The key to more even EV ownership between urban and rural areas? Charging infrastructure
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EV Charging
Nov 28, 2019
Stephanie Wallcraft

Fast-charger rollouts, first in Quebec and now Western Canada, address rural inequities and show the benefits of collaboration between community groups, area businesses and local governments

Peaks to Prairies Network Map. Image: ACTO

Fast-charger rollouts, first in Quebec and now Western Canada, address rural inequities and show the benefits of collaboration between community groups, area businesses and local governments 

Regions in Canada that invest in EV charging infrastructure in advance of existing demand — thereby democratizing the charging network and increasing consumer confidence — have the potential to see faster gains in EV adoption by those who live outside of urban areas.

The reason? An evolving charging network is a key factor in attracting new owners to electric vehicles who may not yet be aware of their own charging needs and trends, says Travis Allan, vice-president of public affairs and general counsel for charging infrastructure provider Flo.

Living laboratory

“Quebec in some ways is almost a living laboratory for this issue,” Allan says.

“Hydro-Québec has, for a number of years, invested significant amounts of work and effort and money into building a comprehensive and reliable network of fast charging stations in the province, including in areas where they don’t necessarily expect that those charging stations would be getting high adoption on their own.”

The result: a more even distribution of EV ownership between urban and rural areas in Quebec relative to other parts of North America.

“We think that one of the main reasons for that is because of the investments that were made in terms of building a reliable, convenient charging infrastructure across the province and not just in the big cities,” Allan says. “Quebecers really felt like they had the network in place so that they could adopt and go wherever they wanted to live, work and play or explore.”

Alberta and B.C. follow suit

In Western Canada, community groups, area businesses and local and regional governments are seeking similar results with the 2019 completion of the Peaks to Prairies network initiative in Southern Alberta and the Accelerate Kootenays charging project on the B.C. side of the same corridor.

Together, the networks consist of 32 high-speed charging stations (19 in Alberta, 13 in B.C.) and additional Level 2 chargers. They serve areas of each province that are heavily travelled yet have relatively small populations and were underserved by pre-existing charging networks.

Peaks To Prairies EV Charging Network logo

Peaks to Prairies started with seed funding from five municipal partners and was rolled out this year with grants from the province and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Calgary-based Atco was chosen in an RFP process to be the long-term equipment owner/operator and Flo the network operator.

accelerate Kootenays EV charging network logo

Accelerate Kootenays, a three-year project started in 2016, was spearheaded by local governments and the B.C. Community Energy Association, with project financing from six partners: Columbia Basin Trust, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the province, Teck Resources, FortisBC and BC Hydro.

Motivating consumers

Allan predicts that having this infrastructure will be a key factor in motivating consumers there to make the switch to electric vehicles as more trucks come into the market.

“If you look at surveys of potential EV adopters, one of the major challenges that you will hear is that people are concerned about their ability to charge their electric vehicles, particularly on longer trips,” he says. “[These networks] are going to help make people feel more comfortable adopting an EV and driving between Alberta and British Columbia.”

Jen Grebeldinger, communications lead for the B.C. Community Energy Association, says that the Accelerate Kootenays project demonstrates how municipal governments can take the initiative to develop EV infrastructure in their communities.

Travel without limits

“The Kootenays is 150,000 square kilometres of land, lots of mountains, very cold,” Grebeldinger says. “When the initial deployment of fast chargers in British Columbia went out, it basically stopped at our borders. The regional government said this market is growing fast, and we want to make sure our communities can benefit from the economic opportunity. Tourism is huge in our area, [and they wanted] to make sure anyone driving an electric vehicle can get here and charge.

“So, they collaborated and contributed seed funding to [initiate] a really big project [to] bridge that gap for us between Vancouver and Calgary. That allowed people to travel without limits, enabling people to travel where they want to go as opposed to where they must.”

“Small communities can get the benefit of tourism, and are not burdened with owning, maintaining equipment.”

Jen Grebeldinger, Communications Lead, Community Energy Association

Grebeldinger says one of the key factors in successfully establishing charging networks in rural communities is ensuring that the onus is not on those communities to become experts in the technology.

“If we’re talking about a community like Salmo, which is 3,000 people, that municipal staff does not have the capacity to address any problems at the station or maintain it,” she says. “In Accelerate Kootenays and Peaks to Prairies … [electrical companies] lease the land that the charger is on and then they own and operate the equipment. So, they facilitate all the network connectivity, they install it, they manage any problems with it. The small communities can get the benefit of the tourism, and they are not burdened with owning and maintaining and fixing this equipment.”

Long-term EV adoption

While the immediate benefit of this infrastructure is travel and tourism, Grebeldinger notes that the longer-term benefit is the same in the west as it is in the east: consumer confidence in EVs and, ultimately, adoption.

“If someone from Calgary is looking at Southern Alberta and they don’t see a full network, they’re less likely to buy an electric car because they can’t even get to Claresholm yet, even though they might never go there,” she says. “The strength of the network is in even the smallest, least use stations because it still contributes to reduced range anxiety for new and existing EV drivers.”

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