Ont. electric car charging network launched

Eight new electric vehicle charging stations have been installed in southern Ontario as part of a demonstration project backed by the provincial government.
During the demonstration project, Better Place will manage and monitor charging throughout its network from a central control centre. (Better Place)

Eight new electric vehicle charging stations have been installed in southern Ontario as part of a demonstration project backed by the provincial government.

"As the first truly mass-produced EVs begin to enter markets in North America, we are focused on lining up the elements necessary for mass adoption," said Jason Wolf, vice-president of North America for Better Place, the company that built the stations, in a statement.

Corporate fleets from Ontario's largest municipally owned electric utilities, PowerStream Inc. and Veridian Connections Inc., will use the stations in Toronto, Markham, Vaughan, Barrie, Bowmanville and Ajax during a one-year pilot project. Each spot can charge two vehicles at once. Both companies contributed money to the project and hope the demonstration will help them get ready for the wider adoption of electric cars.

"Being utilities, it's really important for them to understand impacts that large amount of electric vehicles will have on their grids," Wolf said in an interview.

The City of Toronto will also be taking part in the project through its corporate fleet, which will begin testing electric vehicles soon.

The charging stations are expected to become available for public use some time after the demonstration project ends, and Better Place hopes to build more in the future.

The Ontario government contributed $1 million toward the charging stations and an electric vehicle education and demonstration centre at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto that opens to the public Friday.

Ontario goal: 1 in 20 cars electric by 2020

The first commercial plug-in electric vehicles, the Chevrolet Volt, the Nissan Leaf, and the electric Ford Focus are expected to become available in Canada later in 2011, and the provincial government hopes that one in 20 vehicles in Ontario will be electric by 2020.

Better Place worldwide

Better Place's business model is based on providing infrastructure and services to manage batteries and charging for its customers.

The goal is to help customers use their electric car batteries to store renewable power such as wind during off-peak times when electricity prices are low and minimize the load on the grid by its customers during times of peak electricity demand, when prices are high. The company also plans to allow customers to swap depleted batteries for new ones that are fully charged. That means the car's range would no longer be limited by the amount of power stored in its battery.

The Ontario demonstration project represents Better Place's launch and a test of its network infrastructure in Canada. But the company, which specializes in electric car infrastructure and services, is at a more advanced stage in a number of other countries.

In Israel, Australia and Denmark, where the company plans to launch commercial packages within the next year to manage batteries and charging among all its customers.

It announced its commercial pricing in Denmark Thursday for subscriptions to charging and battery swapping services. The price ranges from $270 a month for people who drive less than 20,000 kilometres a year to $542 a month for the "unlimited" kilometres package, plus a one-time fee of $1,820 for the installation of a personal charge spot at home.

During the demonstration project, Better Place will manage and monitor charging throughout its network from a central control centre. From there, the company can see the amount of battery power remaining on each vehicle. It can turn charging on and off at each spot or vary charging rate to optimize charging based on information from the vehicle and data from utilities about current generation and electricity pricing.

"You can have really big fluctuations [in price]," Wolf said.

Currently, the model means each car must remain plugged into the charging station when not in use, and will charge more slowly when prices are high. But customers will be able to override charging rate settings when needed and will have new options as electric vehicles become more popular, Wolf said.

"In the future Better Place model, you'll also have the ability to switch out the battery [and replace it with a fully charged one] in less time than it takes to fill up a tank of gas."

That would effectively give electric cars an unlimited range.

Sandra Pupatello, Ontario's minister of economic development and trade, said the government's support for the demonstration will attract investment to the province.

"By demonstrating leadership in the adoption of electric vehicles, Ontario is positioned to capture the research and production jobs as the plan gains momentum," she said in a statement. "It's about taking a long-term view for the clean jobs of tomorrow for our families."

A few other electric vehicle charging stations already exist in Toronto at the Sheraton Centre hotel, Mercedes Benz Mid-Town and the Toronto Hydro headquarters.