Climate change is a serious challenge. As Canadians pursue strategies to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, transportation is at the forefront.

In 2015, the transportation sector was the second largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada, accounting for 24 percent of total emissions. Therefore, adapting to climate change must go hand in hand with adopting new transportation approaches.

The shift from traditional combustion engine automobiles to electric vehicles (EVs) offers a sustainable option available to many consumers. Widespread adoption has not come easily but we are on the way.

There are many drivers of adoption at play as Ontario moves toward an electrified transportation future. From technology and infrastructure to perceptions and behavioural changes, the path forward is complex but encouraging.

Technology

The primary challenge for EVs is the real and perceived issue of "range anxiety."

Recharge times are a barrier, as is the lack of publicly available fast or high voltage charging stations. Recent advancements in battery power, as well as motor and electronics technology, have helped to even the playing field and encourage the adoption of EVs but there are still many improvements to be made.

Infrastructure

A strong network of charging stations is a critical element to an EV transportation system. There are just under 5,000 charging stations across Canada with three levels of charge. Most plug-in EVs can use a Level 1 charge, which is the equivalent of a regular household wall socket. This can take as long as 20 hours to fully charge.

Level 2 charging stations can charge batteries in less than half the time of Level 1 charging and are specifically designed for EVs. Level 3 or "fast chargers" can charge a car battery in a little as 30 minutes. However, there is not yet a widely accepted universal standard for the power requirements of these chargers and they require additional infrastructure, specifically related to power supply.

While a strong network is growing, there is still much work to be done to give consumers the confidence that a charging station will be available when and where they need it. Advancements in battery technology to increase range have helped to relieve this "range anxiety," but both improved technology and a strong network are needed to drive adoption.

Government regulation

Government standards, policies, and regulations play a huge role in the adoption of EVs in Canada. This is particularly true when it comes to fuel efficiency standards and programs created to encourage the adoption of newer technologies. The EVs of today are much different than when they were first introduced, and that evolution is very much defined by the priorities and approach of government.

Behavioural changes

Consumers want unbiased information about EVs in order to make informed purchasing decisions. Many already struggle with vehicle choices as they balance considerations like choosing the right size and determining if they need a car for everyday needs or less frequent trips. Adding decisions like battery range and type into the mix can further complicate a highly personal decision.

One of the most transformative elements of this transportation system shift is the public’s ever-changing perceptions of EVs and the role of early adopters. A car is usually a consumer’s second most expensive purchase, after their home. Passionate, early supporters of EV technology have shaped the way and opened the doors for a broader consumer pool, heightened by the increasing vehicle choices available on the market.

The road ahead

Development of an eco-system to support the adoption of EVs in Canada requires vision and coordination. The drivers of adoption are multi-faceted and complex, drawing on the interplay between technology, infrastructure, regulation, and consumer behaviour.

It’s important that the EV network is built with a variety of stakeholders (government, non-government agencies, and the private sector) at the table and that investments are made thoughtfully yet quickly. Climate change isn’t slowing down and a shift in transportation has a key role to play in mitigating it.