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Automakers ask government for more detailed EV chargers plan to meet sales targets

Experts say those installing charging stations need motivation for doing so, such as gas stations driving business to their convenience stores.
Electric car charging on parking lot with fast supercharger station and many charger stalls. Vehicle on renewable solar panel wind energy battery storage station in network grid.

OTTAWA - A new analysis of Canada's electric vehicle charging demands suggests we'll need to more than double the number of public chargers within the next three years and then quadruple it by the end of the decade.

But some of the country's biggest automakers aren't convinced the federal government is being ambitious or co-ordinated enough in its approach to electric vehicle charging to hit its sales targets for battery-powered cars, trucks and SUVs.

Those targets - which were increased in March - intend to require 20% of all passenger vehicle sales to be electric by 2026, 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2035.

Dunsky Energy and Climate Advisers was commissioned by Natural Resources Canada to do an analysis of the charging needs to meet those goals. The full report is not yet public, but Jeff Turner, a senior researcher at Dunsky, said in an interview estimates suggest Canada will need 50,000 public chargers by 2025, between 195,000 and 201,000 by 2030 and between 1.8 million and 5.6 million by 2050.

Turner said that is a pretty big range, but that's because "there's a lot of uncertainty here.''

"We don't know what the world's gonna look like in 2050,'' he said.

The biggest question mark is how many existing apartment blocks and condo buildings install a port in every parking space, and how much the millions of Canadians living in those buildings need to rely solely on public charging.

Europe is aiming to have one charger for every 10 electric vehicles, and California's target is one for every seven. Turner said Canada's goal should be between one port for every three cars and one for every 14.

Canada's vast geography means people regularly drive longer distances than in much of Europe, and in winter, electric vehicles need to be charged more frequently.

Dunsky's estimates are in line for now with Natural Resources Canada's ambition. The department is responsible for managing the installation of enough chargers.

Canada currently has about 16,000 public charging ports in 6,800 locations. The Liberals promised to build 50,000 more by 2026.

The recent budget included $400 million for public chargers in suburban and remote communities, on top of $350 million budgeted since 2016 for chargers on public streets, retail and restaurant parking lots, at workplaces and in multi-unit residential buildings. The Canada Infrastructure Bank is also directing $500 million from its existing green fund to charging stations.

But the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association is worried Canada isn't being ambitious enough or detailed enough in its planning.

"The biggest barrier to getting more Canadians into an electric vehicle is charging availability, combined, of course, with the price of EVs,'' said Brian Kingston, president of the CVMA. "We're concerned that they don't have a comprehensive, detailed plan to build out a national charging network.''

The CVMA represents Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, which together account for about 60% of passenger vehicle sales in Canada. On Wednesday, the association submitted a list of recommendations to the federal government pushing it to be more ambitious and transparent in building out a national charging network.

"If you look at other countries that are doing this, they've gone so far as to actually estimate charging requirements right down to the postal code,'' Kingston said.

The CVMA wants a detailed, publicized analysis of Canada's charging needs for both public spaces and multi-unit residential units such as condo and apartment buildings.

It's also asking for a co-ordinated approach with power companies to assess and ensure the needed supply of electricity is managed. And finally, it wants a national advisory body on charging networks, made up of national, provincial and local governments, electric utilities, automakers and charging companies.

Canada's charging networks are heavily concentrated in urban areas in the three biggest provinces: Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, which accounted for 95 per cent of all electric vehicles sold between 2011 and 2021.

About 90% of public charging ports are in those three provinces.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he is happy to give the automakers any more detail or planning they require, but he said he thinks Canada's plan is "enormously ambitious.''

"If we need to do more, of course we're going to do more,'' he said.

But Wilkinson also said the government doesn't intend to be in the charging station business long term.

"At the end of the day, the plan is to build it out such that we are getting to the point where it is a business, where you can make money at it,'' he said.

Simon Oullette, CEO at ChargeHub, a database of public charging stations in Canada and the United States, said he doesn't think charging stations have a business case now or in the future.

He said it's not just about bringing in more people to charge, because he said by the time you have enough customers to make money on a single station, the demand will exceed capacity and you'll have to build another one.

"Even 10 years from now, when we have a significantly higher number of EVs on the road, the people putting these charging stations in need other reasons to do it, because they're not going to make money on them,'' he said.

Stores and restaurants may do it to bring in customers, he said, or gas stations may add them to drive business to their convenience stores.

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