strategies to make the move to EVs more inclusive
For Canada’s transition to EVs to be successful, it will require the movement to be inclusive and accessible — particularly when it comes to equity and EV chargers.
Whether a person lives in a rural, remote or urban community; drives a luxury or mainstream car; is able-bodied or has limited mobility, the process of democratizing the electric vehicle charging experience requires thoughtful planning around the different needs of all drivers.
In the fourth webinar in a five-part series on EV charging hosted by Electric Autonomy Canada, panelists from the City of Vancouver, General Motors, Natural Resources Canada and webinar sponsors, FLO, discussed the different ways the federal government, municipalities, charging operators and OEMs can support democratic, fair and consistent access to EV charging.
A replay of the full panel discussion is available in the link above and you can read a summary of the event below.
Public opinion on EVs and charging
Natural Resources Canada conducts public opinion polls and surveys every year to gauge perceptions around topics such as EVs, charging and accessibility.
Chris Frye, senior policy advisor at Natural Resources Canada, gave exclusive insight into some of the key findings from the most recent poll results, ahead of their public release. Some of the broader impressions help put the opinions on charging into context.
“Only 17 per cent [of respondents] agree there’s an affordable EV that meets their lifestyle needs. So that’s a very vast majority saying, ‘we don’t even see that there’s something here that I can afford to do what I want to do,'” says Frye.
The polls from 2022 also found that only 40 per cent of people have ridden in a zero-emission vehicle, up seven points since 2021. Twenty-five per cent says there is no electric version of a vehicle that meets their lifestyle; 57 per cent of people responded that they would be less likely to buy an EV if it has a 12-month or longer waitlist time; and 55 per cent say there are too few publicly available charging stations near them.
The fact that a little over half of the poll takers say there are not enough public EV chargers is “not a good number” and “the kind of thing that we really need to work on,” says Frye.
In order to make better investments in increasing awareness and education of EV chargers, Frye says NRCan is taking learnings from a recent 2022 study from the University of California, Davis about the relationship between public charging station location density and participants reporting that they see the charging locations.
The study finds that people are more likely to notice the availability of chargers in their neighbourhoods when they already have an interest in electric vehicles, as opposed to chargers helping people become interested in EVs.
“We find this interesting because we’re trying to learn all the time what perception versus reality is for folks,” says Frye.
Strategies to boost charging accessibility
The City of Vancouver (one of the leading jurisdictions in EV adoption in Canada) has passed various regulations to help ensure that EV drivers have access to consistent public charging.
Margarita Pacis, a policy analyst with the city, says Vancouver has taken key steps like ensuring DC fast chargers are located at 10-minute driving intervals around the metropolitan area.
“This program really fills gaps, it helps with consistency and we did focus on [installing DC fast chargers in] underserved neighbourhoods, high-density areas and areas with high proportions of renters. We tried to make it as human-centred as possible,” says Pacis.
For rentals, multi-residential buildings and stratas, all new builds must be 100 per cent EV-ready, while non-residential buildings need to be at least 45 per cent EV-ready, with access to accessible stalls. A rental retrofit program has been implemented to help rental building owners install charging.
Vancouver also has a cord-cover license program that allows people to run charging cords across sidewalks (under cord covers) to charge cars parked on the street.
“What’s happening in Vancouver is a great blueprint for other urban areas,” says David Paterson, vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs at General Motors.
He adds that the rest of Canada can learn a lot from Vancouver’s progress in the EV space, to help move along the country’s transition to EVs in every jurisdiction.
“The bottom line is that we won’t get people into electric vehicles unless we’re EV ready and EV readiness means all three of those levels of charging — at home, in our cities, but also on our highways for road trips.”
In an effort to do its part to help facilitate more access to EV charging, GM offers its Chevrolet and Cadillac EV customers a program to help pay for the installation of at-home chargers. The automaker is also putting up more than 400 Level 2 chargers at its dealerships across Canada.
In the U.S., the OEM is building out a DC fast charging network on highways, which it hopes to expand into the Canadian highway system in the future, too.
“We’re trying to make a difference in all those areas but it’s going to take a village,” says Paterson. GM is targeting to be fully battery-electric in its light-duty fleet by 2035.
Mandates for EV charger accessibility
While Vancouver is advanced in access to public EV charging, there is no guidance or mandate around accessibility nor are there any accessible chargers for drivers with mobility issues in the city right now.
“In terms of physical accessibility, we’re working on design guidelines for accessible charging,” says Pacis. “Charging could be a challenge for [people with disabilities] and as we increase that shift to EVs, we will need to make sure that people with disabilities aren’t left behind.”
Proper guidelines from government related to EV charging accessibility would help to address the concerns of those with limited mobility might have when it comes to charging an EV. It can also consequently help boost EV adoption if those concerns are adequately met.
“In the USA, they have much more developed accessibility standards through the Americans with Disabilities Act than we have in Canada,” explains Elizabeth France, senior legal and public affairs director at FLO EV Charging. “We are starting to see lots of guidelines of how we can do better and how we can make stations more accessible. We’re really supportive of these requirements.”
France affirms that FLO will be designing charging stations to meet the needs of persons with disabilities by taking into account factors such as station height, connector weight and location.
“It’s not just about getting charging stations in the ground anymore; it’s making sure that they meet the needs of all drivers, including making the stations more accessible,” says France.
Roles for government support
In addition to designing chargers with accessibility in mind, FLO is working on ensuring charging stations are located in diverse areas, including in remote locations where utilization rates may be low or less economical.
In the latter areas, France says it’s up to government to provide financial support to ensure it meets its policy goals of widespread EV adoption.
“In areas where the business case [for chargers] remains challenging, [it requires] a supportive government to help bring those areas that are just less populated along in the transition and making those residents feel like they have the confidence to drive an EV,” says France.
Once source for such funding is the federal $680-million Zero-Emission Vehicles Infrastructure Program initiative, which is designed to make sure remote and rural areas as well as multi-residential buildings can gain opportunities to put up charging infrastructure.
Earlier this year, for large-scale charging infrastructure projects, the Canadian Infrastructure Bank launched a $500-million zero-emission vehicle Charging and Hydrogen Refuelling Infrastructure Initiative to fund projects worth $10 million or more in September.
“Last year, there was also a call for third-party delivery agents to make sure that smaller project types could also access funds, which is really important for getting equitable access to charging,” says Frye.
“Not everything’s is going to be a giant mega project about a lot of chargers.”
The government is also concerned about establishing fair and equitable billing of electricity, says Frye.
Charging is usually billed on the bases of time or session. However, Measurement Canada — the federal body responsible for setting billing standards — released temporary dispensation for Level 1 and Level 2 chargers, meaning they can now be billed by the energy consumed instead.
Why this is important, explains France, is because older EV models take longer to charge using the same amount of energy as newer, higher-end models.
“When drivers are allowed to be billed on the basis of kilowatt-hours (kWh), vehicles that draw the same amount of power end up paying the same to charge their vehicles, which is perceived by many drivers as a fairer way or a more equitable way of billing,” says France.
Moving forward, some stations will switch to kWh, but others are likely to stay with time-based charging payments in order to “encourage people to efficiently turnover from their charging station when they’re done using it,” says France.
Consultations and discussions for DC fast chargers moving into temporary kWh dispensation are currently underway by Measurement Canada until Dec. 9, adds Frye.