British Columbia’s need for EV fast-chargers likely to require substantial private investment
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Jul 6, 2021
James Paul

A recent study by the government of British Columbia reveals that, at the current rate, the province will fall short of meeting the infrastructure needs for EV fast-charging stations across the province

Rendering of ABB’s DC fast chargers. Source: ABB

A recent study by the government of British Columbia reveals that, at the current rate, the province will fall short of meeting the infrastructure needs for electric vehicle fast-charging stations across the province

British Columbia will have to address its electric vehicle fast-charging deficit quickly, cautions a new government study. The latest report says that, as of September 2020, the province is already well behind the current demand and with greater electric vehicle uptake expected in the coming years the time to build out a fast charging network is now.

The British Columbia Public Light-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Study, which provided an “Analysis of Direct Current Fast Charging and Hydrogen Fueling Stations to Ensure Geographic Coverage and Adequate Capacity for Light-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicles Across All of B.C. by 2040”, determined that the province’s need for charging will double in the next twenty years. 

The data shows that, if EV sales targets are to be met, BC will need a total of 6,710 fast charging ports from 400 sites by 2040. That’s three-and-a-half times more than the current infrastructure can support.

The report was released on the heels of two charging infrastructure announcements — one from Parkland and the other from BC Hydro. Combined the two projects will add nearly 150 plug in points across the province by the end of this year, but are only steps on the path to meeting the anticipated need.

So how can the government improve current infrastructure, and get the province on track to meet expected demand for electric vehicles?

The problem

British Columbia is currently the leading province in Canada for EV adoption, but there is still plenty of policy and infrastructure framework to be developed in order to meet the province’s climate change goals.

The obstacles cited in the government’s report are not unique to the province, and many of the solutions they proposed have been adopted in Alberta, California and, most recently, Massachusetts

The study concludes, “Modelling results from the EV Infrastructure Planning Assistant Tool show that a total of 194 geographically distinct fast charging sites (with at least two ports at each site) are needed to enable safe, efficient travel in an EV throughout all primary and secondary highways and major roads in the province. As of September 2020, 102 sites are installed, 16 are planned and 76 are outstanding.”

The approach to bolster charging infrastructure should be multi-pronged, says industry stakeholders, and include encouragement for a more competitive market, education and funding.

More inclusive funding opportunities needed

There are incentives for fast charging currently in place, in B.C., that leverage private capital and illustrate best practice in the design of funding programs. Regulations have been implemented to support utility investment in fast charging stations. However, while this will assist in increasing fast charging distribution, it only includes stations that are funded by utility companies and exclude private charging companies.

“How we set the market up for success now and in the future to really create a robust and sustainable market for growth is important towards supporting British Columbia’s climate goals,” says ChargePoint’s Director of Public Policy, Suzanne Goldberg in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.

Suzanne Goldberg ChargePoint
Suzanne Goldberg, Canadian Public Policy Director, ChargePoint

“Right now, we’re working with a good base and progress has been made, but the current demand-based rate structure does not encourage investment from the private sector. Traditional rates are a barrier to fast-charging as they don’t align with the use case.”

Goldberg says one solution could be to institute commercial electricity rates solely constructed for EV charging. This approach mirrors the EV charging use-case rates other jurisdictions such as California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Quebec use. Some of these rates have been introduced by the utility, and others at the direction of the government.

In order to support the infrastructure outlined in the report, a strong and competitive EV charging market that encourages substantial private investment will be required.

With reliable access to fast charging stations being critical, especially for British Columbians taking road trips, a starting point would be “for the BC Government to direct its utilities to introduce commercial rates specific to fast EV charging that would help utilities cover their cost but also encourage investment in EV charging. This will help and support British Columbia meet their climate goals,” says Goldberg.

Education of site hosts a critical element

Before a charger can be installed, premises have to be secured — but not just anywhere will do. Charging infrastructure is only as effective as its level of accessibility. But especially in urban areas there is a scarcity of available square footage.

Enter site hosts: existing business or land owners who allow charging stations on their property. They are essential for access to public charging in cities, but a lack of awareness among property owners could be costing opportunities.

Michael Pelsoci, Regional Sales Director, Pacific North West at FLO
Michael Pelsoci, Regional Sales Director, Western Canada at FLO

“Not all potential site hosts understand the future benefits of participating in the deployment of charging infrastructure, and many aren’t yet aware of the existing financial incentives to deploy,” says Michael Pelsoci, FLO’s regional sales director for Western Canada, in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.

“At FLO, our focus is on getting the program information out to the right people, helping them through the process from application to deployment, and then helping make sure those stations are working reliably for the long term, because that’s how we make sure there is great value for the government investment in these stations.”

Leveraging legislation to meet targets

B.C. has some of the most robust policies around EV adoption and advancing zero emission transportation, but Tom Ashley, VP of policy & market development at Greenlots, says to Electric Autonomy Canada that he believes those tools could be used to greater effect when it comes to meeting charging demands as it would help bring together funding, awareness and a more robust competitive market.

Thomas Ashley Greenlots
Thomas Ashley, VP of Policy & Market Development at Greenlots

“A key action the province can take is to enact the amendments to the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (BC-LCFS) that the government proposed in 2019,” says Ashley. “This would unlock additional private investment in EV charging infrastructure and allow entities other than utilities to generate valuable credits that support EV charging infrastructure deployment. Alongside increased funding for incentives, complementary federal financial support programs, and the involvement, planning, and targeted investments of local communities.”

Availability and accessibility to fast charging infrastructure remain high priorities for companies like Greenlots and extending across the stakeholder spectrum to municipalities and urban planners.

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