Petro-Canada installing 50 fast-charging EV stations across the country — but is there demand?

A Petro-Canada EV fast charger located in Milton, Ontario. Suncor Energy

Petro-Canada is building a network of electric vehicle (EV) fast-charging stations from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.

The gas station company said more than 50 EV stations will be located at Petro-Canada stations along the Trans-Canada Highway.

The DC fast chargers will offer the highest levels of charging, also called fast, level 3 or 3+, which can provide up to 200 kilowatts per hour (kWh) — enough to provide an 80 per cent charge to most EVs in less than 30 minutes.

READ MORE: Gas prices pinching your wallet? Here’s how much you could save with an electric car

Petro-Canada said the stations will feature two fast chargers and have an additional two spots for waiting. The company said the units are capable of 350 kilowatt charging with future upgrades.

Story continues below advertisement

The chargers will provide the two universal standard connectors: CHAdeMO and and Combined Charging System (CCS), also known as COMBO.

According to the Canadian Automobile Association, CHAdeMO is developed and adopted by Japanese and Korean manufacturers, and found in the Nissan LEAF, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and the Kia Soul EV.

A CHAdeMO adaptor can be used to charge Tesla vehicles, which have their own connectors and network of fast-charging stations.

Combined Charging System (CCS) charging is used by almost all American and European manufacturers, including Chevrolet, Ford, and BMW.

READ MORE: Laid-off Calgary oilpatch engineer opens used electric car dealership

Petro-Canada, which is owned by oilsands giant Suncor, said construction is set to begin this spring, with sites opening over the next year.

“Keeping Canadians moving is what we do,” said Suncor downstream executive vice president Kris Smith.

“We know the needs of our customers are evolving as we transition to a low-carbon future, which is why we are excited to expand our current offering to support this growing customer segment.”

Suncor said the locations have yet to be finalized and it’s working to ensure the stations will be placed near other amenities like an establishment with Wi-Fi or a restaurant for guests to visit while they wait.

Story continues below advertisement

The pricing strategy for the national launch is still in the works, according to Suncor spokesperson Nicole Fisher.

Fisher added that through the text notification system, customers can get an SMS text when their car starts charging and when the charge is complete.

Demand for electric vehicles?

But will there be demand for the stations? A decade-old goal to get at least half a million electric cars on Canada’s roads by the end of 2018 appears to have missed the mark by more than 400,000.

The 2009 Electric Vehicle Technology Road Map for Canada, produced by a panel of experts in part for the Department of Natural Resources, aimed for 500,000 cars with the hope of galvanizing industry to make and sell them and government to encourage people to buy them.

Data compiled by FleetCarma, which tracks electric-vehicle sales each quarter, suggests that by the end of 2018, the actual number was fewer than 100,000.

READ MORE: Canadians are way behind other countries when it comes to buying electric vehicles

Bob Oliver, chief executive officer at Tech-K.O. which helps clients market their electric-vehicle technologies, said a Canadian preference for bigger vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks is one of the barriers to electric-car sales here.

Story continues below advertisement

There are almost 23 million passenger cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks registered in Canada, and Canadians in the last decade have increased their interest in the SUV and truck side of the business.

About two-thirds of vehicles sold in Canada today are in those categories and they include virtually no electric models.

WATCH BELOW: Emma Hancock shows us some of the best electric cars on the market

Click to play video: 'The latest and best electric cars you can buy right now' The latest and best electric cars you can buy right now
The latest and best electric cars you can buy right now – Sep 27, 2018

Sales of electric cars are almost exclusively restricted to the three provinces — Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia — that have had cash rebates to make the cars comparable in up-front cost with gas-powered versions. (Of note, Ontario cancelled its rebate system in July.)

READ MORE: Supply of electric vehicles in B.C. not keeping up with demand

Ontario, Quebec and B.C. accounted for 97 per cent of all the plug-in vehicles sold in Canada between 2013 and 2018.

Story continues below advertisement

Many of the other provinces have very few public charging stations, which is one of the biggest barriers to public confidence in buying a plug-in car — potential purchasers worry about running out of juice and having nowhere to charge up.

A map of the existing stations across Canada can be found on the Canadian Automobile Association website.

It shows while there are many Level 3 charge stations in southern B.C. and Eastern Canada, and some in urban areas in Alberta, there is only one in Saskatchewan (and not on the Trans Canada) and a handful in Winnipeg.

READ MORE: Alberta government announces plan to fund electric vehicle network

It isn’t yet clear how far apart the Petro-Canada stations will be, or what the cost to charge a vehicle will come to.

Cold weather on electric vehicle batteries

Another concern? How Canada’s cold winters, such as the polar vortex recently experienced by people across the nation, affect battery life.

Cold temperatures can sap electric car batteries, temporarily reducing their range by more than 40 per cent when interior heaters are used, a new study out of the U.S. found.

The study of five electric vehicles by American Automobile Association (AAA) found that high temperatures can cut into battery range, but not nearly as much as the cold. The range returns to normal in more comfortable temperatures.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Buying an electric car? Here are some factors Canadian drivers should consider

AAA tested the BMW i3s, Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan Leaf from the 2018 model year, and the 2017 Tesla Model S 75D and Volkswagen e-Golf.

All have a range of at least 160 kilometres per charge. They were tested on a dynamometer, which is like a treadmill, in a climate-controlled cell.

The automobile club tested the cars at -7 C and 35 C degrees, comparing the range to when they were tested at a more temperate 24 C, according to a report on the study.

At -7 C, the average driving range fell by 12 per cent when the car’s cabin heater was not used. When the heater was turned on, the range dropped by 41 per cent, AAA said.

In the heat at 35 C, range dropped 4 per cent without use of air conditioning – and fell by 17 per cent when the cabin was cooled, the study found.

READ MORE: Wicked winter weather chills bones, stalls car batteries

“As long as drivers understand that there are limitations when operating electric vehicles in more extreme climates, they are less likely to be caught off guard by an unexpected drop in driving range,” Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering, said in a statement.

Story continues below advertisement

AAA recommends that drivers heat or cool their cars while still plugged in to a charging station. It says electric cars can still be used in extreme climates with a little extra planning.

WATCH BELOW: Car makers are racing to make electric vehicles better, cheaper and more appealing. Ross Lord reports.

— With files from Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press, and Tom Krisher, The Associated Press

Sponsored content