As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, the plug-in electric vehicle sector has charged forward, with developments on the national, provincial and even municipal levels.

Here’s our take on six of the most salient stories.

Federal ZEV committee

On May 26, the Canadian government announced its intent to develop a national Zero Emission Vehicle strategy.

DON'T MISS: Quebec passes Canada's first zero-emission vehicle rule, to start in 2018 (Nov 2016)

Stakeholders and experts from government, industry, academia and non-government organizations have gathered to develop recommendations for a five-pronged strategy outlined below, along with some approaches that might plausibly be under consideration.

1. Infrastructure: partnering with the private sector to deploy infrastructure, including support for installations in multi-unit residential buildings (apartments) and workplaces.

2. Technology: streamline regulations and incentive investment in ZEV-supporting technologies, to generate green jobs.

3. Public Awareness: resources to help ZEVs move beyond the stereotypical early adopter demographic (rich suburban males), such as web resources and “neutral” showcase facilities operated independently of auto companies.

National Drive Electric Week 2014: Eyeing a Tesla in Ottawa. Photo by Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict.

National Drive Electric Week 2014: Eyeing a Tesla in Ottawa. Photo by Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict.

4. Costs and Benefits of Ownership: waiving federal tax (5%) on ZEVs; increasing the surtax on gas guzzlers. (Canada has a “gas guzzler” surtax, but the threshold is so high as to be irrelevant for all but the most gas-gluttonous vehicles.)

5. Vehicle Supply: investigating demand-side levers (e.g. purchase rebates) as well as supply-side tools (e.g. ZEV mandates, or even incentives for dealerships).

Many of these ideas will have been discussed among plug-in electric vehicle advocates, and occasionally at the municipal or even provincial (state) level.

ALSO SEE: Canada's High-Volume Volt Dealer: Lessons Learned

Now, it's encouraging to see the contemplation of a national-level ZEV strategy.

Fast charging along Trans-Canada Highway

With a California-sized population spread across an area larger than the United States, federal funds would likely be necessary to bring infrastructure to sparsely-populated areas.

Petro-Canada gas station, Crossfields, Alberta, with electric-car charging station

Petro-Canada gas station, Crossfields, Alberta, with electric-car charging station

To that end, Natural Resources Canada recently allocated a repayable contribution of $8 million toward a $17.3 million project to deploy 34 fast chargers along the Trans-Canada Highway between Ontario and Manitoba.

The lower population density across that portion of the country means the private sector is less likely to invest on its own.

When the stations open in 2019, they may also be Canada’s first fast chargers to incorporate battery storage.

MORE: Multi-brand electric-car dealer to open in Canada after Iceland test

The idea is to trickle-charge those battery banks, to avoid utility demand charges and prevent overloading the local grid, while making it possible for vehicles to charge at DC fast-charging speeds of 50 kilowatts or more.

Canada's first EV Discovery Centre

Moving to the provincial level, Ontario-based electric vehicle advocacy group Plug’n Drive opened its Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre in May, helped by funding from the province’s carbon market.

The Centre provides one-stop window-shopping for car buyers wanting to learn about and test-drive electric vehicles, without the worry of pressure from salespeople.

Opening of Plug'n'Drive EV Discovery Centre, Toronto, Canada, May 2016

Opening of Plug'n'Drive EV Discovery Centre, Toronto, Canada, May 2016

It also refers shoppers to EV-certified dealerships, which creates an accreditation that dealerships will likely want to earn, so as not to lose sales to competitors.

Plug’n Drive should be credited for involving a breadth of electric-car stakeholders in the Centre.

Different utilities provide the public charging stations, and sponsor the training hall and coffee bar. A union sponsors the interactive displays, and a bank provides EV-exclusive financing and insurance options.

Plug'n'Drive EV Discovery Centre, Toronto

Plug'n'Drive EV Discovery Centre, Toronto

Future ZEV mandate for BC?

After several weeks of uncertainty, including mandatory recounts in three electoral ridings, the province of British Columbia has a new coalition government.

While the new government’s policies won’t be unveiled until September, the New Democratic Party’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy has been tasked with renewing an expert panel called the Climate Leadership Team.

That panel had recommended a mandate for sales of zero-emission vehicles in a report released in late 2015, reproduced below.

2015 recommendation by Climate Leadership Team for ZEV mandates in British Columbia, Canada

2015 recommendation by Climate Leadership Team for ZEV mandates in British Columbia, Canada

If adopted, the ZEV mandate recommended by the panel would be far stricter than the California requirements—also adopted by Quebec—under which automakers can get up to 4 credits per zero-emission vehicle in every ZEV state, for a vehicle sold in any ZEV state.

That "travel provision" in California ended in 2018

It would however be more politically palatable, and therefore probable, for British Columbia’s ZEV rules to be harmonized with Quebec’s and California’s.

World-record attempt for most plug-in electric cars gathered in one place, Montreal, April 2014

World-record attempt for most plug-in electric cars gathered in one place, Montreal, April 2014

Montreal: 1,000 public chargers by 2020

On the municipal level, the City of Montreal has set a goal of having 1,000 public charging sites around the city in three years’ time.

This expansion is likely due to the highly positive reception for the province-wide network, called the Electric Circuit. It delivered 115,000 charging sessions in Quebec during 2016, with customer satisfaction ratings of 95 percent.

These satisfaction levels come despite—or perhaps because of—a cost of $1 per hour or a $2.50 flat rate to use the Electric Circuit.

These make it possible for network operator Flo to recoup its costs and respond quickly to outages when they arise. (A remarkable 79 percent of polled Electric Circuit members reported being very or somewhat satisfied with the costs of using the service.)

Smart Electric Drive, University of British Columbia campus, Vancouver [photo: Matthew Klippenstein]

Smart Electric Drive, University of British Columbia campus, Vancouver [photo: Matthew Klippenstein]

Vancouver: charges for charging

The City of Vancouver recently approved a pilot study to charge drivers for use of 16 public charging stations, with rates of $2 per hour for 240-volt Level 2 chargers and $16 an hour for DC fast charging.

While considerably higher than the rates in Montreal, these rates still represent only about half the cost of gasoline on a per-kilometer basis.

An analysis of station data showed that, on average, cars stayed for 3 hours but only charged for one-half of that time. The City hopes the fees will encourage drivers to charge only when necessary, and to move their cars once they’ve topped up.

A need for the infrastructure to pay for itself is probably somewhere among the considerations, as well.

Electric-car charging information from BC Hydro, West Coast Green Highway, British Columbia, Canada

Electric-car charging information from BC Hydro, West Coast Green Highway, British Columbia, Canada

The plan has prompted unusually polarized discussions on the local EV club mailing list, however, and even a petition on Change.org.

Given that public funds will be needed to supplement private-sector dollars to make plug-in electric vehicle chargers ubiquitous, it seems inevitable that fees are in our future in many locations.

Vancouver’s experience in the coming months—changes to the length and number of charging sessions and station availability—may assist other municipalities and jurisdictions as they transition from free to paid charging.

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