EV charging by Canadian drivers surges in post-lockdown rebound
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EV Charging
Aug 7, 2020
Luke Sarabia

After a widespread dip in public-charging activity due to COVID-19, Canadian network operators say usage is now returning to pre-pandemic levels

After a widespread dip in public-charging activity due to COVID-19, Canadian network operators say usage is now returning to pre-pandemic levels

Newly released data suggest that electric vehicle drivers in Canada are returning to their cars and to the roads. As much of the country embraces the new normal of life post-lockdown, activity at public EV charging networks has risen — in some cases, nearly back to pre-COVID volumes.  

In British Columbia, BC Hydro reports that the month of June saw nearly 20,000 charging sessions across its 70-station fast-charging network. That figure is just short of the over 21,000 sessions logged in February, prior to the economic shutdown made necessary by COVID-19.

Stay-at-home orders in mid-March caused a drop of 20 percent in the number of public charges on the network that month, and 30 per cent in April. June’s numbers also represent a 50 per cent rise from the point of lowest use in April.

As the majority of BC Hydro’s stations are located within 300 metres of a major road or highway, these numbers could potentially suggest that long-distance commutes have begun to resume for many as workplaces continue to reopen.

Fewer users, longer sessions

FLO also reports that the total number of charging sessions on its cross-country network has begun to bounce back following a major decline.

“The FLO network saw a significant drop in Canadian usage when the federal and provincial governments instituted restrictions and guidance to limit the spread of COVID-19,” says Daniel Nguyen, FLO’s senior director of marketing. “Our data showed an early drop of 48 per cent, which suggests that people were, indeed, following government restrictions and advice.”

Interestingly, the company says the average length of charging session increased during the pandemic, likely due to lessened demand.

Nguyen notes the network is now seeing “an uptick in the number of charging sessions across the country, with network usage in July down just 15 per cent from a similar timeframe last year.”

FLO also reports that the number of charging sessions increased by 75 per cent between April and July of this year. However, July still saw about 34 per cent fewer sessions than did February, the last month uninterrupted by lockdowns.

Momentum remains strong

Chargepoint, a company with a large network of public chargers throughout Canada, reported a similar experience. According to Suzanne Goldberg, director of public policy, despite “some softening” in workplace and retail charging activity, “we continued to see interest in fleets, increased interest in multi-family charging, the continued deployment of highway charging.”

Goldberg is also confident that any interruption that COVID shutdowns pose to the growth of EVs in Canada will only be temporary.

“As people return to roadways to commute to work, take summer road trips and run errands around town, we have no doubt that we will see an increasing number of people in EVs doing all three of those things this year,” she says.

Electric Autonomy also contacted Hydro Québec, which operates the extensive Electric Circuit regional EV charging network. It says it will be posting new usage data on its website next week and we will update our story when it is available. [Editor’s note: We have since published a separate story on its data update, which mirrors the same trend.]

Overall rebound in U.S.

Other research seems to indicate that, in the U.S. at least, driving habits overall are returning to normal. The Trip Reduction Index, created by StreetLight Data and Boston Consulting Group, measures vehicle miles traveled on U.S. roads during the COVID pandemic. It recently reported that the country’s urban counties have reached 90 per cent of the level of pre-COVID driving, whereas rural counties have fully recovered.

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