Cot­tage charg­ers could be the key to the high­way for EVs

Elec­tric ve­hi­cles may not need mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture, writes Lor­raine Som­mer­feld

Ottawa Citizen - - DRIVING - Driv­

In the past cou­ple of Mo­tor Mouth col­umns, David Booth has raised some great points on the fu­ture of elec­tric ve­hi­cles, along­side the hair-rais­ing costs they will en­tail. I’m not go­ing to ques­tion his math (heck, I don’t even ques­tion his hair­style) but I want to toss a lit­tle wrench his way, a few what-ifs.

We all know if there are ten fac­tors to an equa­tion, tweak­ing even one ever so slightly can dras­ti­cally change the out­come. There are far more than ten fac­tors to this sub­ject, so you can imag­ine the com­bi­na­tions and per­mu­ta­tions that could ex­ist. Re­mem­ber, it was only a cou­ple years ago that diesel was the an­swer. Diesel who? Things move pretty fast.

I hap­pen to think Booth’s sug­ges­tion of ex­tended-range elec­tric ve­hi­cles is sort of bril­liant; don’t tell him I said so. Canada is a unique place with re­gards to ge­og­ra­phy and cli­mate, and one size does not fit all. We are also the last coun­try to the ta­ble when it comes to choice in our ve­hi­cles; for the most part, we get what every­body else has de­cided they want.

Just a few years ago, we were be­ing of­fered hy­brid ve­hi­cles that had elec­tric ranges of about 30 kilo­me­tres. We laughed. I know they had to start some­where, but that hy­brid was ba­si­cally like wear­ing a pair of five-inch stilet­tos but bring­ing a pair of flats with you; we all know you can only last so long in the heels. But the devel­op­ment of elec­tric tech­nol­ogy has set a blis­ter­ing pace in im­prov­ing bat­tery range, with Tesla and even Gen­eral Mo­tors nudg­ing up nearer to the cur­rent ca­pac­ity of many gas-powered cars.

One of every­body’s big­gest con­cerns? Boom. Gone.

And I be­lieve it soon will be gone with every elec­tric of­fer­ing. And here is where I of­fer up a slightly dif­fer­ent sce­nario to Mr. Booth, to aug­ment the one where he is en­vi­sion­ing long lines of traf­fic clog­ging up those gas-and-pee stops along the Trans Canada High­way.

My cot­tage is 275 km from my home. I used to laugh at the thought of own­ing an elec­tric ve­hi­cle. But now? Well, with elec­tric en­gine of­fer­ings com­ing now in fam­ily-friendly ve­hi­cles (no of­fence, Smart), and a range well within reach of my own pri­vate splin­ters-and-mouse-turd par­adise, why not? In Booth’s sce­nario, I won’t do it be­cause I’ll never make it home; I’ll be stuck in some charg­ing nightmare at an ON route sta­tion. Ex­cept ….

Ex­cept, I’ll have charged up at the cot­tage. Just like I’d have charged up at home. I never could have gassed up at the cot­tage, but I could cer­tainly charge up, and drive back home, by­pass­ing the high­way hell. The tech­nol­ogy is chang­ing, but so will peo­ple’s pat­terns. I’m not sug­gest­ing there will be a stam­pede to the EV sec­tor, but there will be a shift. There are out­liers who drive far longer dis­tances to a week­end cabin or other des­ti­na­tion and for whom EVs don’t make sense, but for the most part, cot­tage zones tend to be within two to three hours of ma­jor cen­tres and peo­ple’s homes. Un­like Booth’s en­gi­neer­ing math, mine is less sci­en­tific: How long can I stand to be trapped in a metal box with a hand­ful of whin­ing kids, a screech­ing cat and a mi­graine?

It takes two-and-a-half hours to get to our cot­tage.

We’ve been sug­gest­ing electrics will work for ur­ban dwellers be­cause they can charge at home, and then again at work places that are adapt­ing with each new build and on­go­ing retrofits.

That end trip ei­ther has to have a charg­ing sta­tion, or the charge has to last long enough for a re­turn trek.

We’ve never ques­tioned that those con­sumers en­ter­tain­ing pur­chas­ing an elec­tric ve­hi­cle will have to kit out their homes with a charg­ing sta­tion; I’m say­ing those same con­sumers would con­sider do­ing the same at a va­ca­tion home.

Booth is right that the in­fra­struc­ture equa­tion sports too many ze­ros if we treat it like we do ex­ist­ing driv­ing pat­terns. I’m propos­ing that ve­hi­cles with long-range ca­pa­bil­i­ties will cause a shift in driver be­hav­iour away from the tra­di­tional fill­ing sta­tions.

That won’t solve all the prob­lems, but it’s the be­gin­ning of those tweaks I men­tioned up top. Make enough tweaks, and things that were once im­pos­si­ble can start to shift. Elec­tric cars have so many vari­ables at play.

I al­most al­ways stop for fuel on my way home from the cot­tage, but only be­cause I don’t leave the cot­tage with a full tank.


For own­ers of elec­tric cars such as the Nis­san Leaf, who have a charg­ing sta­tion at home, why not have one at the cot­tage as well?

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