With a target of all new vehicles sold in Canada being electric just 13 years away, Red River College Polytech is leading a study to help ensure Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta don’t get stuck without adequate charging capability.

With a target of all new vehicles sold in Canada being electric just 13 years away, Red River College Polytech is leading a study to help ensure Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta don’t get stuck without adequate charging capability.

The college, which has committed itself for some time to applied research in vehicle technology, will lead colleagues from Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and Saskatchewan Polytechnic in a $225,000 project funded by Natural Resources Canada’s Zero Emission Vehicle Awareness Initiative to address the issue of "range anxiety" as EV (electric vehicle) charging infrastructure may not be able to keep up with the rate of EVs entering the roadways.

The Canadian government has set a target of 2035 for all new light-duty cars and passenger trucks sales in Canada to be zero emission.

But before that happens an extensive investment in charging infrastructure is going to be required.

Although the purchase of EVs include charging adapters, they won’t work on the block heater outlets available at most workplace parking lots where the electricity is cycled on and off for energy efficiency.

"Even if you plug it in it is not going to charge. The cycle outlets are only intended for block heaters which are able to accept cycle power," said Jojo Delos Reyes, research program manager at RRC Polytech’s Vehicle Technology & Energy Centre. "EV charging needs to be non-cycling."

The beauty of a Prairie-wide initiative is that our cold climate means there is already a lot of public plug-in points — close to 500,000 just in Manitoba — and the possibility of conversions of a certain percentage of them to Level 1 EV charging outlets is an obvious way to address demand.

Reyes figures the actual conversion of plug points to Level 1 charging outlets will only cost about $100-to-$500.

Most EVs on the market today have enough range to handle 95 per cent of Canadians’ commuting needs without charging at work. But having the ability to add an extra five to six kilometres of range for every hour of charging provides an added level of comfort for unexpected detours on the way home.

(Level 2 chargers cost between $2,000 and $5,000 with installation and Level 3 superchargers that will fully charge most EVs in about 30 minutes can cost as much as $50,000 to install. Those superchargers can cost more than $25 for the user to fully charge up a vehicle, more for larger vehicles.)

The idea of the RRC Polytech project is to start a conversation about the right balance of charging infrastructure the community would need.

Reyes said his team will be talking to provincial governments about the possibility of providing incentives or rebates to help offset some of the cost of charging infrastructure.

He refers to the project as addressing low-hanging fruit, but it is one of many considerations that are going to have to be addressed as society transitions away from fossil-fuel powered vehicles.

Those considerations also include the changing electricity load demands that EV charging will impose on the power grid.

Scott Powell, a senior official at Manitoba Hydro, said the utility is watching the growth of EVs closely.

"It could impact our business in the future, from how we build our electric delivery infrastructure, to load growth, to the types of services we provide, including things like public charging stations," he said.

In Manitoba EV use is growing but the demand for EV charging isn’t as robust as in some other jurisdictions.

"Still, a number of companies and organizations are setting up public charging stations across Manitoba, and we’ll continue to work with these groups to ensure they have an adequate supply of electricity where and when they need it," Powell said.

Reyes said the initiative will do the research and have conversations with all sorts of employers and organizations, distribute informational material and build awareness of charging options and how to adapt current infrastructure for Level 1 workplace charging.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.