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Just how many EV chargers are there in Canada — and how many will we need?

Just how many EV chargers are there in Canada — and how many will we need?

Just how many EV chargers are there in Canada — and how many will we need?

Planning on getting an electric vehicle soon? If you live in Ontario, taking a longer road trip through the province got a lot easier this month.

EV owners travelling on major highways will soon be able to charge their vehicles at an additional 69 charge ports planned for Ontario’s ONroute network. The fast-chargers, installed by The Ivy Charging Network, jointly run by Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation, will be available at 20 stations by the end of 2022, and an additional three by the following year.

“Our new Ivy ONroute locations will end range anxiety for EV drivers travelling on Ontario’s busiest routes with a trusted and reliable charging network that will get them where they need to go,” stated Matt Vines, Ivy Charging Network co-president, in a press release.

More public chargers will definitely make it easier for EV owners to get around, and perhaps entice more EV-curious drivers to give some serious thought to going electric. But just how extensive is Canada’s public charging infrastructure?

The good news is that it’s been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years. As of December 7th, there were around 15,000 public charging stations Canada-wide, scattered across 6,578 locations with at least one charger available. The number of locations is up eight per cent from February of this year.

Province by province, Quebec has the single largest number of public charging locations, at 2,988 or 45 per cent of the total. Next is Ontario at 1,722 (26 per cent), and B.C. at 1,168 (17 per cent). Each of the other provinces has considerably fewer, from 250 in Alberta down to a mere 44 in Newfoundland.

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However, a completely lopsided picture emerges when you consider how many public charge stations there are per person in each province.

In that regard, Prince Edward Island leads the pack, with one public station per 2,934 people, narrowly edging out Quebec at one per 2,879, and considerably more common than third-place B.C., with one station per 4,464.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, comes in at one charging station per 8,610 people, meaning there are more people per charging station than the national average, which sits at around one per 5,794.

The Prairie provinces are laggards in this realm, occupying the bottom three spots. Manitoba comes in dead last, with one station per 26,610 people — five times more than the national average. In real terms, the province’s 52 stations are fewer than tiny Prince Edward Island’s 56, and not too much ahead of Newfoundland’s total of 44 stations.

HOW MANY PUBLIC CHARGERS DO WE NEED? THAT MAY BE THE WRONG QUESTION

Prof. Olivier Trescases, the Director of the University of Toronto’s Electric Vehicle Research Centre, told The Weather Network that Canada lags behind Europe in terms of public EV charging infrastructure. He described the issue as something of a ‘chicken and the egg’ problem: the private sector is reluctant to deploy fast charger stations before demand reaches a certain level, while on the demand side, many consumers delay their jump to the EV realm over concerns of lack of charging stations.

Trescases noted that more investment in fast-charging infrastructure is needed along with grid upgrades. But consumer hesitancy, he said, is much more related to the sheer cost of EVs, and the lack of options to choose from.

“The EV naysayers have gone gradually more quiet when it comes to Tesla and their extreme performance, but these are not budget-friendly mass-market vehicles by any stretch,” Trescases said. “If you look at the typical vehicle that many Canadians are gravitating towards today — a hatchback/crossover with room for four, decent cargo space … maybe even some towing capacity, enough range for the occasional road trip — your EV options are extremely limited below, say, $45,000. By ‘limited’, I mean there are maybe 1-2 options today, that’s it.”

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Trescases did, however, predict that the number of available options was on the verge of ‘exploding’ — and when it comes to mass charging, focussing on the number of public chargers may be less important than public buy-in on slow home charging options.

“A nice thought exercise is to imagine that your conventional car’s gas tank was cut in half (or in three in the winter), but you had a small gas pump at your house so that you could comfortably re-fill every night, without a mask, without standing in the cold, without even pulling out your credit card — and gasoline at home would be, say, a third to half of the cost of what you’re used to paying now,” he suggested. “Under that scenario, most people would realize that the needed density of EV stations is nowhere near what we’re used to for gasoline — and of course transporting electricity is far easier than gasoline.”

As such, Trescases said the number of public chargers that would be needed in an electric future would likely be fewer than most people imagine, provided they are used intelligently. In fact, he himself would not advise anyone to buy an EV today without easy access to overnight charging.

Other measures to entice more people to EV ownership, Trescases said, could include subsidies, which he said are effective in the short-term, as well as EV-friendly policies similar to what Norway enacted, such as eliminating taxes and registration fees, reduced insurance, free parking, and others — something critics have said are very expensive, paid for by oil revenues, and not suitable for other countries.

“The harder but necessary road towards mass EV adoption is core technology improvements that either drive down the cost of vehicles and/or charging infrastructure or add value to EV ecosystem to displace the status quo,” Trescases said, adding U of T’s EV Research Centre is working on many such approaches, in collaboration with automakers and their suppliers.

He added: “Lastly, we desperately need more sophisticated business models that leverage the many advantages of EVs, like reduced maintenance costs … reduced operating costs (electricity is much cheaper than gasoline) and, of course, reduced societal cost to bring down the sticker price of EVs.”

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