Driving the Future

A recent survey by J.D. Power found that 66 percent of Canadians in 2023 said they were unlikely to consider buying an electric vehicle for their next car purchase – up from 53 percent the previous year. Why the dip in enthusiasm, particularly as sales in the US and other jurisdictions are trending steadily upward?

by Kirk Mathiesen 

Stumbling blocks

According to BNN Bloomberg, “For Canadians, “range anxiety” – or fears about driving distance per charge – was the most-cited worry about buying an electric vehicle. The high upfront purchase price of the vehicles came in at second place, and availability of charging stations came third.”

Addressing these concerns has been a challenge for both automakers and governments. The federal government currently offers incentives of up to $5000 to help offset the cost of purchasing an EV; and the number of charging stations across the country has gone from 7,605 in 2018 to over 26,000 as of March 2023. Perhaps more importantly, most EVs can now travel more than 300 km on a single charge, with some models exceeding 500 km.

Given these positive numbers, why is the Canadian market for EVs still relatively lukewarm?

For one thing, even the most generous government rebates don’t significantly bridge the gap between the price of a new EV versus a regular car. For example, a Hyundai Kona costs US$22,595 while the electric version comes in at $35,295. This means that a new EV is still out of reach for many Canadians, particularly in a post-Covid economy.

A highly charged environment

Number and availability of charging stations are another issue. This is a case where perception has not caught up to reality.

We’ve been pumping fuel into our vehicles for so long that it’s become almost a ritual. From daily commutes to Sunday drives to road trips into the great unknown, traditional gas stations are there on every phase of the journey. The association has become so ingrained that many find it difficult to picture themselves doing anything else, even as charging stations are quickly becoming as ubiquitous as their fossil-fuel counterparts.

Switching to electric may entail a different approach to energy consumption, but it does not require changes to our lifestyles or travel plans. EVs can be charged overnight at home, which can save refuelling stops altogether, especially for shorter trips or daily commutes. And many gas stations are now introducing charging facilities on site for EV and hybrid customers.

Power plays

Another concern – albeit a longer-term one – is that as EVs become more widespread in the coming decade, the increased hydro consumption will put an undue strain on the power grid. Could this be a problem down the road?

This is a more complex question than it may seem at first glance, because there are lots of factors involved.

First, most EV owners charge their vehicles at home overnight, during off peak hours. This reduces demand on the grid and, in many areas, saves consumers money as well. In addition, overnight charging is often a top-off rather than a full charge, which means even less energy is being consumed.

It’s estimated that by 2040, Canada will need around 16% more electricity to power our electric vehicles. This includes all the larger vehicles projected to be on the roads by then, such as buses and commercial freight trucks. How will this demand be met?

For one thing, renewable energy is catching up to EV technology. As solar, wind and other “clean” energy sources become more widespread and convenient – and less expensive – much of our energy use will shift away from fossil fuels, so there will be less demand on the power grid overall.

Batteries included

The most important factor by far, however, is battery technology. Recent advances in energy storage allow vehicles to go more than 500 km on a single charge, which means less charging time and reduced energy draw.

According to Greencars.com, “New technology such as solid-state batteries are just a few years away from being used in EVs and will change the way people think about electric cars.”

Another feature available with these more advanced batteries is bi-directional charging. This means that a charged battery can actually offload power back into the grid or the household for future use. This could be useful in situations where an EV is sitting with a full charge that is not needed in the immediate future – for instance, when no long trips are planned. In other words, the surplus charge from a powerful EV battery not only powers the car but can be stored in reserve to run household appliances as well!

Conclusion

With new federal regulations requiring that by 2030 at least 60% of new vehicles sold in Canada must be zero emission, the era of electric transportation is quickly arriving. With the convergence of EVs and the rise of clean energy technologies plus growing awareness of the need to reduce our impact on the environment, the future looks bright indeed.

In the words of Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, “Zero-emission vehicles are where the rubber hits the road for cost-conscious Canadians who want to help the environment while getting off the roller-coaster of high gasoline prices…with ZEVs, we can cut pollution, create jobs and make life more affordable for families across the country.”

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