The Great Transportation Revolution 2: How and where electric vehicles can be charged

Published Tuesday, August 15, 2017 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

As a new owner of a plug-in hybrid vehicle, I’ve suddenly become very interested in how battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids are charged, and where you can charge them.  Here’s an overview.

The three levels 

There are three ways to charge BEVs or plug-in hybrids.

Level One charging refers to using a standard household outlet; BEVs or plug-in hybrids typically come with a cord.  Level One charging is simple and versatile – you can charge anywhere there’s power – but it’s also slow.  My car requires about 12 hours for a full charge – but since that’s how much time it typically sits idle overnight anyway, it’s sufficient for me.

Level Two and Level Three chargers are permanently installed terminals with a cord that plugs into your vehicle; picture the electrical equivalent of a gas pump and hose.

Level Two chargers are the type usually installed at businesses, hotels, parking garages or homes.  They supply power at 240 volts, so they replenish vehicle batteries significantly faster.  A Level Two charger fills my plug-in hybrid in 4.5 hours; it would fill most BEVs overnight.

Level Three charging stations – also called DC fast chargers – are the heavyweights of vehicle charging.  Typically located near major highways, they pack 400 volts of power, and can charge most BEVs to 80 per cent full in just 30 minutes – essentially, a coffee stop on a road trip.  At present, Level Three chargers can’t be used by plug-in hybrids like mine; they’re exclusively for BEVs, which have much larger batteries and are wired to handle intense, rapid charging.  (That may change, as vehicle manufacturers are developing plug-in hybrids that can handle the oomph of Level Three chargers.) 

If you drive a plug-in hybrid, you’ll probably need nothing more than a standard wall outlet to charge your car at home.  If you drive a BEV, you’ll probably want to install a Level Two charging station.

Locating chargers

It’s becoming much easier to find charging stations in NB.  

Sun Country Highway, a charging station manufacturer, operates a demonstration network of 20 free (for now) Level Two stations from St. Stephen to Sackville to Caraquet to Clair; an interactive map showing locations can be found via their website or app.

But the big news is NB Power’s recent unveiling of its new eCharge Network, a province-wide, easy-to-access, easy-to-use network of Level Two and Three charging stations.  

The eCharge Network is pretty straightforward.  BEV and plug-in hybrid drivers register by going to www.echargenetwork.com.  They receive a card by mail, which they load with money at the eCharge Network website.  They then use the card to access any of the network’s stations, and the applicable charging fees are deducted from their card.

Level Two chargers cost $1.50/hour or $3/session.  Level Three chargers – the heavy-duty ones – cost 25 cents per minute.

The network is expanding greatly this summer with the installation of 15 Level Two and Level Three charging stations around the province.  Chargers can be found using an interactive map on the network’s website, or by app.  A nice bonus: eCharge Network members can use their card to access over 1500 charging stations on sister networks in other provinces.   

If you’re a business owner, you might want to consider joining the network and installing a charging station on your premises.  As a new plug-in hybrid owner, I’m already finding myself seeking out restaurants and other businesses that have such stations.

Besides Sun Country Highway and the eCharge Network, other leading apps that list all chargers, regardless of network affiliation, include PlugShare and CAA.

Three levels of charger, more locations regularly and easy ways to find and use charging stations.  It’s getting easier to own and operate electric vehicles.

But are they really cleaner and cheaper to operate?  That’s next.