Will Canada follow U.S. lead with new federal performance and reliability standards for EV chargers?
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Mar 15, 2023
Brian Banks

In response to queries from Electric Autonomy, Natural Resources minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s office reveals an openness — but no commitments — to altering the status quo

The focus shifts to Canada now that the U.S. has introduced new performance standards for EV chargers that operators must meet to qualify for federal funding.

In response to queries from Electric Autonomy, Natural Resources minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s office reveals an openness — but no commitments — to altering the status quo

Last month, the Biden Administration in the U.S. set a high bar for EV charging network operators and site managers when it unveiled a new set of performance and reliability standards for EV chargers they need to meet to qualify for federal funding for new electric vehicle charger installations.

Many of those chargers will get funding through two new programs: the US$5-billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program (NEVI) or the US$2.5-billion Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) Discretionary Grant Program, which opened for applications this week.

The new standards — which include requirements for 97 per cent uptime reliability as well as introduction of a single method of identification that works across all chargers — “will direct federal dollars to build out a national EV charging network that is user-friendly, reliable, and accessible so that charging is as easy as filling up at a gas station,” said the White House statement.

User frustration

According to the White House, more chargers and “a seamless experience” for customers are critical if the U.S. is to meet its goal to have EVs make up 50 per cent of new vehicle sales by 2030. It also stressed that the current charging experience is anything but seamless, citing user frustration with chargers that are “too slow, too crowded, or that just don’t work.”

Canada has an even more ambitious target of 60 per cent ZEV sales by 2030. It’s also investing heavily in EV chargers: to date, enough federal funding has been awarded to support installation of 35,000 chargers (existing and planned), while additional funds allocated in Budget 2022 will support deployment of another 50,000 by 2027.

Yet, by most official and unofficial accounts, Canada’s current EV charging network is plagued by the same poor reliability and usability drawbacks as that in the U.S.

Given this, should network operators and EV drivers expect Canada to adopt similar measures here?

Jonathan Wilkinson headshot
Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Natural Resources Photo: Jonathan Wilkinson/LinkedIn

Electric Autonomy requested an interview with federal Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson to ask his thoughts on the new U.S. federal standards and the issues they address. NRCan oversees the government’s Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program (ZEVIP) and Electric Vehicle Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Deployment Initiative (EVAFIDI). They are the country’s two primary sources of funding for public chargers. Other federal funding sources include the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s (CIB) Charging and Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure Initiative.

Wilkinson declined our request, but his press secretary, Keean Nembhard, provided answers to written questions.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Canada’s reaction to U.S. move

Electric Autonomy: What is the government’s reaction to the new Biden policy standards for EV chargers as a suite of tools to promote EV adoption?

Keean Nembhard: We’re happy to see the U.S. government agrees with us on the importance of supporting charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and we are pleased to see their announcement.

Canada has been making significant investments in the past years to ramp up access to charging infrastructure across the country and now has over 20,000 publicly available chargers on its roads, with more to come.

(Editor’s Note: For a detailed breakdown of this 20,000-charger total and an analysis of the overall deployment of public charging in Canada by network provider as of March 1, 2023, see Electric Autonomy’s 2023 EV charging networks report.)

Exploring standards for EV charging?

Electric Autonomy: Will the government consider developing a pan-EV charging standards policy like the one just released by the Biden Administration in order to ensure a continually improving EV charger experience?

Keean Nembhard: In Canada, the responsibility for developing codes, standards, and regulations for electric vehicles within the Government of Canada falls to a number of departments, and it is important to note that some also fall within provincial/ territorial jurisdiction such as the certification of EV chargers.

Electric Autonomy: What current standards are required of site hosts/EV charging network providers to qualify for NRCan funding through ZEVIP and other federal programs?

Keean Nembhard: To access ZEVIP funding, proponents must meet a list of mandatory criteria and merit criteria [as spelled out in the Applicant Guide]. These ensure drivers can have access to reliable and accessible chargers. Amongst the long list of other criteria to receive federal funds under ZEVIP programming, project proponents must:

  • demonstrate that certified chargers chosen meet performance standards for Canadian conditions;  
  • ensure the work performed is in compliance with all applicable local codes (for example, building and electrical) and bylaws (for example, zoning and parking);
  • show that they have engaged with utilities on large projects;  
  • ensure that chargers are digitally connected for remote communications; and 
  • submit and describe their business plan for operation and maintenance of chargers.

What is more, under the CIB’s Charging and Hydrogen Refuelling Infrastructure Initiative, borrowers will be required to maintain minimum uptimes for chargers and any shortfalls will result in deemed utilization and therefore impact repayment obligations.

Addressing user concerns

Electric Autonomy: Surveys consistently show that, apart from the number of public EV chargers, the biggest infrastructure concern for EV drivers (and potential EV drivers) is poor charger reliability. Is the government planning to follow the U.S government in mandating minimum 97 per cent uptime in exchange for future funding?

Keean Nembhard: NRCan recognizes the importance of having a fully functional and reliable charging system, and that is why as part of the competitive process for ZEVIP, we select projects that have robust operation and maintenance plans. However, once the project is completed and operational, the ongoing maintenance is the responsibility of the site host, equipment owner or network provider.

NRCan is also assessing the usage and reliability of chargers in Canada via commissioned third-party research. Any published research will be made available via NRCan’s Resource Library web page.

Electric Autonomy: The new U.S. standards also call for a single method of user identification that’s universal across all chargers (i.e., they’ll have to accept major credit cards). Currently, drivers now must cope with different payment methods and registration protocols on different networks. Is this something Canada also plans to enforce?

Keean Nembhard: While the federal government does not regulate the choice of payment methods that Canadian businesses accept, programs constantly evaluate and explore new ways to ensure that ongoing issues and barriers are addressed if they continue to pose a challenge to federal objectives.

Future collaboration?

Electric Autonomy: Would the government consider partnering with U.S. regulators on this front to ensure a level playing field for the charging sector across both countries?

Keean Nembhard: We are in regular contact with our U.S. counterparts in several related agencies to ensure continental alignment where feasible and where important for delivering results for Canadians — this includes discussions on technology standards, payment, etc., as spelled out in the Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership.

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