All about EVs: Making the transition to electric vehicles

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Scott Boyd

October 15, 2019

Travel and lifestyle

The government of Canada has committed to reducing total Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 40% below 2005 levels. The timeline to accomplish this is 2030, which may seem like it’s a long way off, but it’s barely a decade away! By 2050, the goal is even more aggressive, with long-term emissions to be reduced by 80% of our 2005 levels.

One of the areas that the government is counting on to help make these demanding targets is the transportation sector. Private and commercial vehicles currently account for 24% of Canada’s GHG emissions with half of the total emissions attributable to light-duty vehicles.

That’s why the government has targeted privately-owned cars as an important means of contributing to overall reductions. There are currently several programs available federally, as well as in some provinces, that provide rebates to help Canadian make the switch from internal combustion vehicles to Zero-Emission Vehicles, or ZEVs as they're commonly known.

Government incentives

While purchase costs have declined in recent years, ZEVs can still cost several thousand dollars more than comparable models with standard gasoline engines. Along with limited choices and a general lack of knowledge about ZEVs, prices are seen as the major hurdle to preventing a greater adoption of ZEVs.

To help close the price gap, the federal government recently rolled out a new program that provides rebates of up to $5,000 for qualifying ZEV purchases, and early results have been positive. For the first half of 2019, ZEV sales increased by 30% over the same time last year, with 3% of all new car sales in Canada now being ZEVs. For more information on vehicles that qualify for a rebate, please see the Government of Canada website.

Even so, this is still far off the objectives put forward by the government, calling for 10% of all new light-duty vehicles to be ZEVs by 2025. The number jumps to 20% by 2030, and 100% by 2040. For now, these sales targets are voluntary. But as noted in a government report provided by the Advisory Council on Climate Action, the federal government should “be prepared to implement mandatory sales targets if voluntary measures do not sufficiently address supply issues".

Types of Zero-Emission Vehicles

A Zero-Emission Vehicle is defined as any vehicle that can operate without producing tailpipe emissions. While a ZEV may also have a conventional combustion engine as a backup for the batteries, or to run a generator to recharge batteries, to be a true ZEV the vehicle must be able to function without using the gasoline engine.

In Canada, there are four types of Zero Emission Vehicles now available for purchase:

1. Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) – A BEV runs entirely on rechargeable batteries and does not have an internal combustion engine. Batteries are used to store electricity, which then power one or more electric engines.

2. Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) – A PHEV employs an electric motor powered by batteries that can be recharged simply by plugging into the power grid. In addition to the electric motor, PHEVs also have a gasoline engine that can take over once the batteries have been discharged.

3. Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) – Like PHEVs, HEVs have both electric and gasoline engines. However, HEVs differ from PHEVs in that you do not plug-in HEVs to recharge the batteries. Instead, HEVs use regenerative braking to recharge their batteries.

Regenerative braking is the energy that results when applying your brakes. This energy is then used to recharge the onboard batteries. However, this is not as effective in keeping batteries charged as a plug-in system, so HEVs typically require the use of the gasoline engine more often than PHEVs.

4. Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) – FCEVs make use of a fuel cell containing hydrogen and oxygen. When these two elements are combined, the resulting reaction creates electricity that can drive electric motors. This is a very efficient process with water being the only emission, but a lack of hydrogen refuelling stations is the main issue preventing FCEVs from becoming a more popular alternative.

Charging considerations

If you're considering either a Battery Electric Vehicle or a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle, you need to know about your charging options. As discussed, both BEVs and PHEVs simply plug-in to the standard electrical grid to recharge the battery. However, there are various types of charging systems available, and it is the type of charging system that actually dictates how quickly you can recharge your ZEV.

Level 1 charging stations

A Level 1 charging station uses a standard 120-volt household outlet which makes it the least costly outlet to install. However, Level 1 chargers are also the slowest means of recharging, and depending on your vehicle, you can expect to get only 6 to 8 kilometres per hour of charging.

If your commute is short enough that charging overnight is sufficient to bring your battery back to a full charge, a Level 1 charger may be all that you require. However, if you need a more efficient charging system, you’ll need to consider a Level 2 charger.

Level 2 charging stations

A Level 2 charger requires a 240-volt circuit similar to a stove or a clothes dryer, so this can be installed in most homes. It’s greater charging capacity means that you can get about 40 kilometres of range for each hour of charging time.

Depending on the difficulty of the installation and the equipment you choose, you can expect to spend anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 to install a Level 2 charger. To help offset this initial cost, the government introduced a new rebate in the 2019 federal budget to provide homeowners up to 50% of the cost to install a charging station.

Level 3 charging stations

Level 3 chargers are a relatively new technology that uses very high voltage to recharge your battery. They are designed more for commercial use and are prohibitively expensive for most home users, but they are an important part of the growing charging infrastructure. These charges are capable of adding nearly 160 kilometres for each half-hour of charging, which makes them suitable for quick “top-ups” on the road.