Eight new electric car charging stations open around the G.T.A., as Ontario slowly, slowly moves towards a gas-free future

Eight new electric car charging stations open around the G.T.A., as Ontario slowly, slowly moves towards a gas-free future

Jason Wolf, VP North America at Better Place, and Sandra Pupatello, Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Trade 

As oil goes back over $100 per barrel and GTA commuters face higher gas prices, electric cars—a.k.a. “EVs” for “electric vehicles”—are slowly gaining popularity in the city. To capitalize on this, the international organization Better Place—not a.k.a. “BP”—is launching a pilot project that will build eight EV charging stations across the GTA and Barrie. The stations will be situated where Better Place’s partners are located, such as PowerStream sites in Barrie, Markham and Vaughan; Veridian sites in Ajax and Bowmanville; and the Evergreen Brick Works.

Who will charge up at the stations? Very few people, it turns out. Toronto Hydro’s electric Smart Cars project may offer some candidates, but the goal at this stage is simply to test out the equipment and prepare the Ontario market for more commercial integration of EVs. Better Place hopes that with the information they gather from this project (here and elsewhere), they will be able to roll out their full commercial plans in Ontario faster than they’ve been able to roll them out in the countries that are further along in the transition to electric cars.

“If you think about it, there’s no reason, technologically speaking, that people can’t be driving EVs instead of gasoline-powered cars today,” says Jason Wolf, North American VP of Better Place. “The problems are cost and range—and they’re both the fault of the battery.”

In other parts of the world, Better Place sells a plan in which the company owns the EV’s battery, taking that cost out of the hands and wallets of drivers and solving the cost issue. With enough members on the plan, Better Place can build a network of stations that switch out dead batteries with fresh ones in less time than it takes to fill up a gas tank, solving the range issue. Canada’s not there yet. The charging stations that Better Place is introducing today are nifty, but countries that are further down the road toward EV commercialization, like Denmark, Israel or Australia, are closer to getting those drive-through robotic battery changers.

“Actually, the big news for us today isn’t Ontario—it’s that Better Place Denmark announced consumer pricing for Better Place subscriptions,” says Wolf. In Denmark, it will cost about CDN$38,000 for a Better Place car. Add on top of that a monthly subscription fee (anywhere from $250 to $550) for the rest of the package. That may sound steep, but factor in the tax breaks that Danes will get for the car and the cost of gasoline that they’ll avoid, and it should save the EV drivers 10–20 per cent over their gas-guzzling vehicle.

Therein lies Ontario’s problem: the cost of gasoline is so much lower here than in other places that the private demand isn’t there yet. Wolf hesitates to criticize the Liberals at Queen’s Park (who are, after all, Better Place’s partners), but does say there’s more they could do. “For the cost of three to eight days of gasoline consumption in this province, if the government were willing to invest that much, the private sector could take it from there, and we could totally displace our dependence on fossil fuel gasoline.”