Edmonton Electric Vehicles

Braedan Aubry

Edmonton is a motor city. Cars dominate the sprawling landscape, and the city tends to cater to motor vehicles. But does it have the infrastructure to support electric vehicles? Are EVs a viable alternative to gasoline vehicles in a northern climate like Edmonton? The answer is complicated.

With the rising popularity of Tesla’s electric vehicles in the last decade, coupled with other major automobile manufacturers pledging to phase out internal combustion engines (ICE) by as early as 2030 in some jurisdictions, the shift toward electric vehicles is well underway. However, the road ahead is still hazardous for EV-driving Albertans. I reached out to EV owners from the Electric Vehicle Association of Alberta (EVAA) as well as Alberta Tesla group members on Facebook, and here is the inside scoop on the reality of owning an EV in Edmonton:

  • Edmonton, Calgary and other major hubs have abundant charging networks

Edmonton and the surrounding area have over 40 charging stations available to EV owners, ensuring they never have to travel far for a quick recharge. The QE2 down to Calgary has over 15 charging stations, making the popular highway corridor a breeze for weekend trips and business travel. Further down south into the city of Calgary, there are upwards of 50 stations available for use. EV ownership within urban centres is widely regarded to be a hassle-free experience, and the vehicle charging network is only expanding as more charging stations are added alongside gas stations and major shopping centres in both cities.

  • Plan your trips wisely- most rural areas are a logistical nightmare for Alberta EV owners

Once EV owners leave the city limits, they are burdened by a lack of efficient “refueling” options. In Northern Alberta, Grande Prairie has two charging stations, and Peace River, High Prairie, Athabasca, Lac La Biche and other small towns only have one charging station per town. Members of the Electric Vehicle Association of Alberta (EVAA) have stated they avoid certain rural towns altogether due to lack of charging stations, and some even revert to using their gasoline vehicles to make these trips. Joan Blench, a new EV owner located in Peace River, is extremely cautious about her battery range on Alberta highways.

“I would not embark on a 400 kilometer journey and put my eggs in one basket,” she says. “I was quite surprised that even wind can deplete the battery.” Driving from Peace River to Edmonton is a 489 km journey, so factors like wind speed and snowy conditions often make EV owners take detours to the closest town with a charging station.

 “When I went to Edmonton and Calgary this summer and passed through Red Deer as well, I was so envious of the people in southern Alberta. There’s no reason why people who live in southern Alberta shouldn’t be driving electric cars because you have the infrastructure in place. It is definitely harder up north because we do not have the infrastructure, but it will come, I’m confident.” Most northern Alberta EV owners still had an ICE vehicle in their fleet due to this lapse in coverage.

  • L2 and L3 chargers can make or break your road trip

Level 2 chargers are commonplace in the homes of EV owners, and they can also be found in most commercial areas. Level three is known as a DC Fast Charger, and they’re often only found in high-traffic commercial areas. L2 chargers take around 12 hours to fully charge a battery, whereas L3 chargers can charge up to 50 per cent in only 30 minutes. Many EV owners are calling on EV manufacturers and government officials to implement L3 chargers along major highways because it dictates whether or not an EV owner has to wait up to 12 hours for a full charge or only an hour with an L3 charge. L2 chargers are sufficient for EV owners in urban areas, but L3 chargers are a necessity for highway travel.

Although the range of EVs is improving year over year, Tesla’s longest range on their 2020 models is around 400 miles (650 km). Edmonton EV owners would travel a 730 km round trip to Jasper and back, which would need an EV owner with the newest model of a Tesla to find a charging station at some point during their trip. The city of Jasper has nine charging stations available, but peak holiday seasons can create long queues for motorists seeking L3 chargers on a tight schedule. If they’re headed to Vancouver or other popular B.C. destinations, they must travel an extra 450km to reach their next vital charging station in Kamloops. If they can’t find an L3 charger, the only option is to book a hotel room and stay the night in Jasper. The majority of Alberta Tesla owners and EVAA members on Facebook use Chargehub.com to find optimal charging zones and plan their routes accordingly.

  • Pioneering EV ownership is not without its challenges

Many EV owners admit there are significant trade-offs in owning electric vehicles. Our climate, landscape, and pastimes tend to demand the reliability of a tried and true internal combustion engine vehicle. EV owners worry about the wind, temperature, and other elements pertaining to their battery range. Very few owners would take their EV’s on a camping trip in fear of leaving themselves stranded a few kilometres away from a charging station.

Unlike ICE owners, EV owners must contend with the reality that they’re tied to the current infrastructure available to them. Edmonton, Calgary and other urban areas have enough charging stations in place to meet the demands of EV owners, but once you leave urban centres, EVs become a labour-intensive operation to ensure you make it to your destination. Infrastructure will only expand, making EVs an increasingly attractive and viable option to internal combustion engine vehicles, but the next few years will require patience as the supply of L2 and L3 charging stations meets the demand across the province. 

Despite the inherent drawbacks of an EV, Tesla owners and other EV enthusiasts are excited to be part of the movement toward a greener future.

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