As Canada builds out a 'mine to mobility' strategy for the production of electric vehicles and EV components, it also needs to build out infrastructure to support EVs once they're on the road. That means a lot more charging stations—at home and in public spaces—as well as enough clean power to support them.

This will require creative thinking in a country as vast and diverse as Canada. What is required – and will work – in a major urban area isn't necessarily going to fit the realities of many remote rural communities.

If EV charging infrastructure doesn't keep pace with the burgeoning ownership of EVs, it will impart significant costs to our economy and society. We need to get it right – and get it right quickly – given government policy and consumer expectations. While Canada can learn from the lessons of countries further down the EV path, Canada has unique challenges to overcome, such as a vastly dispersed population, extreme weather conditions and high real estate costs in major urban markets.

The challenges and opportunities are not limited to personal vehicles, we need to plan for and build out additional infrastructure for utility vehicles, delivery trucks, public transit and commercial vehicle fleets.

Solutions will come from both private and public sectors.

For the private sector the opportunity is huge as we make one of the biggest economic pivots in history. Existing and disruptive business models in diverse areas such as banking, mobile telephony, ride services, hoteling and cable television can be a guide to the possible.

Time for cities to lead

With nearly half of the country living in the country's six biggest urban centres – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton – the successful transition to EVs will be strongly influenced by the decisions of municipal councils.

Municipalities will be challenged to implement EV charging standards into permitting processes for new commercial and residential developments, rethink transit fleets, invest in the electricity infrastructure and approve design changes to retrofit existing facilities from apartment towers to parking facilities.

But developing and implementing these solutions should not rest on the backs of the municipalities themselves. The private sector – from auto makers to retailers, fast-food outlets, and legacy gas retailers – needs to see this as a significant business opportunity to develop new solutions and new markets.

Charging at home – driveway or parking garage

The consensus is that most Canadians will charge their EVs at home, likely overnight. For Canadians living in one of the country's nearly 8 million single detached homes, doing so will be relatively simple and inexpensive.

For those with short commutes and lengthy overnight parking times, many will be able to plug their vehicles into a standard household outlet. Known as Level 1 chargers, these give batteries about 10 kilometers of driving time for every hour the vehicle is plugged in.

For those with longer commutes and shorter charging times, a Level 2 charger may be required. These chargers require a 240-volt outlet, like an electric dryer or stove, provide 30 to 70 kilometers per hour of charge and require professional installation.

The share of Canadians living in single detached homes has been on a steady decline, dropping from over 57.2 per cent in 1981 to 52.6 per cent according to the latest census data

But the reality is, the share of Canadians living in single detached homes has been on a steady decline, dropping from over 57.2 per cent in 1981 to 52.6 per cent according to the latest census data. For the more that 12 million Canadians living in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBS) and row houses or the many others living in dwellings without a driveway or garage, new and creative solutions will be needed to allow individuals to charge their EVs.

While few high-rise developments are currently equipped for EVs, many provinces have updated condominium regulations for electric vehicle charging systems (EVCS). For example, the Condominium Authority of Ontario in 2018 sets out the approval and installation process if boards decide to install the EVCS or the condo owner requests the EVCS to be installed in their parking space. Due to the cost and complexity of installing the necessary infrastructure, most condo corporations take a hybrid approach, with the corporation overseeing the installation of the infrastructure and the owners assuming responsibility for the cost of their actual EV station and connection.

MURBS first need to assess whether their buildings have the electrical infrastructure to enable residents to install a charger. They must undertake a load evaluation, consider hardware (EVCS, supply panels), labour, wiring, and load management.

A commercial level 2 (240v) charging station generally costs $5,000 to $10,000 to purchase and install and can wirelessly send information and monitor owner usage to management. In some provinces, government rebates and municipal incentives help MURBS make the electrical upgrades needed to be EV ready.

Options for condominiums and apartment towers could include EVCS for all of their parking spots or central charging areas that tenants can use at selected times or days.

In a study commissioned by Natural Resources Canada, various options were identified to help MURBS overcome infrastructure barriers taking into account the building's unique parking and electrical system configurations, electrical capacity, budget, and the board's or strata council's level of involvement in managing the charging infrastructure over time. Already, community charging solutions have emerged that offer flexible pricing and control access (reservations and loitering penalties) to promote sharing among residents and visitors.

But having options to address some of the fundamental barriers is just the start. There is a need and an opportunity for the private sector to propose new business models to service the EVCS needs of MURBS, similar to the early days of cable TV when entrepreneurs came in to provide better TV service to everyone in these buildings.

There are many players who can step into this space including EV supply equipment providers, charging network operators, local electricity distribution utilities, electricity generation companies and system operators, not to mention residential property developers. Even automakers and dealerships may want to explore partnerships with property developers.

Besides setting the framework for EV charging in their communities, municipalities have a direct role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through their own energy usage. Many are opting for electric public fleets with specific charging requirements. In our 2022 Auto Survey, 88 per cent of Canadians agreed that cities and municipalities should invest in more green transport, such as electric buses or garbage trucks.

We are already seeing some Canadian municipalities take meaningful strides in this area. For example, the Toronto Transit Commission has 60 electric buses on the road, far exceeding the 10-15 of most other North American transit authorities. The police service in Windsor, Ont. will also start replacing its fleet with fully electric cars and install charging stations for both public and police use next year.

Charging "on the road"

An analysis done for Natural Resources Canada (NRC) projects Canada will need one public charger for every 20 EVs. By comparison, Europe is aiming to have one charger for every 10. The goal in California is one for every seven.

We estimate by 2025 there will be over 1 million EVs on Canadian roads (assuming production/supply chain issues are resolved), up from roughly 400,000 today. According to the NRC analysis, it means Canada will need roughly 50,000 public chargers three years from now. The NRC predicts that by 2030, the need will grow to between 195,000 and 201,000 public chargers and to between 1.8 million and 5.6 million by 2050.

As of May 24, 2022, Canadian EV drivers had access to 16,442 chargers at 6,952 public charging stations, according to NRC data. Most offer Level 2 chargers but 1,289 stations now offer DC fast charging that, depending on the vehicle's type of charge port, provide 95 to 130 kms of range per 20 minutes of charging.

This means in Canada we will need to triple the number of public charging stations in the next three years and then quadruple that number in the following five years. To date, governments have committed more than $1.4 billion to build out Canada's charging infrastructure: The 2022 Federal Budget included $400 million for public chargers in suburban and remote communities in addition to the $350 million budgeted since 2016 for chargers on public streets, retail and restaurant parking lots, workplaces, and in MURBs. The Canada Infrastructure Bank is also directing $500 million from its existing green fund to charging stations. The private charging supply system is in its infancy, but good examples are beginning to emerge.

Provincial and territorial governments are also making substantial financial commitments to charging infrastructure. For instance, Ontario has earmarked $91 million for EV chargers at highway rest stops, carpool parking lots, parks and hockey arenas. Quebec will invest $33.9 million in 51 electric public transit projects, including the REM to connect east and north-east Montréal with the city's downtown.1 In Nova Scotia, the budget includes $29.2 million for green transit projects under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program and $2 million for EV charging stations.

Estimates suggest that it will take upwards of $10.5 billion to meet the country's public and home-charging needs over the next 20-25 years.2 While government has earmarked key funds to kickstart this needed network expansion, there is a significant business need and opportunity for the private sector.

Canada will need roughly
50,000 public chargers
three years from now
+ billion
It will take upwards of
$10.5 billion to meet the country's public and home-charging needs over the next 20-25 years
Governments have committed more than $1.4 billion to build out Canada's charging infrastructure

But installing public chargers across a country as large and diverse as Canada will require different approaches and funding models. What works in downtown Montréal won't necessarily work in Moose Jaw or somewhere on the TransCanada Highway across northern Ontario.

With three-quarters of Canadians living in large urban centres, and nearly half of all Canadians in our six largest cities, municipal leaders have the opportunity and incentive to lead the mobility revolution. They can attract innovative approaches from the private sector that will improve the environment, reinvigorate aging infrastructure, and generate new economic opportunities.

In the less densely populated parts of the country, federal, provincial and territorial governments will need to continue to offer incentives to electrify communities and the road networks that connect us from coast-to-coast-to-coast. There are numerous models to examine in identifying the right course.

But electric vehicles are just the start of both the mobile and electric revolutions. New and disruptive ways to generate and wirelessly transport electricity are being developed that will reshape our infrastructure. The advances in autonomous driving vehicles will require a massive increase in the exchange of data to ensure there run effectively and safely.

The market opportunity is great and moving quickly. All players, including governments, electric utilities, energy service companies, automakers, retailers, fast-food outlets, property managers and legacy gas retailers will be needed to address this challenge.

Transforming the power grid for changing electricity consumption

More EVs on the road will rev up electricity demand, which is forecast to grow 47 per cent from 2021 to 2050—with half of that increase coming from EVs and the production of hydrogen, according to the Canada Energy Regulator. By 2050, EVs will increase electricity demand by 70 terawatt hours (TWh), though wind and solar generation could provide much of this additional electricity at lower cost.

But coordinating the power system with a growing number of EVs on the road presents a complex challenge, according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). "EVs introduce variable electrical loads that are highly dependent on customer behavior. Electrified transportation involves co-optimization with other energy systems, like natural gas and bulk battery storage," says NREL. These changes will test the limits of grid integration.

But Canada is making advances in these areas. While Canada has one of the cleanest electricity systems in the world, the electricity sector will have to increase generation capacity in pursuit of a low-carbon economy—including solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind to enable the electrification of transportation, industrial processes and buildings, according to Natural Resources Canada.

Natural Resources Canada will be rolling out a smart grid program by 2023 that aims to accurately detect and predict energy supply, demand and price. Up to $100 million is being invested to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve efficiency and foster innovation—such as combining energy sources to optimally satisfy demand, make optimal energy supply determinations and have sufficient 'dark' capacity to ensure backup.

By 2050, EV charging infrastructure could become more commonplace than gas stations, as smart grid technology allows them to be built wherever distributed power arrays are located—likely next to large solar arrays or wind farms.

Eventually, wireless charging through next-gen inductive charging stations or inductive EV highways could make charging safer, faster and automated. Models already exist in public transit.


More EVs on the road will rev up electricity demand, which is forecast to grow 47 per cent from 2021 to 2050

Action required now

The private sector cannot and should not wait for government to take the lead on all things EV. By 2050, the EV charging infrastructure will be widely accessible, also wireless, and certainly more commonplace than gasoline stations today.

But we are not there yet. Canada has more than 27 million gas-powered vehicles on its roads today – with barely more than one per electric. The road ahead will be a long and winding one.

But collaboration, forethought, investment, and innovation will win the day.

1 Québec Infrastructure Plan 2022-2032
2 U.S. study suggests Canada needs to increase investment in EV charging infrastructure, Electric Autonomy Canada, 26 April 2021

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