More Canadians are buying EVs, but is there enough infrastructure to support the industry?
Electric vehicle registration is growing in Canada, but reports and experts note charging infrastructure and the auto repair industry are falling behind.
New data from Statistics Canada shows an uptick in electric vehicle (EV) registrations in 2022, up from 2.3 per cent in 2021 to 3 per cent or 789,000 vehicles. In the report, the statistical agency said other forms of sustainable vehicles also increased.
Zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) include vehicles that have the option to operate without tailpipe emissions, such as hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
All types of ZEVs had "double-digit" growth in 2022, the report published on Nov. 2 reads.
By 2035, the federal government's goal is for all light-duty car and passenger truck sales to fall under the zero-emission category, a target that experts say may be out of reach due to the status of charging infrastructure, EV repair technology and battery longevity.
Jeff Dingwell, learning manager of automotive service technology at Holland College in P.E.I., said the government's target could be difficult to achieve.
"The shops, the people, the training and the tooling to fix (EVs); personally, I think it's a very lofty goal," Dingwell told CTVNews.ca in an interview on Wednesday.
Work on EVs and gas-powered vehicles isn't so different when it comes to tires, windshield wipers and door locks, Dingwell said, but the things that set EVs apart are more complex, including the "high voltage system".
On top of those technology differences, repairing EVs requires technicians to have extra safety equipment and different tools.
"We need what we call linesman gloves, so what hydro workers would need when working on lines," Dingwell said. "We need specialty, high voltage insulated tools when we're working around the high voltage system."
Batteries, Dingwell said, can weigh up to 453 kilograms, compared to the 13 to 27-kilogram batteries a gas-powered vehicle battery has. The extra weight of the EV batteries requires mechanic shops to have specialized tables that can withstand and lift the weight.
These tools and equipment are "quite expensive" Dingwell said, and without adequate funding from the government could be a factor in how many shops offer EV repairs.
The drive to adapt to the rapidly changing industry, in his classroom, is there, Dingwell said.
"There's always something new coming and EVs are just the next thing that we have to train on and be ready for," he said.
Dingwell said he is not sure whether everyone will adapt to the new technology, however.
"I think you will see some shops that will not want to adopt (EVs)," he said. "Between the age of technicians getting close to retirement and cost of tooling and training…(some) may within the next 10 years make decisions that 'I'm not going into this aspect of it.'"
EV CHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE
How Canadians charge and use their EVs is another segment of the industry the government is trying to improve.
"A large gap remains between the current number of charging ports and those needed by 2035," an audit by the federal environment commissioner, Jerry DeMarco, tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday reads.
The government set out a goal to fund the construction of 33,500 EV charging ports as of July 2023, which the report said the government achieved.
But DeMarco points out that the majority (87 per cent) of the funded charging ports completed were in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec while the other 13 per cent were located in the other provinces, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
Despite Ontario, B.C. and Quebec having the largest number of EVs in the country, the audit says "all drivers across Canada will be affected" by the government's 2035 mandate.
"This change could cause challenges for lower-income Canadians, those living in older multi-unit residential buildings where costly retrofits may be needed to install charging ports, and those living in areas where there is currently limited charging infrastructure," the report reads.
The audit also found that a third (34 per cent) of ports funded by the government were located in multi-unit buildings, whereas public spaces (18 per cent) and workplaces (9 per cent) saw fewer chargers.
Noting which communities and where the charging ports were installed, the audit says the government "did not take sufficient steps to ensure that all geographical areas would benefit from the program’s funding."
The implementation of EV charging ports across the country is important the audit notes, because of the need to push the public to buy more sustainable transportation, lowering Canada's carbon emissions.
In 2021, the transportation sector accounted for 22 per cent, or 150 megatonnes of CO2—the equivalent of emissions from 46 million passenger vehicles per year. It was the second-largest emitter of carbon after the oil and gas industry.
"The funding and installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and its continued reliability, visibility, and convenience across Canada, are important," the report reads. "To ensure access to charging infrastructure, a positive user experience, and public acceptance and motivation to purchase electric vehicles."
COLD WEATHER RELIABILITY
One of the reasons some Canadians are not interested in purchasing an EV is because of the battery range and reliability of the vehicle in cold weather, according to surveys.
Sumit Chauhan, the co-found of CerebrumX, an EV data collection company that develops products to lower the cost of charging vehicles for people, said technology for batteries in winter isn't there yet.
"More than anything else or any technology, this is basic chemistry of how the battery or a cell works," Chauhan told CTVNews.ca in an interview.
One study by U.S.-based company Recurrent found that some EVs can lose up to 35 per cent of battery range in freezing conditions. The study looked at 7,000 vehicles across the U.S. in temperatures between 0 C and -10 C to determine which make and model can withstand colder climates without diminishing the range.
According to the study, the Audi e-tron Premium Plus had a range decrease of 8 percent compared to other models like the Chevy Bolt, which had a 32 per cent battery decrease.
"The optimum performance of the battery is anything between 30 F (0 C) and 90 F (32 C)," Chauhan said.
On top of performance, he said, batteries struggle to reach 100 per cent when charging in cold weather.
Comparing EV batteries to phones, he said, "If your phone was lasting nine hours on an 80 per cent battery charge, it will probably last only seven hours or six hours on the same battery charge (in the cold.)
"There is a detrimental effect to the charging cycles and the discharging cycles of a battery when you operate in that weather," Chauhan said. "The life of the battery itself is depleted by the operation in such extreme temperatures…There is honestly not much we can do at that level, but just try to minimize the impact."
One of the ways, Chauhan said is by allowing the vehicle to run for five minutes before driving to allow the engine to heat up. Using a heat pump to warm the battery could also help the range in the winter, Chauhan said.
"I think we are reaching the limits of chemistry with a battery cell today," he said. "Unless we change something radically at the battery level itself."