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What a ZEV mandate means for Canada’s charging infrastructure

Publicly accessible charging infrastructure for electric vehicles is going to need to grow more than seven-fold by 2030.

To reduce carbon emissions from Canada’s transportation sector, the federal government’s newly introduced zero-emissions vehicles sales mandate requires that all new light-duty vehicles sold in Canada be electric by 2035, with interim targets for 2026 and 2030. The certainty these targets provide is exactly what’s needed to kickstart a build-out of charging infrastructure—which we will be explicitly referring to in this insight as publicly accessible chargers outside of residences—that can keep those vehicles humming. But to meet future EV demand, a significant amount of publicly accessible charging infrastructure will need to be built out by 2030. 

Government and businesses are charging ahead 

The good news is, we are already seeing substantial commitments across governments and the private sector towards building the charging infrastructure that will be needed.

Since 2016, the federal government has committed $1.35 billion to build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure, with an objective of adding 85,000 publicly funded chargers to Canada’s network by 2027. Provincial and municipal governments have also established EV charging programs, such as PEI’s Electric Vehicle Charging Funding Program and the City of Toronto’s EV Strategy, which includes pilot projects to install on-street charging stations across the city. Companies are also beginning to make commitments to build out Canada’s charging network. For example, Alimentation Couche-Tard began installing EV charging stations in many of their convenience store locations last year. 

To date, these programs have helped build nearly 20,000 publicly accessible charging ports across Canada, with companies such as ChargePoint, FLO, Circuit Électrique and Tesla paving the way. Using the most recently reported data in 2021 from Statistics Canada, Canada’s network is currently used by 238,581 electric vehicles, which translates to a national average ratio of approximately 13 vehicles per non-residential charger (see Figure 1). 

The optimal EV-to-charger ratio is a bit of a moving target: it can be expected to grow over time. Right now, the challenge for EV drivers isn’t so much the number of cars lined up in front of charging stations; it’s the coverage and accessibility of chargers across long distances. But as more EVs are expected to take to the road and the average distance between chargers falls, current estimates suggest that a ratio of 24 EVs per charger by 2030 will be viable given that Canada can expect widespread reliance on home charging due to our high share of single family dwellings.

Figure 1: While Canada’s average EV-per-charger ratio is 13, the accessibility of chargers across the country varies.

Going the extra mile

440 Megatonnes has run some numbers to see whether charger installation growth is on track and how many more chargers will be needed by 2030. We used electric vehicle projections from the announced policies scenario under the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, modelled by Navius Research for the Canadian Climate Institute, which factors in the proposed ZEV mandate. We also used EV-to-charger ratios from Dunsky’s high residential charging scenario (20 EVs per charger by 2025, and 24 EVs per charger by 2030), which was modelled specifically for the Canadian context (Figure 2). 

The federal government’s target of installing 85,000 chargers, without factoring in additional commitments from other governments and the private sector, would be on track to meet the demand for chargers under Dunsky’s 20 EVs-per-charger ratio by 2027. However, as EV adoption is expected to exponentially increase by 2030, publicly accessible charging infrastructure will need to grow to at least 150,000 charging ports to meet Dunsky’s ratio of 24 EVs per charging port. Getting to that goal is going to require a significant build-out of charging infrastructure by governments and the private sector. 

Figure 2: The number of publicly accessible charging ports will need to grow significantly to keep up with EV growth.

It’s important to keep in mind that successfully navigating this transition is not just about how many chargers are available, but also where chargers are being installed. A priority should be to ensure equitable access to charging ports. The government can play a larger role in areas where market barriers may prevent private companies from installing chargers. In particular, they can improve access in remote and rural communities as well as in urban spaces that lack access to residential charging, such as high-density residential buildings.

Overall, building out Canada’s publicly accessible charging network to power Canada’s energy transition will require action from all orders of government, as well as businesses. The federal ZEV mandate provides greater clarity on the future demand for charging infrastructure. Now it’s time to step on the accelerator and ensure Canada’s charging infrastructure keeps up—and that it’s available where and when it’s needed.

Arthur Zhang is a research associate with the Canadian Climate Institute and the 440 Megatonnes Initiative.