Exciting new developments in the automotive world are helping to speed along the development and sale of all-electric vehicles around the world. Nissan has recently unleashed its all-electric Nissan Leaf compact car, and Chevrolet is moving forward with its elect-gas hybrid Volt sedan. For Ontario motorists, this automotive revolution will be backed up by charging stations throughout the province.
Every massive new change in how we use our vehicles has to start somewhere, and in Ontario it’s starting in eight cities with electric charging stations. Those cities include Toronto, Vaughan, Markham, Barrie, Ajax and Bowmanville.
Unlike major gas stations, which can sometimes handle up to sixteen vehicles at one time, Ontario’s electric car charging stations are capable of Entergy charging on two cars at any given time. However, it’s important to remember that these stations are currently a “proof of concept.” At the moment, they’re open only to corporate fleets of electric cars owned by Ontario’s electric utility companies. As the demand for electric car charging stations increases, their size and capacity will necessarily increase relative to that demand.
Indeed, demand is likely to skyrocket in the coming years. The electric Ford Focus model, the Chevrolet Volt, and the Nissan Leaf are all expected to become available in Canada sometime later in 2011; Ontario has set the ambitious goal of having 1 in 20 automobiles on province highways powered by electricity in 2020.
To ensure that this demand is met adequately, the current charging stations are being rigorously tested and monitored for performance and efficiency. It’s important to remember that, unlike gasoline, and electric charge takes a great deal of time to build up. And an all-electric vehicle has a pretty sizable battery to fill, with a range of up to 340 miles on a single charge.
To compensate for this fact, the utility companies are monitoring their electric vehicles battery levels and charging rates at Ontario’s eight electric charging stations. They’re looking at information such as how quickly the battery drains in real-world driving conditions, how quickly it can recover its charge at a charging station, and how costly it is to complete a charge on the road.
Because electricity differs from oil in that it comes from a generation plant rather than a barrel, generation costs at a utility plant must be taken into consideration when charging for an electric fill-up. These costs can be quite high at current levels, as the market is still adjusting to the concept of electric charging rates.
To help offset this large costs, the utility companies are working on a system where electric car users would be able to skip the charging process altogether and instead swap out the car’s drained battery for a new, fully charged model. It would decrease the amount of time spent at a charging station and allow the station to charge a flat rate for battery replacement that would be consistent across the board and highly affordable.
Because a battery swap wouldn’t place a heavy burden on generation companies, the charging station could charge the battery on its own time, at a slower (more affordable) rate, and pass that lower rate on to customers.
No matter what the final business model, these eight prototype stations across Ontario are a promising sign of a future that moves beyond pricy petroleum products. Only market forces and scientific advancement will determine what an electric charging station eventually looks like, but this preview is a great way to get early insight into the process.