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Same car, same charge, different prices? EV drivers face inconsistent, unreliable charging network

Marketplace hit the road in an electric vehicle to see how well Canada’s public charging infrastructure is working for Canadians. The investigation found a range in pricing across providers, as well as poor reliability and maintenance at some stations.

Environment minister weighs in on EV billing practices and pricing

An EV charging logo on a road.

The federal government has said expanding the electric vehicle charging network is key to meeting the country's climate goals, but an investigation by CBC's Marketplace has exposed a wide range in pricing as well as inconsistencies in performance and reliability at public charging stations.

Marketplace tested the pricing and reliability at some of Canada's most popular charging providers, travelling to Ivy, Flo, ChargePoint and Petro-Canada charging stations located across Ontario.

In an apples-to-apples kilowatt-per-hour comparison, Marketplace documented the price for a 20-minute charge on a Volvo Polestar 2 and found consumers may be paying twice as much depending on where they fill up. At one station, the charge was $10.09, while a competitor charged $5.20.

In a separate test looking at reliability, Marketplace took a Nissan Leaf to three different locations from each of the four charging companies.

The team encountered some sort of challenge at seven of the 12 stations.

The seven included one Ivy station, three ChargePoint and three Petro-Canada locations. The challenges included needing multiple attempts in order to start or end a charging session as well as problems completing payment through an app or credit card reader.

At two of the locations (ChargePoint and Petro-Canada), the team could not charge at all.

No charging hiccups occurred at the Flo locations visited.

  • Watch the full Marketplace episode, Putting Electric Vehicles to the Test: Are We Ready for 2035?, Friday at 8 p.m., 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland, on CBC-TV and anytime on CBC Gem or YouTube.

There is no single, comprehensive strategy for installation and maintenance of this country's charging infrastructure, something Joanna Kyriazis, director of public affairs at Clean Energy Canada, says should change.

"The pricing and payment systems need to be standardized and convenient," she said.

Speaking to Marketplace, Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault pointed to the relatively small sample size of the test, but acknowledged "there are problems. And we're working to address those problems."

A rocky road trip

The federal government has regulated that by 2035, all new vehicles sold must be electric.

According to data from Natural Resources Canada, in the first three months of 2023, about one out of every eight new cars purchased was electric. At present, more than 26,000 public EV charging stations have been installed across Canada.

But George Iny, director at the Automobile Protection Association, stressed that adequate charging infrastructure must be in place to ensure a smooth transition to a zero-emission future.

Right now, "it's still so buggy," he said. "And poorly co-ordinated and poorly standardized."

Maryann Abela can relate. Last summer, she and her family were travelling in their new Nissan Leaf from London to Lion's Head, Ont., a 253-kilometre distance that should have taken them a little over three hours to drive.

The Leaf's range is 342 km, but given the car wasn't fully charged, they were prepared to stop to charge along the way. Abela planned ahead, googling the locations of fast chargers along the route, never anticipating that none of them would be operational.

"We had no idea [charging] would be that hit-or-miss," said Abela.

After striking out at four rapid-charging locations, she found herself stranded in a seedy motel with her young daughter while her husband slept in their Leaf as it slow-charged in an empty parking lot overnight.

"The reliability has to be improved," said Abela. "These companies that install the chargers need to be held accountable for maintaining them and making sure that they're working … it has to be working 24/7, because people are relying on it."

Two different federal government programs have provided funding for the installation of more than 47,000 charging stations since 2016. In an effort to improve the monitoring and maintenance of those stations, Guilbeault said he may consider adding clauses that would include better oversight.

"We want to make sure as a responsible government that the people we're giving money to, to install those charging stations, that they will service them adequately for Canadians," Guilbeault said.

When Marketplace contacted the various providers, ChargePoint, Flo and Ivy all sent email statements explaining reliability is important to them.

ChargePoint said it resolved the issues at some of the locations we visited. Flo responded by saying it has a team that monitors and resolves issues swiftly, and Ivy told Marketplace it is committed to improving its processes, including updating its app to report the status of its charging stations.

Petro-Canada says it is working to meet the needs of customers and "improve their experience."

Prices may vary

A 2022 Pollution Probe survey of Canadian EV owners found that while the majority of EV charging happens at home, almost all respondents have used public charging to some extent.

Guilbeault said he can't mandate a nation-wide pricing practice, as the production of electricity is a matter of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, but he agrees "having one uniform system for pricing across the country would be the best way to go."

He's hopeful provinces will see it that way, too. "Can we impose this on provinces and territories? I don't think so. But we can work with them to try and ensure that we have the most efficient system in terms of tariffication across the country."

Due to a regulatory change last year, charging providers are now able to bill customers by kilowatt hour. This requires an application process that must be approved by Measurements Canada.

But Marketplace learned less than 25 per cent of public charging stations across the country are currently billing by kWh.

While there are many factors that can influence how much charge a car receives and how quickly it charges — including the car and the machine itself — Kyriazis believes there needs to be more consistency and fairness in delivery and pricing.

"We're just dipping our toe into kilowatt-hour pricing," said Kyrizias.

Fairer pricing

Billing practices at public charging stations vary, with some charging per minute, some by the hour, others a flat fee and some continue to be free of charge.

More than half of Canadian EV drivers polled in an upcoming 2023 report by Pollution Probe voiced concerns regarding the inconsistency in public EV charging pricing across different locations, with many of them expressing a preference for billing by kilowatt hour.

Kyriazis says it's the fairest way, and "moving towards this more standardized approach helps consumers more easily compare pricing across different, charging station providers."

It also ensures consumers are consistently paying for the amount of energy their car receives from the charge and not penalizing those who have a vehicle that may take longer to charge.

When asked about making kWh pricing the standard, Guilbeault agreed, "having one uniform system for pricing across the country would be the best way to go."

Only one station Marketplace visited on its test billed this way: an Ivy location.

In an email, Ivy told Marketplace it was one of the first to adopt kilowatt hour pricing and they plan to launch energy-based pricing "across its entire Level 3 network later this quarter."

When Marketplace asked the other providers about the range in prices we found, ChargePoint told us independent owners set their prices. Flo says it's often the same for their stations.

Petro-Canada says they provide pricing that is competitive in each province.

WATCH | What Marketplace found when it visited several EV charging stations in Ontario:

Why is there no standardized pricing for electric vehicle chargers?

8 hours ago

Duration 2:05

A Marketplace investigation found some EV drivers could be paying twice as much for the same charge.

'We're still in the early stages of deployment'

While it might help consumers better compare prices, Kyriazis points out most charging will likely continue to happen at home, since "that's where it's most convenient, and that's where it's the cheapest." She also points out that a full EV charge is still considerably less expensive than a tank of gas.

Public fast charging rates are typically more expensive than at home. Clean Energy Canada's most recent analysis found residential electricity rates between 8.4 cents per kWh in Quebec to as much as 19.4 cents per kWh on P.E.I.

"We're still in the early stages of deployment. And of course we will need to course-correct and adjust the system as we go," said Guilbeault. But he insists most EV users are happy with their driving experience.

Guilbeault also says the notion of a single national charging strategy isn't feasible given different provincial and territorial preferences.

"In some jurisdictions, for example, the province will want to operate the system. In other provinces, they're not interested," he said. "They want us to work with, in some cases, not-for-profit organizations, and in some cases private companies."

Abela and her family still have their Leaf, but she says they no longer use it for road trips or longer distances, and charge it almost exclusively at home.

She'd like to see the government take on more of a leading role in delivering and maintaining the country's charging infrastructure.

"Someone has to make sure that things are doing what they say they're going to do."

The Marketplace Watchdog

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