Electric Vehicles in Northern BC Webinar

As part of the CleanBC Go Electric Emotive campaign, Plug In BC staff held a webinar for drivers in Northern BC on March 29, 2022. You can find a recording of the webinar, a summary of the local drivers who presented, plus follow up explanations and resources below. You see more content about EVs in BC, including the vehicle guide, on EmotiveBC.ca.

Additionally, our friends at the Community Energy Association invite you to help plan communications and awareness events for Charge North by filling out this survey: https://forms.gle/Twvx83zDwbYsqhjM6

If you have any questions about the webinar or living the electric life in Northern BC, you can contact the presenter, Michael Stanyer, mstanyer@pluginbc.ca.

The recording is over 2 hours long including the Q&A section, but chapters are enabled so you can skip to the sections you find relevant. Our local drivers speaking on the panel were:

  • Doug Beckett, president of the Prince George Electric Vehicle association. Doug started with a converted GMC Sonoma pickup and now drives a used Nissan Leaf. His advice for families with multiple vehicles is to replace one vehicle with an electric car, even an inexpensive used one, as soon as possible to begin saving on gas and maintenance.
  • Mark Vejvoda, who drives a Tesla Model 3 Long Range. He records a wealth of statistics and other information about his EV travels and presents them on his Tesla Prince (as in Prince George) YouTube channel.
  • Christoph Dietzfelbinger lives near Smithers and uses a solar array at his home to charge his Chevrolet Bolt. He uses the car for long trips in the region, regularly driving on gravel roads.
  • Marc Labbé also drives a Chevrolet Bolt. He primarily charges from a block-heater outlet at his apartment in Prince George and takes his EV on long trips into Alberta and southern BC. You can follow his travels on Instagram, @blue_from_PG.
  • Two additional panelists, Anne and Don, were not able to attend – but thanks for volunteering!

Aside from Christoph, all of the local speakers were from Prince George. But Northern BC is a big region with many different driving needs. Despite a lack of fast-charging stations, individuals and businesses north of PG are using electric vehicles and we endeavor to have them speak at the next northern regional webinar (speakers were recruited from the Northern BC EV Group on Facebook).

Rebates and other cost savings

Several rebates for vehicles and charging stations are mentioned during the presentation, including rebates for charging stations in workplaces and homes (single family, apartment and condo buildings). You can find links to all of them on our incentives page: https://pluginbc.ca/incentives/

Additional Q&A

As mentioned in the webinar, we didn’t get to answering some of the questions that were submitted. Most of those questions were about charging stations and real world range, especially in winter. See the topics below as follow up.

Finding charging stations

You can find public charging stations on the PlugShare website or app. There are several similar tools like BC Hydro EV and ChargeHub, but PlugShare is the most widely used; the listings on PlugShare often include valuable crowd-sourced information such as the power that users where able to draw with specific vehicles, or detailed directions for on-site navigation in large parkades or parking lots. Use PlugShare’s filters (network and plug type) to zero in on the stations that work best for you. Even better, make an account and designate your vehicle to automatically filter for the stations you can use.

PlugShare’s helpful maps include colour-coded station icons to highlight which stations are public Level 2, fast chargers or Tesla stations, whether they are currently in use, under repair or under construction. All of this information can be filtered.

You can see details about a charging station’s power level by clicking on it in PlugShare. Fast charging stations range from 25 kW to 350 kW. Most are currently 50 kW.  A higher powered station can charge batteries faster, but only if the vehicle is designed to use it. Don’t worry, you can still use a vehicle with a lower charging rate at a higher powered station – you just won’t get an extra benefit from it.

A Tesla vehicle can only use public fast charging stations with an adapter, sold separately from the vehicle.

Tesla Superchargers

If you don’t drive a Tesla, you’ll want to use PlugShare’s filters to disable “Tesla” and “Supercharger” plugs. Tesla’s own network of Superchargers are the counterpart to public fast charging stations. Only Tesla vehicles can use these charging stations.

Are there rules about charging times at busy charging stations?

Most fast-charging stations will have signs asking users to charge for a maximum of 40 minutes. Not only is this considerate to other EV drivers, but it promotes more efficient charging. Around 80% battery charge, the vehicle tells the fast-charging station to slow down. The slower rate of charge protects the battery, but can be a drastic reduction in charging speed depending on the vehicle’s battery management. Most vehicles will reach 80% well within 40 minutes of fast charging, so it’s a better use of time to simply move on when the charge rate slows and drive until you need to charge again. Fast charging stations are rarely more than 150 km apart within a built-out route: HWY 16’s charging stations are now online. HWYs 37 and 97 north charging stations remain to be built.

Rated range and real-world use

We used A Better Route Planner (ABRP) to compare vehicles in a few example trips. This is a popular tool for planning routes, as it simulates trips accounting for vehicle efficiency, speed of travel, elevation and even weather conditions. For all the ABRP examples, we limited the vehicles to arrive with no less than 10% battery remaining, and did not include any weather conditions like severe cold or wind. In the example of a trip between Smithers and Prince George (371 km), we compared several vehicles that all have rated range (advertised range) over 400 km. Nearly all of them would need to make a charging stop to complete the trip, which leads to the question of why vehicles with ranges of 415+ km need to charge on a 371 km trip.

EV ranges are determined independently from the manufacturers, but are done so in standard tests. Those test conditions inevitably differ from what we encounter in practice. It’s common for EV drivers to exceed the advertised range in low-speed city traffic with frequent stops, but to fall short of the advertised range during highway driving. Real range depends on driving behavior, like hard acceleration and high speeds, plus weather conditions.

An electric car’s navigation showing 115 km or range remaining, and 15 km to the nearest charging station.

EVs have on-board range displays that try to account for efficiency in real-time – but those numbers will vary as conditions change. Fortunately, charging stations are not very far apart along electrified routes – and those electrified routes are spreading throughout the province. Once you start driving an electric vehicle, you will quickly become accustomed to how far it can go before needing to recharge, even if the range display fluctuates. When you travel a new route, planning tools like A Better Route Planner are helpful for an approximate charging plan.

What about winter?

Of course, winter range and performance is a big topic in BC, especially in the north and interior. We even have a series of short videos about driving electric in BC winters. EV ranges can be reduced by 40 percent in winter, but even a 40 percent range reduction doesn’t have much impact on daily commuting with vehicles that can normally go 350-400 km between charges. Range reductions vary depending on how the vehicle is being used and what kind of cutting edge technology it has. Recent new equipment and battery management systems have made EVs much better in winter:

  • Heat pumps make a big difference. Early EVs used electric resistive heaters, which use a great deal of electricity to warm the cabin while driving around in the winter. Heat pumps are much more efficient. Combined with heater seats and a heated steering wheel, these newer approaches to heating draw less power from the battery and therefore preserve range.
  • Newer EVs are equipped with battery heating systems. Cold weather reduces battery performance, but a battery that can power a vehicle at highway speeds for hundreds of kilometres can also power a heating system to keep itself warm. Plus, batteries naturally get warmer as they work harder at highway speeds, so cold-weather range reductions can be less severe on the highway than in the city.
  • Cold batteries cannot charge optimally. Battery pre-condition uses the heating system to warm the battery while travelling to a fast-charging station. This doesn’t preserve range, but it optimizes the battery for fast-charging. Range reductions are mitigated by systems mentioned above, but winter travel is still less efficient due to winter tires, slippery conditions and deep snow. Being able to take a proper fast-charge without waiting for the battery to heat up at the charging station reduces the practical impact of those inefficiencies. Modern EVs can charge very quickly, given the right charging stations and conditions. As higher powered charging stations are installed across the province, more drivers are able to take advantage of their vehicles’ charging capabilities and winter range reductions will become less noticeable.

A few more winter tips noted by our panel of Northern BC drivers:

  • Local drivers haven’t been deterred by cold weather. They drive their electric vehicles all through the winter.
  • Electric vehicles don’t have engines that need to turn over. They just have electric motors and batteries. They will always turn on, so long as they have battery power. So the severe cold that prevents a combustion engine from turning over and getting started does not prevent an EV from turning on.
  • EVs have great handling and traction in snow. They have a low centre of gravity due to their battery placement, the motors are very responsive, and AWD models use multiple motors (front and back) for precise traction control.
  • Electric vehicles have plenty of power to keep you warm in an emergency. When the vehicle isn’t moving, the power required for heating is minimal compared to what the battery holds. New models can heat the cabin for 2-3 days with a full charge. One driver on the panel spent several hours stopped on a closed highway in the winter with no heating problems and no meaningful range reduction.

Thank-you to everyone who registered for the webinar or watched the recording. Please send us any questions. It’s what we’re here for! Contact Michael Stanyer, mstanyer@pluginbc.ca.