One-quarter of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to the transportation sector, and as noted on the Transport Canada website, half of these transmissions come from cars and light trucks. If Canada is to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, we must dramatically decrease the number of internal combustion vehicles on the road.
What Kinds of Electric Vehicles Are Available in Canada?
Zero-Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) are defined as vehicles that can operate at least part-time without producing emissions. There are currently three types of ZEVs available in Canada:
1. Battery-Electric Vehicle (BEV)
A battery-electric vehicle relies entirely on batteries to store the electricity used to power one or more electric engines. Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are considered battery-powered electric vehicles as well, but in addition to rechargeable batteries, a PHEV also has a gasoline engine. This engine provides backup power when the batteries fall below a minimum threshold.
2. Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)
Similar to PHEVs, a hybrid electric vehicle has both a battery-powered engine and an internal combustion engine. However, you don’t plug hybrids into the grid. Instead, batteries are recharged through regenerative braking; each time you apply the brakes, the onboard batteries store this energy.
3. Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)
Instead of using a plug-in rechargeable battery, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) employ a fuel cell containing compressed hydrogen. When mixed with oxygen from the outside air, the resulting reaction is used to create electricity to power an electric motor. This reaction produces only water and heat as by-products so in most jurisdictions FCEVs are considered to be zero-emission vehicles.
Despite tremendous advances in technology, sales of ZEV vehicles still only account for a fraction of new car sales each year in Canada. In the third quarter of 2019, ZEV sales were just 3.5% of total sales. For their part, manufacturers are working to make ZEVs more attractive to new car buyers, but there are still several hurdles to overcome to gain wider acceptance.
How Far Can an Electric Vehicle Drive?
Chief among consumer concerns is the much-discussed “range anxiety”. Battery technology has improved dramatically in recent years, but even with these advancements, electric vehicles still lack the range of most vehicles with conventional engines.
A quick review of the electric vehicles listed on the Natural Resources Canada website contains several models that can deliver up to 400 kilometres per charge, but most ZEVs provide considerably less.
However, even just 200 kilometres per charge should be sufficient for most day-to-drive driving, but long road trips will require planning to find charging stations along the way. More charging stations are popping up along major routes, but there are still significant gaps where stations are not available.
How Long Does Recharging an Electric Vehicle Take?
Charging time is also a restraint for some buyers, but with new battery technology advances, the time required to recharge batteries is declining. Charging options also continue to improve with a Level 1 charging station being the easiest – and least costly system – to install in your home.
Level 1 chargers use a standard 120-volt household current, but they are the slowest to recharge. If you use the car primarily for commuting or to run errands around town, you can put your car on the charger overnight and have it fully charged for the morning.
A Level 2 charger can also be installed in most homes as it uses a 240-volt circuit, which is the same as what a stove or clothes dryer uses. It will reduce the time it takes to recharge your electric car, but it will still require several hours to recharge fully.
Level 3 chargers represent the latest advancements and can recharge most cars in less than an hour. However, they are costly and are designed for commercial applications.
How Much Does an Electric Vehicle Cost?
Model choices for ZEVs are still somewhat limited, but manufacturers are now adding models to give buyers more options. The cost to purchase some electric vehicles has also declined, but you can still expect to pay a $15,000 premium over a comparable conventional vehicle.
To help overcome the price differential and entice more drivers into ZEVs, the federal government introduced an incentive program to help narrow the price gap. British Columbia and Quebec also have similar arrangements, and evidence shows that these rebate programs are helping to push new sales.
We can likely expect to see these programs extended as efforts to meet the 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets is now less than a decade away. Enticing more drivers into ZEVs is key to achieving this goal.