New and exciting developments in the automotive world are helping to accelerate the development and sales of fully electric vehicles around the world. Nissan recently launched its all-electric Nissan Leaf compact car, and Chevrolet is moving forward with its Volt hybrid elect-gas sedan. For Ontario motorists, this automotive revolution will be supported by charging stations across the province.
Every new massive change in the way we use our vehicles has to start somewhere, and in Ontario it’s starting in eight cities with electric charging stations. Those cities include Toronto, Vaughan, Markham, Barrie, Ajax, and Bowmanville.
Unlike major gas stations, which can sometimes handle up to sixteen vehicles at a time, Ontario’s electric car charging stations are capable of charging two cars at any one time. However, it is important to remember that these stations are currently a “proof of concept”. At the moment, they are only open to corporate fleets of electric cars owned by Ontario electric utilities. As the demand for electric car charging stations increases, their size and capacity will necessarily increase relative to that demand.
In fact, demand is likely to skyrocket in the next few years. The electric Ford Focus, Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf are expected to be available in Canada sometime in 2011; Ontario has set an ambitious goal of having 1 in 20 cars on provincial roads powered by electricity by 2020.
To ensure this demand is adequately met, current charging stations are being rigorously tested and monitored for performance and efficiency. It is important to remember that, unlike gasoline, electrical charge takes a long time to build up. And an all-electric vehicle has quite a sizeable battery to fill, with a range of up to 340 miles on a single charge.
To make up for this, utilities are monitoring their electric vehicle battery levels and charging rates at all eight Ontario electric charging stations. They are looking at information such as how quickly the battery drains under real-world driving conditions, how quickly it can recover its charge at a charging station, and how expensive it is to complete a charge on the road.
Because electricity differs from oil in that it comes from a generating plant rather than a barrel, generation costs at a utility plant must be factored in when charging for an electric fill. These costs can be quite high at current levels, as the market is still adjusting to the concept of electric charge rates.
To help offset these large costs, utilities are working on a system where electric car users could skip the charging process entirely and instead swap out the car’s dead battery for a new model. fully charged. It would decrease the amount of time spent in a charging station and allow the station to charge a flat fee for battery replacement that would be consistent across the board and very affordable.
Because a battery change would not put a heavy burden on generation companies, the charging station could charge the battery in its own time, at a slower (more affordable) speed and pass that lower fee to customers.
Regardless of the final business model, these eight prototype stations in Ontario are a promising sign of a future that goes beyond expensive petroleum products. Only market forces and scientific advancements will determine what an electric charging station will ultimately look like, but this preview is a great way to get an early glimpse of the process.