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Nearly half of B.C. EV owners worried about public charging access

Despite worries over public charging, 96% of electric vehicle owners said they would buy an EV again if they had to replace their current car, according to a poll from the Canadian Automobile Association.
Richmond Hospital EV chargers
An EV charger at Richmond Hospital in British Columbia.

Nearly half of British Columbians who own an electric vehicle say they are worried about getting access to a public charging station, according to a recent poll.

The poll, carried out by PlugShare Research on behalf of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), surveyed more than 16,000 EV owners across Canada, including 5,620 in B.C. The results form the largest national survey of the sentiments of electric vehicle owners to date, claims the CAA.

“Once you do buy an EV, your satisfaction levels are overwhelmingly high. Most of your concerns that you had from before you bought it go down significantly,” said Shawn Pettipas, director of mobility marketing at the British Columbia Automobile Association, which partnered with its national counterpart on the study.

“But there are still some areas where you do have concerns and that's mostly around the worry about access to public charging.”

The poll found more than a third of B.C. EV owners charge their vehicle outside of the home. Just under half said when they do that, access to a public charging station “is a worry.” That’s led more than a third of owners to not have confidence in driving their electric car on long road trips, while two-thirds of EV owners still own a gas car.

“A lot of these folks in the survey are early adopters. So they're learning a whole new strategy of how to use their transportation,” said Pettipas. “I think it's gonna change as infrastructure catches up, as technology changes.”

The ability to charge an electric car has long been both a psychological and infrastructure barrier for current and potential EV owners. But the poll found those concerns significantly decline once someone buys an electric vehicle.

Roughly 35 per cent of respondents said they felt “range anxiety” before they owned an EV, which dropped to 31 per cent once they owned an electric vehicle. Worries over cold-weather performance dropped 18 percentage points once drivers owned an EV, while fears over battery degradation plummeted 43 per cent.

That has all combined to lead 96 per cent of B.C. electric vehicle owners to say they would buy another EV if they had to replace the one they currently own. Another 87 per cent said they preferred driving an EV, 96 per cent said their EV was more affordable than their old gas vehicle, and 92 per cent said it's a quieter ride.

The survey was carried out from Nov. 21 to Dec. 11, 2022, in every province across Canada, with B.C. drivers representing the largest share of respondents.

B.C. a Canadian 'bright spot'

Last year, about one in five new vehicles sold in B.C. were electric, said Trevor Melanson, a spokesperson for Simon Fraser University’s Clean Energy Canada program, which works to accelerate Canada’s clean energy transition.

“It’s a bright spot in B.C., but the story is not quite true right across Canada,” said Melanson.

Almost 15 per cent of all new vehicles registered in B.C. between January and June 2022 were electric. Quebec is Canada’s second EV sales leader, accounting for 11.4 per cent of registrations over that same period.

Other provinces, however, have further to go. In the first six months of 2022, sales of fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles made up just 7.2 per cent of new car registrations across Canada. For all of 2021, the share was 5.2 per cent.

“Canada has actually been kind of middle of the pack in terms of EV adoption, and in fact, is lagging behind a number of European countries and even China in terms of EV adoption,” Melanson said.

That has prompted the federal government to try and play catch-up with B.C. and Quebec on EV rebates (which it has already done) and mandates requiring automakers to supply more EVs, (a policy it’s currently pursuing).

“The federal government now is actually pushing through a version of that policy at a national level to kind of even the playing field across the country,” Melanson said.

In late 2022, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault pledged to pass regulations that would require one-fifth of all passenger cars, SUVs and trucks sold in Canada by 2026 to be electric. By 2035, the plan would require every passenger vehicle sold in Canada to be electric.

Manufacturers or importers who don't meet the sales targets could face penalties under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act through a phased-in approach.

Clean transportation expected to see boom

Despite current EV misgivings, the pace of transitioning away from gas-powered cars is only expected to grow faster, and that’s predicted to create a boom in new jobs.

By 2050, nearly 61 per cent of the clean energy sector jobs are expected to be in transportation, according to a report released Wednesday by Clean Energy Canada.

“In fact, the number of people employed in the electric vehicle industry in 2050 is set to be 60 times greater than in 2025 — with an 18 per cent increase each year,” noted the report.

In B.C., the report forecast clean transportation is the biggest employer in the province’s net-zero clean energy sector, with jobs in the EV sector expected to employ 205,800 people in 2050, a 40-fold increase from what’s expected by 2025.

“Clean transportation is the biggest opportunity in Canada's clean energy sector,” added Melanson.

“We have some work to do, but I think it's going to be one of the areas that we can succeed in sooner than some others.”

With files from The Canadian Press