Looking ahead

Many people will not buy an electric car if it means they also need a gas car for long trips. So far in this blog I have focused on what we have experienced in our own electric car – a 2014 Leaf. For this post I’m going to take a brief detour to describe the changes coming in the next couple of years which will allow almost everyone to replace their gas car with an electric one.

State of the Art

The current state of the art in street legal pure electric cars is the Tesla Model S.  A buyer can choose from various package levels to have a 460 km range and up to 500 horsepower.  Like any electric car you can charge it at home but when you’re on a road trip a Tesla supercharger will give the Model S a 240 km charge in just 30 minutes.  The Model S only recently started production (in 2012) but already outperforms gas car premium brands which have been building and tweaking their cars for decades.  The only problem with the Model S, for me anyway, is the price:  $100,000 – $150,000. Yikes!

Better Batteries for Affordable Range

The most expensive component of an electric car is the traction battery.  Car manufacturers and their partners are investing billions to improve battery technology.  The objective is to drive the cost down while improving capacity and charging speed so that electric cars can compete with gas cars on price and range. Improvements in alternative battery technologies, such as sodium-ion, are being announced on an increasingly frequent basis.  Those improvements are good but in the short term the most significant impact will be made based on economies of scale.

For example, Tesla, the manufacturer of the world’s best electric car, is currently building a huge $5 billion factory in Nevada to reduce the cost of batteries simply by increasing the volume of production. The plant is expected to start battery production in late 2016.  Tesla plans to start producing a new less expensive model, the “Model 3”, by the end of 2017.  The Model 3 is an electric car with a 320+ km range and affordable $35,000 US price tag.  Expect to see at least two other models, the new Chevrolet Bolt and the 2017/8 Nissan Leaf, compete with that range and price point.

“Affordable?” you say.  That’s still $35,000 US!  True, and the exchange rate between Canadian and US dollars kind of sucks for us right now.  Hopefully that won’t last.  On the positive side, some provinces already have attractive incentives for buying an electric car (e.g. $8,500 rebate in Ontario). Incentive programs are likely to spread to other provinces now that the federal government is finally committed to help address climate change.

More Chargers

To be able to tackle a long trip in an electric car you need to have a long range battery but you also need to be able to find fast chargers along your route. Not just chargers but a fast chargers. Chargers come in different flavours:

  • Normal / Regular / Level 2  (3 – 20 kw) Most public chargers are this type. Takes over 3 hours to fully charge the Leaf when it’s close to empty.
  • Trickle (1.2 kw)  A typical household 110 volt outlet.  Takes over 15 hours to fully charge the Leaf battery from almost empty.
  • Fast / Level 3  (32 kw)  About 50 in Canada so far.  Takes less than 30 minutes to charge the Leaf from almost empty to 80%.
  • Super (120 kw)  Tesla’s premium charging system.  About 15 in Canada so far.  A 30 minute super charge gives a Tesla Model S sedan enough power to go 270 km.

Having access to fast charging or super charging along the way will obviously make a big difference on lengthy trips. For example, when we drive the Camry from Fredericton to Halifax we often make a 15 minute coffee & gas stop in Sackville NB.  In 2018 we’ll be able to do the same trip in the same time using any of the electric cars mentioned above as long as there is a fast/super charger in Sackville NB.

We need a lot more fast chargers to support long distance trips in Canada.  The good news is that governments at all levels have finally recognized the need for this infrastructure so the pace of charger deployment should start to pick up.  Ontario has recently announced $20 million for new charging stations.  Quebec and BC lead the way with the most fast chargers in Canada thanks to supportive provincial policies.  In fact, in Quebec the St Hubert restaurant chain alone has already installed chargers at over 60 restaurants – 10 of which are fast chargers!  You can see how many public chargers are currently installed by visiting plugshare.com.

All together

Lots of other improvements are coming but I believe those in battery technology and the deployment of fast chargers will be the most significant in getting more electric cars on the road.

Next post – Finding Chargers

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