A growing network of fast chargers for electric vehicles in the province — including four anticipated to open before the end of the year — will relieve "range anxiety" and drive consumers to trade in their gas-powered car keys, industry experts say.

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A growing network of fast chargers for electric vehicles in the province — including four anticipated to open before the end of the year — will relieve "range anxiety" and drive consumers to trade in their gas-powered car keys, industry experts say.

Using a fast charger, as the name suggests, is the quickest way motorists can boost an electric car’s battery in Manitoba. Depending on model and make, it takes between 30 to 60 minutes for a full charge while a standard household plug can charge a battery in as many as 20 hours.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

There are currently seven of these chargers in the province, all of which are located in Winnipeg, according to charging station tracking site ChargeHub. That count is expected to more than double by the end of next year.

"It's pretty clear that every place where fast chargers are installed, the sale of electric vehicles goes up," said Robert Elms, president of the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association. "Most especially, if there’s a network. Having one or two doesn’t make a difference, you have to have a network. In our case, Manitoba."

The association's latest report notes a statistic from the Electric Vehicle World Sales Database — plugin vehicle sales rose 248 per cent in Iceland in 2017, the same year the Nordic government approved funding for dozens of fast chargers across the country. Closer to home, where there is more extensive charging infrastructure, in Quebec, Ontario and B.C. — provinces that also have or have had rebates for plug-in vehicles — there are higher counts of electric vehicles as well.

Ottawa has earmarked $750,000 for 15 fast chargers slated to open all over the province, as far north as Selkirk. One federally-funded fast charger has already been built and is available for public use in Winnipeg. The province has yet to fund any fast charging stations, but a Manitoba Hydro spokesperson said it has been "more than willing" to work with other parties, such as private companies and municipalities, to supply them with energy.

Tesla plans to install four fast chargers in Manitoba by the end of the year. Petro Canada and Canadian Tire are also stationing fast chargers across the province — a total of six and eight, respectively. Theirs are expected to be operational by the end of 2020.

That means Manitoba’s fast charger network will also extend along the Trans Canada Highway, from Reynolds to Brandon and in between, adding to other slower-charging stations open for public use.

"The network that we’re putting in place is a coast to coast network," said Suncor spokeswoman Nicole Fisher. "Essentially, we’ve placed the [Petro Canada] chargers about 200 to 250 kilometres away from each other."

"Keeping Canadians moving is what we do and the needs of our customers are changing and so this network was really to look at and identify need and give Canadians that opportunity to drive an electric vehicle across the country," Fisher said.

Industry experts say the expansion will relieve consumer stresses associated with a small network of chargers across the province and encourage Manitobans to go green, increasing demand in a market that has seen tremendous growth in recent months. In the second quarter of 2019, electric vehicle sales in Manitoba rose by 80 per cent compared to the same period last year (MEVA attributes that growth to a federal rebate that came into effect on May 1).

"It’s the old chicken and an egg situation," Elms said. "Folks need to be able to know that they have places to go and plug in their vehicles when they go on a drive somewhere."

Nazim Cicek, a professor of biosystems engineering at the University of Manitoba, agrees the expanded network will alleviate the "range anxiety" prospective electric vehicle owners feel about charging station deserts. While newer models can have a range of 500 kilometres on a full battery, what is comparable to some gas-powered cars, it’s critical drivers know they can power up during a longer trip, said Cicek, who researches environmental engineering issues.

The expanded network will be "very significant," he said. "Just like cell phone towers, if you place them strategically, you’ve got the majority of the province covered … You don’t really need a large number of these stations, you just need them located at the right spots."

Cicek said the next step is encouraging more private ownership so drivers can plug in at places like Tim Hortons.

Aside from the perceived inconvenience of charging a battery, the upfront cost of an electric vehicle and limited availability of models also dissuade consumers from buying green, he said, adding that despite a higher price tag at checkout, charging a battery costs less than filling up at the pump and overall maintenance is cheaper.

And then there’s the question of wintertime weather. Cicek said the perception electric cars can't compete with gas ones in the winter is warped since both types lose range in cold weather. To their credit, electric vehicles can be car pre-warmed while plugged in so drivers can hop into a warm vehicle, he said. Heat pumps can also be purchased to warm up electric vehicles in the winter.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.