One of the country’s largest gas-station operators is doubling its plans to install rapid chargers for electric vehicles at its locations in Western Canada – a possible glimpse of a more convenient future for EV drivers nationwide struggling with inadequate infrastructure.
Parkland Corp. PKI-T, which operates stations under brands such as Chevron, Esso and Pioneer, is announcing Friday that it now plans to install between two and four charging ports at 50 of its locations, up from the 25 announced last year. Most of the new chargers will be in British Columbia, along with two stations in Alberta.
The Calgary-based company’s expanded rollout is being partly subsidized by a $5-million federal grant and $1.8-million from the B.C. government.
The chargers, able to top up vehicle batteries in 20 to 30 minutes, are being supplied by California-based Freewire Technologies, with which Parkland announced a partnership in October.
“The idea is to create a network that allows driving from Vancouver Island to Calgary and eliminates range anxiety,” Parkland senior vice-president Darren Smart said in an interview, with the chargers to be at intervals of 100 to 150 kilometres.
Parkland is also touting the investment as almost tripling the number of rapid-charging stations in the Greater Vancouver Area. For some of those locations, Mr. Smart said, it’s so-called garage orphans – city residents who live in apartments or houses that lack outlets they can use to charge their vehicles – who will be the target customers.
The expansion represents only a small step toward addressing major gaps in charging infrastructure across Canada. The federal government plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on such infrastructure as it seeks to end all sales of gasoline-powered passenger vehicles by 2035. The challenge is generally more acute outside B.C., which already has more public charging options than most other provinces.
But the increased commitment from Parkland advances a business model that is ultimately meant to make charging ports both more profitable and more appealing to customers.
The concept is this: drivers waiting for their EV batteries to fully charge – which even with the fastest available technology still takes considerably longer than filling a gas tank – will spend their time shopping in convenience stores or eating in restaurants that are part of Parkland’s gas-station complexes, branded On the Run.
While Parkland and other station operators already derive a significant portion of their revenues from on-site food and retail businesses, they are counting on those sales to make up an even bigger revenue share with EV customers, as the number of fossil-fuel customers gradually declines in the coming years.
At the same time, Parkland is trying to distinguish itself by addressing reliability concerns. Mr. Smart said each of its stations featuring EV chargers will have a technical specialist on site.
That’s apparently in response to frequent reports of chargers being out of service, which may make some customers reconsider the switch to EVs.
The overall strategy is being welcomed by EV advocates, who are closely monitoring progress on charging networks.
“The big news here is that a major player in the gas stations business is doubling down on its EV infrastructure efforts,” said Jeff Turner, the clean mobility director at Dunsky Energy and Climate Advisors. “It can still be a challenge to turn a profit in the public charging space, mainly because most charging happens at home, but clearly some players in the industry are skating to where the puck is going.”
Parkland has indicated that it hopes to further expand its charging plans, but it is non-committal about how quickly or aggressively that will happen in other parts of Canada such as the Prairies and Atlantic Canada, where both EV sales and charging infrastructure are poor.
“This is still a very immature market, and each region is going to go at a different pace,” Mr. Smart said. “I think that’s all right.”