British Columbia's public charging stations got twice as busy in the past year, roughly tracking the increase in the Canadian province's plug-in electric vehicle population.

The results were announced earlier this month by the Fraser Basin Council and Powertech Labs, two members of the Plug in BC initiative working to support the adoption of electric transportation.

After a couple weeks' correspondence and clearing confidentiality concerns, GreenCarReports can share a preview of some of the study's detailed findings.

The full results will be presented this week in Vancouver at Canada's upcoming national electric vehicle conference.

evCloud computing

In April 2012, the province of British Columbia set up a Community Charging Infrastructure (CCI) fund to seed the province with Level 2 charging stations, with the goal of jump-starting a transition to electric transportation.

User data for electric-car charging stations from British Columbia 'evCloud' project, Oct 2014

User data for electric-car charging stations from British Columbia 'evCloud' project, Oct 2014

Between the CCI and a parallel municipal initiative by the city of Vancouver, the province now has about 550 Level 2 charging outlets that came online within the year.

The end of the CCI fund (and with it, government records) has made it harder to track the number of charging stations in the province in the past 18 months.

But Oregon–a state with a similar population and environmental leanings–now has more than 850 Level 2 charging outlets. While we don't have Oregonian plug-in population numbers handy, we can be pretty confident they dwarf B.C.'s 1400-odd electric vehicles today.

The great news for advocates and academics alike is that the owners of 350 of the 550 charging outlets agreed to pool their data in a database called the evCloud, and many of these further agreed to make their station usage statistics publicly available.

Given time and computational power, researchers and public policy analysts should be able to transform this wealth of data into a wealth of insight about where charging stations should be placed, and how much usage owners might expect from them.

The postal codes of plug-in electric car buyers, captured in the province's now-expired incentive program, may also be useful to map against the location of those charging stations.

Aggregate highlights

The evCloud homepage provides a running total of high-level statistics such as kWh dispensed, avoided CO2 emissions, and the number of charging sessions (approaching 50,000).

User data for electric-car charging stations from British Columbia 'evCloud' project, Oct 2014

User data for electric-car charging stations from British Columbia 'evCloud' project, Oct 2014

Figures for this past September showed that about 70 percent of charging sessions (2,765 of 3,998) were three hours or less, with vehicles receiving an average 6 kWh.

There were also noticeable "humps" at roughly the 8-hour and 16-hour marks. The former are likely commuters plugging their vehicles in during the day, and the latter are presumably fleet vehicles which are left plugged in overnight.

Fleet vehicles would also explain the occasional 60-hour charging session (weekends) and the odd 100+ hour charging marathon (holiday periods).

2015 Nissan Leaf

2015 Nissan Leaf

The message to merchants and property management companies worried about free riders abusing the service, might be to program outlets to stop charging at the three-hour mark, by which point almost all plug-in patrons will have completed their shopping.

User data for electric-car charging stations from British Columbia 'evCloud' project, Oct 2014

User data for electric-car charging stations from British Columbia 'evCloud' project, Oct 2014

Community centers might find a similar window to be suitable. As for city hall or other government buildings, if visitors need more than three hours to complete their business... there are probably bigger issues to worry about.

Local highlights

Among stations publishing usage data publicly, the most popular is station 12187, located at the Edible Canada Bistro on Granville Island, which averages 30 weekly charging events.

This is understandable – Granville Island is a Canadian tourist and shopping destination second only to Niagara Falls in annual visitor traffic; and the two electric-vehicle parking stalls are in a great location.

The only location likely to exceed it is Metrotown, B.C.'s largest shopping mall, which is keeping its usage data private--although the data is still aggregated into the evCloud's overall stats.

On one of our family's recent shopping trips, we found all six of its charging stations occupied, though an additional four are available in the employee parking lot.

User data for electric-car charging stations from British Columbia 'evCloud' project, Oct 2014

User data for electric-car charging stations from British Columbia 'evCloud' project, Oct 2014

Of course, some stations have seen minimal usage. The figure here shows that charging events in September varied from a number of stations with zero, all the way up to 175 (six times per day).

The average turned out to be usage of 16.3 times per month, or once every couple of days. And the number of stations used at least once in the month, rose by 23 percent.

Contextualizing criticism

Inevitably, critics have pointed to the low usage at those (often small-town or rural) stations to criticize the program.

The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, a small-government lobby group with seven members but an almost 100,000-strong mailing list, has reportedly clogged inboxes with Freedom of Information Act requests. Its goal is apparently to find little-used charging stations that it can hold up as examples of government waste.

We'll be the first to say that government watchdogs have a positive role to play in every society, as "waste" is so often a polite euphemism for "corruption".

But one can't help but wonder whether the Federation's predecessors a century or so ago would have inveighed against the building of paved roads, given the low uptake of horseless carriages at the time.

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