When Mathieu Gosbee moved from his freestanding home in downtown Toronto to a downtown condominium, he was able to take all of his belongings with him except one: the device that charges his electric car.
The 38-year-old software developer bought his Hyundai Kona electric vehicle (EV) two years ago and personally installed a Level 2 charger in his home’s garage for about $400.
The condo board said a single charger would cost $5,000 to $10,000 to install, which seems quite expensive to Gosbee — but he and other EV owners in his building are desperate.
“I want the convenience of charging at home – it’s one of the reasons I bought my car in the first place,” he said.
If approved, it will take another year for the charger to be installed at the apartment. In the meantime, Gosbee has to rely on public charging stations so he can pick up his daughter from school and get around town.
But there aren’t that many public stations near his apartment – and when he finds one, it’s often occupied by another EV owner, if it’s not broken.
“I just really feel the pressure to charge now,” he said.
The sentiment was echoed in a recent Breaking: Column First Personin which Akiko Hara wrote about her struggles with charging her electric car in Vancouver.
EV owners like Gosbee and Hara are sometimes referred to as “garage orphans” because they don’t have driveways, designated parking spots, or easy access to private charging options.
But experts say there are ways to tackle this problem.
“It’s definitely possible to catch up with charging infrastructure, but it takes some effort,” said Ian Klesmer, a spokesman for the Atmospheric Fund, which funds initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and other pollution.
A variety of options
The popularity of EVs is growing in Canada. According to Canada statisticsthere are currently 86,032 electric vehicles on the road, and registrations of new zero-emission vehicles rose 43.2 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2022.
But charging infrastructure lags behind and tends to be concentrated in newer buildings and wealthier areas.
In general, countries “need to build the infrastructure, like more charging stations … before people get more access to those cars,” said Avipsa Roy, an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, who analyzes the accessibility of EV chargers.
Level 1 chargers, the slowest type, use a regular 120-volt household outlet — what you use to charge your phone. It takes about 30 hours to fully charge a vehicle at Level 1. Klesmer said many owners who don’t use their EVs that often are happy with this type of charger.
Public chargers are usually found outside malls, theaters and other public areas, and are usually installed and operated by private companies and sometimes funded by the government.
Most public and private chargers are usually level 2 chargers, which can take six to seven hours to charge a regular electric car; they typically cost about a dollar to $2.50 per hour (although some are also free).
Level 3 chargers, also known as DC fast chargers, are the fastest and can charge an EV from empty to 80 percent in 30 to 45 minutes. These typically cost about $20 per hour.
While it would be the cheapest to install Level 1 chargers in parking garages, Klesmer said it would be the least practical and efficient option.
Incentive programs steer the transition
There are a few ways to solve the larger housing charging problem, he said, starting with landlords and condo boards taking advantage of government stimulus programs.
Charging at home “can certainly be done in a more cost-effective way because there are incentives to make it cheaper,” Klesmer said.
In Hara’s column, she noted that fellow apartment residents who didn’t own electric cars resisted the idea of contributing to the installation of chargers. Gosbee’s building has a charger opt-in policy where only those who want EV chargers in the building pay to have a charger installed on their site.
Klesmer noted that multi-family buildings like Gosbee’s can tick federal government financing – such as the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program – to cover up to half of the installation costs for up to 20 chargers.
This program only covers installation costs for charging stations, but there are similar county-funded programs that are more “holistic,” Klesmer said. For example, BC’s “triple” incentive program including financing for an initial assessment, the actual charger and installation.
“We believe it’s something that other governments, and in particular the federal government, will be well placed to replicate,” Klesmer said.
Part of the broader transition to electric vehicles is a different approach to “refuelling,” said Rachel Doran, director of policy and strategy at Clean Energy Canada.
Instead of doing it all in one go like a conventional gas station, she encourages EV owners to find out about the different charging options nearby and think about charging based on what they need in the short term, which could be half a tank or less.
“There are already people using different types of charging patterns and solutions to make their EV work best for them. It may not always be private (charging) – just what appeals to them.”
There are more electric vehicles than sockets
Yet there are challenges. As of 2023, Canada had about 19 EVs for every publicly available charger, according to the International Energy Agency.
Compare that to South Korea, where there were about two electric cars per public charger.
“Inadequate” charging infrastructure, along with low demand, was one of the reasons Canada ranked eighth among the 10 leading automotive markets in EV readiness by 2021 analysis.
“While (an EV) certainly has its benefits, it makes sense to wonder why a consumer would want to buy a vehicle that takes so much effort to even get started,” Klesmer said.
While he hopes the infrastructure will keep pace with the increasing use of electric cars, Klesmer also noted that as more buildings get their act together when it comes to charging stations, there will be less need for public charging stations.
“If we could figure out how to charge (the occupants of a building) at home, it would be much more affordable for the homeowners, much more convenient to charge at home and would require much less public investment in buildings.” from a public charging infrastructure.”