Drive

You've just bought an electric car - so where can you fill up?

No matter where you are, you’re probably not very far away from a gas station. You can confidently drive almost anywhere, knowing you can buy fuel when you get low. But for people with electric cars, finding a spot to recharge away from home is far more difficult, since public charging infrastructure is still in its infancy.

“It’s the chicken and egg,” says Teresa Di Felice, director of government and community relations for CAA South Central Ontario (SCO). “It’s really in what comes first. Do we need a certain number of vehicles before there’s a willingness to spend on the infrastructure, or does it need to be in place to encourage more people to purchase these vehicles?”

Since CAA SCO has an electric car, it has a charging station installed at its head office, as do a few other CAA locations. The auto club makes the station available to anyone who needs to plug in an electric vehicle.

Electric infrastructure presents an entirely new challenge for automakers. Up until now, they just sold the car while oil companies set up the refuelling stations, but they’re now involved in the charging process. It’s also an issue for governments, many of which are creating and funding programs for public installations. The challenges include where to put the stations, how to make them accessible, and who should pay for them, including the installation costs and the price of charging up. Di Felice estimates that, depending on the unit and how much wiring must be done to install it, a public charging station can run between $3,000 and $15,000.

The good news is that, just as gas pump nozzles fit every vehicle, the electric plugs are standardized throughout the industry, and all cars can charge from every station. The major issue is how long it takes.

Fast-charging stations that can top up the battery in a short period are very rare, and not all vehicles are equipped for this type of high-power “refuelling.”

Until quick-charge becomes more widespread, public charging stations will be most common in places where drivers stay for longer periods, such as work, stores, restaurants, or hotels. “The biggest impediment for people purchasing electric vehicles is ‘range anxiety,’” Di Felice says, referring to the fear of running out of power. “These charging initiatives are useful for those who want to buy these vehicles.”

Take note

Find your station. A Canada-wide list of charging stations, as well as information on electric vehicle costs and information, can be found at electricvehicles.caa.ca.

Hybrid or fully electric? Not all plug-in cars run solely on their charge. Plug-in hybrids revert to gasoline/electric mode when the stored charge runs out, while extended-range cars use a small gas engine to generate more electricity.

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