Drivers are topping up their electric cars at Nanaimo’s Petro-Canada station at the corner of Terminal Avenue and St. George Street.
The gas bar is B.C.’s first Petro-Canada station in the B.C. section of Canada’s Electric Highway, announced in February by Petro-Canada, the first hydro-carbon fuel retailer to plug into the electric vehicle energy supply market.
The chargers started operation in October and are links in a network of 12 high-speed electric vehicle charging sites planned for B.C. that will stretch across Canada. Petro-Canada is already operating EV charging stations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
“You will be able to, once we’ve completed it, drive across Canada from Nova Scotia to British Columbia,” said Nicole Fisher, spokeswoman for Suncor, which owns the Petro-Canada retail brand. “The chargers are all placed about 200 to 250 kilometres away from each other because we know that’s how long your average charge of a car will last. So, in order to be able to go across the country and have that road trip experience – that’s why you’ll see stations that might seem a little unusual from a traditional standpoint of where you might put an electric vehicle charger – but we really wanted to help with that drive across the country.”
Chargers are planned for Victoria, the Lower Mainland and across southern B.C. to Golden. Three stations are in their pre-opening testing stages and others are under construction. The Nanaimo site was selected almost “by fluke” said Ed Tkachuk, franchise owner.
“This site just happened to have the biggest lot, which made construction easier and faster,” Tkachuk said.
Houle Electric performed the installation of the charging station, which involved connecting a dedicated B.C. Hydro 600-ampere, 600-volt, three-phase service to the two electric vehicle chargers, supplying the underground electrical equipment, 920V DC wiring and fibre-optic connections, plus lighting, emergency shutdown systems, intercom, cameras and wiring for additional chargers. Houle Electric has also been awarded the contract to install Petro-Canada’s EV charger site in Victoria, which will be operational by the end of November, according to an e-mail from Matt Peppard, project manager with Houle Electric.
Suncor’s goal is to finish the highway within one year of its announcement.
The charger network follows major highway routes across southern Canada. The company has not announced plans to extend into northern Canadian routes or infill between existing sites.
“Right now what we’ve committed to is this network, so I think we’re going to take some time and learn from it … this is really the first round of what we have planned,” Fisher said.
At the Nanaimo site, drivers and staff are working out initial kinks in the system. The charge stations offer two plug types, one for American and European electric vehicles and a second compatible with Asian vehicle receptacles. Vehicles have plug-in points in various locations, such as in the centre front of the car or on the front fender near the driver’s door. Not all cars line up with the setup; in some cases charge station cables must be guided around bulwarks installed to protect the charge stations and are barely long enough to reach vehicle receptacles. The bulwarks can also make it difficult to exit and enter cars, depending on how the vehicles must be positioned to plug in. The information is recorded and sent back to Suncor with suggested modifications.
Charge times are controlled by the vehicle’s charge system and take about 20 to 30 minutes. Chargers are located at Petro-Canada convenience stations that include retail and even restaurant outlets, so people can have a bite to eat or shop to pass the time.
Charging will be free until the new year when the company will look at levying a fee according to charge time.
“We’re just working on the logistics of what that will be,” Fisher said.
She said she did not have Suncor’s cost figures for setting up the initial charging station infrastructure, but said costs do vary from province to province. She said Suncor is trying to serve the potential needs of a new generation of longer-range, electric vehicles being sold in ever-increasing numbers.
“We really do want to be part of people’s experience as they move in different ways … which is why we’ve decided to do this,” she said. “I do believe that we were the first in Canada to announce that kind of coast-to-coast network. We, for the last few years, have had a few stations that have had Level 2 chargers at them, but definitely this is a step into that next phase of what an electric vehicle can do and facilitating a charge at a fuel station.”
To find out more about Canada’s Electric Highway’s working and proposed charge locations and other information, visit https://bit.ly/2KpCavK.