Vancouver hosted Canada’s national electric vehicle conference last week, which brought attention to the growing support of electric vehicles (EV’s) and plug-in hybrid vehicles in urban areas. So how big is this sector in BC, and do we have the infrastructure to support increased adoption of electric cars?

Huge growth in charging stations

The B.C. government announced in January it would spend $1.3 million to install 30 fast-charging electric stations in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Merritt, and Kamloops. In addition, Tesla installed a six-stall charging station in Squamish, making a longer trip between Whistler and Vancouver possible, and more stations are slated by the company for Revelstoke, Hope, Kamloops, Golden, and Banff. Meanwhile, existing public charging stations have seen a big increase in use over the last year. And this is all part of a bigger trend – the Fraser Basin Council and Powertech Labs reported that the number of vehicle charging sessions in the province has doubled between August 2013 and August 2014. (Over 350 of B.C.’s 550 public charging stations are tracked by Powertech Labs, a BC Hydro subsidiary.)

Bylaws are following suit too – Vancouver building bylaws require 20% of parking stalls in apartments and condos, and all stalls in houses, and 10% of stalls in mixed-use and commercial buildings to be EV-ready. In Richmond, new multi-family residential developments must ensure at least 45% of parking stalls be built to accommodate future charging stations.

Electric vehicle sales lagging behind

While measures like these are the beginnings of a supportive infrastructure, adoption of electric vehicles in BC seems to be slow. Just 1166 sales have been reported in BC since 2012. Most speculation attributes the slow-growing sector to factors such as lack of supply and limited charging stations which ties into range constraints – electric vehicles have a limited driving range of about 100 to 140 kilometres before requiring re-charging.

Lack of government incentives to buyers is also a barrier – there are no federal incentives for EVs, and although BC’s provincial rebate program provided 950 subsidies of $5,000 to buyers of certain electric vehicles, that program expired at the end of March this year. In Quebec and Ontario, consumers are eligible for up to $8000 and $8500 in rebates, respectively. Matthew Klippenstein, a professional engineer from Burnaby, published a study on the impact of BC’s cancelled EV incentive and stated “last year, there were about six plug-in vehicles sold in Quebec and Ontario for each one sold in B.C. Since incentives expired (in BC), that ratio has become 12-to-1.”

Is commercial use the future of electric vehicles?

While consumer adoption may be slow to start, commercial and private fleets seem more readily making the switch to EV’s. The BC government signed the Pacific Coast Collaborative Action Plan last year to reach a target that 10% of new vehicles in public and private fleets be zero emissions by 2016. Canada Post has already been running a fleet of electric mail trucks in Vancouver since 2011. The City of Vancouver now has 27 electric vehicles, making it the biggest municipal electric fleet in Canada.

BC seems to answering the ‘chicken or the egg’ question and is on the way to building up a viable infrastructure for electric vehicles, so perhaps with more and more fleets adopting EV’s, product price and availability may become more attractive to consumers. CRED member and head of the Vancouver EV association J-M Toriel suggests steps such as removing the PST and registration costs for zero emissions vehicles (ZEV’s), excluding ZEV’s from mobility pricing, and reduced rates for BC Ferries to encourage the adoption of EV’s. Throw in a few more incentives like rebates and the freedom to drive in HOV lanes, and we may see more on the road.

[cc image courtesy of Neal Jennings, Flickr]

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