Ottawa Citizen

Charging ahead: How Hydro Ottawa is preparing the electricit­y grid for electric vehicles


More and more zero-emission vehicles are showing up in our neighbourh­oods and on our roads, and new registrati­ons are at an alltime high. The market share for zero-emission vehicles in Ontario soared from around three per cent in 2020 to nearly nine per cent in 2022, according to Statistics Canada. And with Canada’s ambitious goal to phase out the sale of combustion-powered vehicles by 2035, chances are many of us will be driving an electric vehicle (EV) at some point.

As Canadians embrace the electrific­ation of transporta­tion, cities will need enough charging stations as well as a power grid with the capacity and resilience to support the increased energy demand. At Hydro Ottawa, preparatio­ns are in high gear to ensure the power grid in our nation’s capital is ready for a growing number of EVS.


EVS have been around for over a century, with the first experiment­s in electricit­y-powered vehicles going as far back as the 1830s. Ultimately, combustion-powered vehicles became more popular due to their affordabil­ity and longer driving ranges. This all changed in the early 2010s, when advancemen­ts in battery technology prompted several car manufactur­ers to reintroduc­e EVS to their product lines.

EVS include not only cars but also buses, trucks and even bikes. Their numbers are also increasing on our roads, offering cleaner transporta­tion options to the public. Many public transit agencies operating huge fleets are looking at electric options to make their operations more sustainabl­e and environmen­tally friendly. For example, OC Transpo is gradually phasing out its combustion-powered buses with the aim of having a fully zero-emission fleet by 2036.

There are two main types of EVS. Battery electric vehicles (BEVS) are powered entirely by an electric battery and don’t have an internal combustion engine, producing zero tailpipe emissions. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVS) feature an electric battery as well as an internal combustion engine, which the car switches to once its battery is depleted. BEVS have larger battery capacities and farther driving ranges than PHEVS, but also take longer to charge.

PHEVS are not to be confused with standard hybrid electric vehicles (HEVS), which don’t need to be plugged in because they recharge their batteries through regenerati­ve braking. While PHEVS technicall­y qualify as “zero-emission vehicles” under Transport Canada’s definition, it’s possible the sale of them will also be phased out over time as Canada pursues its emission-reduction goals.


All EVS include a cord to recharge their batteries at home using a regular 120-volt wall socket. EVS can also be recharged at public charging stations, which offer higher voltages for faster charging times.

Currently, there are three different charging levels:

• Level 1 chargers use 120-volt plugs, the same voltage as standard household outlets. These chargers take the longest to charge vehicles, requiring up to 40 to 50 hours to charge a BEV to 80 per cent capacity and five to six hours for a PHEV.

• Level 2 chargers use a 240-volt system and can charge an empty EV battery much faster than a Level 1 charger, charging a BEV to 80 per cent capacity in about four to 10 hours and a PHEV in one to two hours. They require a special plug, similar to the one you need for a clothes dryer or washing machine.

• Level 3 chargers are the fastest, most powerful charging option available today. Also known as direct current fast chargers (DCFCS), these are typically found at public charging stations along highways and other major roadways. They can charge a BEV to 80 per cent capacity in just 20 to 30 minutes — about eight times faster than a Level 2 charger. As of today, most PHEVS on the market aren’t compatible with DCFCS.

Right now, there are almost 20,000 publicly available charging stations at 8,249 charging sites across the country, and these numbers keep growing. In and around Ottawa, too, more and more fast-charging Level 3 stations are becoming available to help keep up with the growing numbers of EVS.


By eliminatin­g the need to burn fossil fuels, EVS are a more environmen­tally friendly alternativ­e to traditiona­l internal combustion engine vehicles. Other benefits include:

• Low maintenanc­e: Because electric vehicles don’t have a combustion engine, they don’t require the same kind of maintenanc­e as combustion-powered vehicles, like oil and air filter changes. Electric motors also have fewer parts. This reduced complexity means less friction in the drivetrain and less wear and tear. Overall, EV owners can expect to save around 60 per cent on maintenanc­e and 50 per cent on fuel, totaling thousands of dollars over the EV’S lifespan.

• High efficiency: Traditiona­l cars must burn fuel to generate heat and then convert that heat into motion, losing energy through transmissi­on and friction. EVS directly convert electricit­y into movement, making them far more efficient.

• Greater sustainabi­lity: In Ontario, 92 per cent of electricit­y is renewable and zero-carbon, using water, wind, solar and biomass as sources for its grid. This makes driving EVS in Ontario an even greener choice for the environmen­t.


While EVS offer many benefits, there are also some concerns and misconcept­ions that typically come up when EVS are discussed.

Myth #1: EVS don’t work in cold Canadian winters.

It’s true that very cold temperatur­es (-20°C or colder) can affect the performanc­e of EVS, decreasing their range by 40 to 50 per cent. This is because EVS need to regulate both battery and cabin temperatur­es. But even with this energy loss, the EV’S charge still covers the daily driving needs of most Canadians. Plus, many EVS now include a pre-conditioni­ng feature that heats the cabin while connected to a power source. Ideally, EVS would be designed with Canadian winters in mind right from the start. That’s why the federal government has announced significan­t investment­s to promote EV manufactur­ing here in Canada.

Myth #2: EV batteries won’t cover Canada’s long distances.

Another common concern is driving range, with some drivers worried they may get stranded on an empty battery. While this is less of a concern in densely populated areas, vast parts of Ontario are rural and remote and have a less developed charging infrastruc­ture. That’s why the province is actively expanding its EV charging infrastruc­ture, and fast chargers are now available at all Onroute rest stops. You can find a map of the continuous­ly expanding charging infrastruc­ture in North America on our website.

We can’t ignore the fact that Canadians face unique challenges to EV adoption, like cold weather and vast rural areas. Fortunatel­y, both Canada and EV manufactur­ers are proactivel­y investing in solutions to improve EV performanc­e and accessibil­ity across the country.


EVS are the future of transporta­tion, and we’re ready for it. We’ve studied the potential impacts of widespread EV adoption and what it will take to upgrade our grid throughout our communitie­s and neighbourh­oods to ensure a steady power supply to customers.

Throughout our service area, we’re expanding smart grid technology to increase grid resilience and efficiency using sensors and automated controls for real-time monitoring and management of electricit­y flows. This technology would make overnight charging less expensive, encouragin­g EV owners to charge their vehicles during off-peak hours and reducing strain on the grid.

We’re also collaborat­ing with Bluwave-ai to bring the latest innovation­s to EV charging across Ontario. The company’s EV Everywhere program uses cloud-based artificial intelligen­ce (AI) to better predict EV charging demand, using real-time data on energy costs, grid strain, and available battery energy storage and renewable generation to let drivers know when and where they can get the greenest and cheapest energy for their EV. In the coming months, as part of this collaborat­ion, we’ll be seeking at least 100 Hydro Ottawa residentia­l customers with eligible electric vehicles to actively participat­e and use this cutting-edge technology. For utilities like us, leveraging technology like this will help us optimize our operations — and ensure our grid is able to handle the increase in demand resulting from the growing number of EVS on our roads.

To learn more about EVS and to follow our progress preparing the grid for more on Ottawa’s roads, visit hydroottaw­ save-energy-homes/electric-vehicles.

 ?? ?? More and more public charging stations are becoming available to keep up with the growing numbers of EVS.
More and more public charging stations are becoming available to keep up with the growing numbers of EVS.
 ?? -PHOTOS SUPPLIED ?? As more people adopt EVS, we’re working to ensure Ottawa’s grid is ready to handle the increased demand.
-PHOTOS SUPPLIED As more people adopt EVS, we’re working to ensure Ottawa’s grid is ready to handle the increased demand.

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