With interest in electric vehicles rising ahead of Ottawa’s move to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, we set out to see what it is like to live with an EV if you live in a multi-unit residential building and are entirely reliant on the public charging network. After one week with a 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5, charging turned out to be complicated and costly.
In 2014, I borrowed a couple of EVs, and was granted approval by my building’s management to plug them into the underground garage outlets. But there was a sump pump on one outlet, and a heater on the other, so I wound up blowing circuits. An EV needs a dedicated circuit, and there were none available. I was sternly told, “no more electric vehicles.”
Eight years later, a lot more EVs are on the road, and a quick glance at ChargeHub, an EV charger locating app, showed 864 Level 2 and Level 3 chargers within 15 kilometres of my home in downtown Toronto. Surely I could now drive an EV using just public chargers, right?
For one week, I drove the new affordable Ioniq 5, the Jessica Chastain of the EV set – smart, stylish and scooping up awards. Back in 2014, my Ford Focus EV had a puny 23 kilowatt-hour battery with about 150 kilometres of range, while the Ioniq 5 has a whopping 77.4 kilowatt-hour battery with 400 kilometres of range.
To prepare, I had spent hours reading and researching the industry, and talking to experts at Natural Resources Canada, Toronto Hydro, the non-profit Plug ‘n Drive, the public charging network Electrify Canada, and the Atmospheric Fund, a Toronto-based regional agency that advocates for low-carbon options.
No less than 12 apps were downloaded to my phone, including charging-locator apps such as ChargeHub and PlugShare, plus EV networks like Flo and ChargePoint. I set up accounts. I spent money.
Now it was time to hit the road. I visited friends in Thornhill and North York, Ont., who have EVs and home chargers. As they learned of my mission, eyebrows were raised. Was I sure I didn’t want to use their home charger? But no, that would be cheating.
Later in the week, I dropped in on Burlington buddies. Over yummy Hungarian goulash, the entire family, including Ivy the bull terrier, pleaded with me to charge at the local Canadian Tire. But I still had a 30-per-cent charge, enough to get home.
Ontario desperately needs to play catchup on EVs, and jobs are on the line
In the morning, I was down to 10 per cent and headed to a nearby underground parking lot where ChargeHub promised I’d find a Level 3 fast charger. Sure enough, there it was, looking like a big blue TARDIS. But it didn’t show up on my Flo app. In order to activate the charger, to get electricity into my vehicle, the charger has to be on the app, so that I can physically tap it and make it work. Flo’s Level 2 chargers showed up, but using those slower chargers would take 13 hours.
I tried calling the 1-800 number, but reception was spotty. So I ran up to the lobby, and called again, opting for the French line. I knew the wait time would be shorter, and all the representatives would be bilingual. Sure enough, I got through quickly and the rep told me to type the serial number of the fast charger into the Flo app search bar to activate it. This option had never come up in the hours I’d spent researching.
Back in the garage, my cellphone wouldn’t connect to the cellular network. A young man approached in an Impark uniform, asking if I needed to use his phone. Turns out the brand new building was not yet wired for my cellphone carrier. I plugged in the car, keyed in the serial number of the charger and the TARDIS shuddered into action with a loud thrum.
Incredibly, it took only an hour for the battery to reach an 85-per-cent charge. “That’s as long as it takes to get gas at Costco,” the Impark worker noted. He saw my rear window was covered in slush, as the Ioniq 5 lacks a rear wiper, and cleaned it with some Windex. Eventually, my car was clean and charged. However, it cost $20 to use the fast charger for an hour, plus $25 for parking.
On Saturday, I visited Yorkdale mall, notorious for its sprawling parkades. At the EV chargers in parkade G, all four spots were filled by EVs. In parkade E, eight of the 10 spots had EVs, but two spots were occupied by gas-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. This is what’s called being ICEd. There is a $125 fine under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act for parking in an spot reserved for EV charging. Sadly, the Highway Traffic Act doesn’t apply to private property like Yorkdale. Still, I contacted Yorkdale security and a guard promised to put a sticker on the offending vehicle.
Back home, I contacted a nearby office building equipped with Level 2 chargers, where I might park overnight to charge. Using a Level 3 fast charger is mostly for emergencies, as it degrades the battery. So long-term parking is better for the EV, ideally overnight. But while parking was available, and the Level 2 chargers were free, it would still cost $350.02 a month for parking privileges.
So I could indeed have an EV, but it would cost me a pretty penny to charge. And it’s frustrating to find the chargers, as one app says one thing, and another says something else.
According to Ian Klesmer at the Atmospheric Fund, 46 per cent of Ontario residents are like me, and don’t live in single family homes. His fund has recently received $2-million from Natural Resources Canada to install about 300 chargers, and expects a big chunk of that will go toward installing chargers on residential streets as well as near multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs).
And according to Cara Clairman of Plug ‘n Drive, a retrofit for an older building like mine can be prohibitively expensive. Floors and walls need to be penetrated and electrical capacity needs to be upgraded. She noted that the Condominium Act in Ontario stipulates that if a condo owner requests their building install EV chargers, the condo board cannot just turn them down, but is required to conduct an assessment.
New MURBs often have EV charging “roughed in” for parking stalls, to ensure readiness. There is currently no law in Ontario to require this, but legislation exists in other jurisdictions, such as Vancouver.
So while I’d like to reduce my carbon footprint with an EV, it’s hardly a bargain. Although the public EV charging network is getting there, it’s a patchwork of providers. There’s too much technology to make it straightforward, and yet not enough to make it practical.
Almost half the population in Ontario doesn’t live in single family homes, and needs public EV charging. By 2030, 30 per cent of Canadian light-duty vehicle sales are mandated to be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). How can that happen if millions of people can’t charge their cars?
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