BC Hydro pushes for a timely fast charger rollout

BC Hydro is the electricity supplier for about 95 percent of the Canadian province of British Columbia. It’s government-owned and vertically integrated, meaning that the company owns and operates everything from production and transmission to distribution to customers. The company’s 30 hydroelectric facilities meet 78 percent of its electricity requirements, with the balance coming from three natural gas-fueled thermal power plants and other sources.

As part of a $14.3-million provincial Clean Energy Vehicle Program, BC Hydro has begun to connect Canada’s west coast for EV drivers. The goal is to install 30 DC fast charging stations in the Pacific Northwest by March 2016 – seven are currently up and running.

“Governments take responsibility to support any kind of opportunity for economic development and greenhouse gas reductions,” said Alec Tsang, Senior Technology Strategist at BC Hydro.

Tsang’s group, from the office of the Chief Technology Officer, is overseeing the installation of the stations. The program is not a new business opportunity for BC Hydro, but rather a project to help facilitate the “critical EV infrastructure” necessary for the market to grow. 

BC Hydro EVSE 4 

Creative business models

As a government-backed regulated utility, BC Hydro is not as nimble as some investor-owned utilities, which could quickly decide to get into EV charging as a new business opportunity. So, the team had to be a little creative to get the ball rolling as fast as possible.

“We struggled to find the right business model,” Tsang told Charged. “This is not a demonstration project, where we would deploy the chargers for a fixed amount of time and then pull them out. It’s something that will have a legacy, and we had to seek out a viable business model.” The team considered three possible scenarios:

1. Utility owned and operated

The chargers could be an extension of BC Hydro’s infrastructure. The company could deploy, own and operate, just like any other asset in the public space with a right-of-way or public land lease.

The problem with this scenario is that EV charging is considered a new class of service. It’s a point-of-sale transaction, and there is no active tariff that would be applicable. All the current tariffs are based on a user-account model, with a specific customer name and classifications attached. But EV charging is like an energy vending machine, and BC Hydro would have to file for a new tariff. In a heavily-regulated industry, that could take years.

2. Public-private partnership

The private sector could own and operate the charging stations. Could there be some kind of public-private arrangement that fills the installation, maintenance and billing needs associated with long-term operation of the chargers?

Again, this scenario presented some regulatory issues that could not be resolved quickly. The provincial utility regulations do stipulate that a private entity can act like a utility and provide electricity as a billable service. However, it must first register as a utility, which is no small feat. It’s doable, but it’s not something that companies will take lightly and quickly jump into, because there is a lot of legal work involved.

Tesla Motors has announced plans to install, own and operate a handful of its Superchargers in British Columbia by the end of 2014. However, Tesla provides free use of the Superchargers for its customers, forever. Tsang says that this has allowed it to move much more quickly, because the company doesn’t have to register as a utility that sells electricity to customers. But unlike this rare example – in which a vehicle OEM builds free fast charging into its overall business – most other public charging suppliers need to find a sustainable business model by billing their users in some way. 

3. Locally owned

In the end, BC Hydro found one workable solution consistent with the Utility Commissions Act. In British Columbia, local governments, or municipalities, can provide electrical services to constituents within their jurisdiction. They are allowed to resell electricity with a few minor constraints that protect customers from being gouged with huge mark-ups. Basically, they buy the electricity from BC Hydro, provide a service and then recoup their costs with a small margin for profit.

So, BC Hydro set out to make partnerships with municipal governments to host the 30 chargers. It installs the hardware and has a lease-to-own agreement with the host government that operates it. 


 ABB International


Site selection

There are currently seven DC fast charging stations installed and operational in the following communities:

  • Nanaimo
  • Duncan
  • Surrey
  • Kamloops
  • Merritt 
  • Squamish 
  • Langley

Compared to the very high-voltage systems that BC Hydro is familiar with, these charging stations are relatively simple to install. However, Tsang reports that, “it’s been a challenge to balance site selection for high visibility, near highway corridors and access to power.” If a site has to be upgraded to meet power needs, the cost of installation can be much higher. “We’re trying to manage a balance between the cost of installation and the ideal site.”

To find the best sites, Tsang’s team started at the map level. The stations need to bridge the range limitations of currently available EVs, which means “about every 50-75 km or so, that was the first rule of thumb,” explained Tsang.

The next step was to look at potential early adopters: Which communities contain the most EV owners, and which are likely to be fast followers? “We don’t want to deploy the chargers in remote areas where everyone drives pickup trucks,” said Tsang. “Then they’re going to sit and collect dust.”

BC Hydro EVSE 3

By targeting the right communities, BC Hydro hopes to create a kind of placebo effect. “The stations may not get a lot of use, because people who drive EVs will charge at home for the most part and only use public chargers in a pinch,” explained Tsang. “But these community stations will create a sense that the infrastructure is there. A ‘build it, and they will come’ kind of approach that follows along with the data seen in Japan. When they installed fast charging networks, they found that drivers would go longer distances and come back with a lower state of charge. Not necessarily using the stations, but taking advantage of that safety net.”

One of the main objectives of the project is public outreach, so the company is looking for locations within communities that combine high-profile foot traffic with near-highway access. “If you’re on a major highway that is not a pedestrian-friendly area, you’re not going to get the public outreach,” said Tsang. “Vehicle traffic drives by too quickly. They might see the sign, and it may or may not register. So, ideally, we’re looking to put these in community hubs where you get a lot of foot traffic, with informational signs that tell the EV story.”

ABB International

So far, site selection appears to be a success. “The feedback we’ve received from drivers has been really positive about locations and site hosts,” Andy Bartosh, EVCI Program Manager at ABB, told Charged. ABB and Eaton are the two manufacturers of DC fast charging hardware chosen to supply equipment for the project. The backend management will use Greenlot’s SKY Network, which utilizes the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) across both Eaton and ABB chargers. 

“Eaton’s goal is to provide BC Hydro with charging station solutions that enable easy access to control and monitor charging activities using an open charging protocol,” said Michael Dadian, product line manager, Electrical Sector, Eaton. 

Proponents of OCPP say that its “openness” allows customers and site hosts the ability to switch network providers – offering more competition and flexibility compared to other proprietary networking solutions.  

When all 30 stations are installed, the network will be one of the largest on the continent. “Next to eVgo’s Freedom Stations [and Tesla’s Superchargers], this is the most comprehensive Fast Charging network in North America,” said Bartosh. 


BC Hydro EVSE 7


CHAdeMO or SAE Combo Plug?

At this point, the plan is to install CHAdeMO hardware at all locations – a decision that was largely a function of timing. “We had a target of 30 stations,” explained Tsang, “and the concession was that we would install CHAdeMO to the point where SAE standards become available. It’s not a perfect project that way, but after this project is finished we’ll look at what happens to the industry standards.”

The “CHAdeMO or SAE Combo Plug” question is not an easy one to answer for someone in Tsang’s shoes. All of the European and North American automakers (except Tesla) are behind the SAE standard, but there are currently zero vehicles on the road in Canada that use it. Meanwhile, Nissan and Mitsubishi have been selling CHAdeMO-enabled EVs in Canada for about two years. And the Tesla Model S – Canada’s best-selling EV in 2013 – is expected to have a CHAdeMO adaptor someday (its web store has said the adaptor is “coming soon” since October 2013). 

So, it’s hard to say what will happen with the SAE Combo Plug and the legacy fleet of Japanese EVs and CHAdeMO fast chargers. Tsang explained that they started off conceptually understanding that there is a standards risk here, “but the standards shakeout is too far down the road for us to consider for this project.” 

The BMW i3, scheduled to go on sale this year, will be the first EV available in Canada to use the SAE standard, and charging industry watchers will have a close eye on its sales figures. “We have stations in the ground now that are only CHAdeMO,” said Tsang. “Moving forward, if the SAE standard becomes popular, we will look at deploying it as well – most likely it will be dual-port stations with both standards.”

BC Hydro EVSE 2

Many in the industry are pushing for a peaceful resolution to the charging plug war, including the charging station manufacturers.

“Considering that auto manufacturers are currently supplying vehicles under both standards, and their understandable reliance on multi-year platforms to lower costs and increase quality, it makes sense to target coexistence between the two standards,” said Dadian. 

“The standards issue does complicate the fast charging discussion,” added Bartosh. “But the availability of chargers capable of handling both CHAdeMO and SAE Combo standards in a single unit is a welcome solution for drivers and site owners.”

BC Hydro EVSE 1 

Free or fee?

The seven charging stations are currently free to use, but Tsang says they are “very close” to implementing a payment system. “We’re looking at different options, but haven’t announced anything officially. We have been consulting with a lot of end users to see what would be best in their minds.” 

One might assume that EV drivers would be pushing for free public fast charging, but, as Tsang explains, that’s not the case. “A lot of the opinion leaders are pointing towards a time-based fee for a couple of reasons. One, they feel that it will keep people from stranding the assets – leaving their cars plugged in for longer than they need to charge. This is a big problem when you’re in need of a fast charge, because each station only charges one car at a time, and it takes up to 20 minutes to get to 80 percent charge from fully depleted. Drivers understand the mechanics around fast charging. A time-based fee would mean that as long as you’re connected, you’re paying. That will push people onward, making sure that you’ll get high utilization of the infrastructure. ‘Take what you need to get where you want to go,’ is the attitude we want to promote.”


This article originally appeared in Charged Issue 13 – APR 2014

  • tech01xpert

    < 100 kW DC fast chargers are a waste of money. They are too slow (most are 40-50kW) and too expensive. Every existing CHAdeMO DC fast charger will have an extremely limited service life because by the time there are significant numbers of people that will want to use them, Nissan and others will finally have cars that can charge at much faster rates. Therefore each of these will have to be upgraded as significant cost.

    Instead, the emphasis should be on 70-80 amp J1772 for destination charging, which all EVs would benefit. At 80 amps/20 kW, it is 50% the practical speed of DCFC but at roughly 10-15% the price. Therefore one can deploy many more at the right places for the same cost of the few DC fast chargers. For DC fast charging, wait until the vehicles exist – the only one that exists now for long distance travel utilizing DC fast charging is Tesla's Model S, and they are doing their own SAE J1772-DC derived infrastructure. So help them get regulatory approval to deploy their equipment. For the others, wait until Nissan/BMW/others come out with EVs that can take 100 kW charging which provides the minimum level for a reasonable long distance cadence.

    • EVFest

      Tech, tell that to the 2000 installations in Japan, or the 592 in the USA already, or to my iMiEV buddy that uses the current system each month to get to meetings he would otherwise have use a gas or ICE vehicle! Or, the exhibitors and visitors this past Sunday that used it to get to EVFest 2014 Electric Vehicle Show!

      50 kW is just right for 100,000 Nissan LEAF’s, and the Mitsubishi iMiEV, too. It will also be fine for the coming KIA Soul EV. No Ford EV uses any DCQC port yet.

      • tech01xpert

        I’m saying that 50 kWh CHAdeMO was a strategic mistake. It’s too slow for long distance travel. It’s too costly for widespread destination charging. Most DCFC installs have one or two plugs. How does that work with 2% or 5% of the cars on the road being EVs? At the price of each install, it’s too expensive to put in everywhere. Nissan should have put in 80A J1772 in the Leaf – the charge time would be roughly double, but the cost would be 10% of a DCFC EVSE. Therefore it would make sense to have many more plugs. Would you rather see a mall put in 1 x DCFC EVSE that can charge a single Leaf at 50 kW, or 10 x J1772 80A EVSE’s that can charge pretty much any EV for the same price?

        Further, when Nissan upgrades to NMC chemistry and finally ships a car that can charge at 100 kW, each of these CHAdeMO EVSE’s is obsolete. They’re installed at the wrong places for way too much money. In the illustration above, it would still make sense for the local mall to have 10 or 20 J1772 EVSE’s, but absolutely doesn’t make sense for it to have a single 50 kW or 100 kW DCFC EVSE. When that upgraded Leaf comes, you won’t charge at a grocery store or a convenience store. You only need to charge at places where you will be for a while or to help you travel long distances. 50 kW doesn’t cut it for long distance travel and 60-80A J1772 can cover places where you will be a while (malls, parks, hotels, convention centers, etc.).

        The entire DCFC network that has been installed in North America is a complete waste of money. The existing network makes no sense in a 5-10 year time frame and only supports essentially the first generation cars that Nissan and Mitsubishi rushed out the door. Instead of spending even more money on a wasted effort, they should spend that money instead on a free upgrade program for Leaf owners to upgrade their L2 charger to support 80A J1772 charging. That will have some legs, not the existing DCFC network.

        • http://www.efest.ca Robert (Electricman) Weekley

          Once Again Tech, those cars don’t exist, just like the SAE CCS cars (in Canada) when this was posted first. You can’t upgrade a 2011-2012 LEAF from 3.3 to 6.6 kW, so how do you figure to upgrade any of them to 15 – 18 kw to take advantage of the 60 – 100 Amp clipper Creek EVSE’s?

          When cars have longer ranges – they will just leap-frog alternating existing stations, and charge at every other one, most likely. Tesla has also opened up their patents. including those for supercharging, and BC will be having about 4 sites with the Supercharging stations as well, by end of the year, approximately, so maybe they can be your solution with 120 – 135 kW potentially served up there!

          As it stand right now – there are thousands of cars that only charge up at 3.3 kw (16Amp x 240V) so the current 30A Public chargers are overkill for them too, and could have been 2 units of a 16A service instead of a single 30A Service, except that when the 2013 – 2014 LEAF’s arrive at a Level 2 charging site, and the Ford Focus EV’s – they like the 240V x 30A Service and are well matched!

          Also – Good News!
          Charged EVs | Tritium Veefil Fast Charger earns UL compliance for
          sale in US and Canada http://bit.ly/1nbKg9v
          Now – I wonder if any will actually make it to Canada and get installed?! Company Website – http://www.veefil.com/

          • tech01xpert

            The issue here is that the cost of 50kW DCFC EVSE’s are outrageous for what you get. And long term, they are a waste of money. Precious government money and Nissan’s money.

            Nissan can offer an upgrade of Leafs to 60 or 80A J1772. They have the technology. It isn’t difficult. They can divert the money spent subsidizing useless 50 kW DCFC into building a better L2 charging infrastructure.

            Sometime when Nissan ships the new Infiniti BEV (2017?) or a new Leaf BEV with updated battery chemistry (2018?), they will likely have a 50 kWh or so battery pack with 100 kW+ DCFC capabilities. They will have to build a new L3 charging network and the need for a far greater and faster L2 charging network still exists. Every 50kW DCFC is then obsolete, an anachronism of their early days of wasting government money. Too much money for too slow of a charge to support long distance travel. Meanwhile, their slow J1772 means people still deploy not enough plugs and L2 EVSE’s too slow to support decent L2 overnight charging. Look into the future, and you’ll see that we need 40-60A L2 charging (10+kW) for overnight fill up of 50-100 kWh battery packs, and 100 kW+ DCFC for long distance travel.

            Another way to look at it, to charge a Leaf (24kWh):
            20kW J1772: ~45 minutes, $5,000 per plug
            50kW CHAdeMO: ~20 minutes, $50,000 per plug


            Tesla Model S (commercial installs, curbside, 100% charge, 85kWH)
            6kW J1772: 17.5 hours, $4,000 per plug
            20kW J1772: 4.5 hours, $5,000 per plug
            135kW Supercharger: 1.25 hours, $25,000 per plug, installed in batches of 6-8 usually, $150,000 per station

          • http://www.efest.ca Robert (Electricman) Weekley

            Third option – L2 to L3 Adapter so Cars with Slower on-board L2’s can Use a High Powered Clipper Creek CS100 ($~2,500) to power them on the other Plug – CHAdeMO – for the access to the 18-19 kW available from that plug. The adapter can be a box situated beside the Clipper Creek CS100 (used mostly by Tesla’s at present) so the J1772 Plug can be connected to it, and it’s CHAdeMO plug can connect to the LEAF, iMiEV, or coming SOUL EV!

            I know of a few people working on this idea, doing the data sampling, and other things, so – who knows – it might even see the light of day!

            Another approach – is to offer single or dual On-board EV Chargers in the other EV’s, like Tesla Does, then if they want faster charging – they can option it in! Nissan is already asking about larger battery sizes of their current EV Owners, maybe they will think of the dual charger option as a choice as well!

          • tech01xpert

            Even 25 kW CHAdeMO EVSE’s have been extremely expensive. Further, it is nearly a complete additive cost to the CS-100. It just doesn’t work out, the money is a waste.

            Even the cost of the CS-100 is a tad high. Their new HCS-60 at 48 amps for $899 is the sweet spot. That will charge a Model S 85 kWh pack from empty to full in about 10 hours at 40 amps (single charger). Reality is also that very few need a full 78 kWh (max usable capacity) charge.

            Now, the reality of large scale commercial EVSE deployment is that each EVSE needs to have monitoring, ability to charge for usage, and at least 40 real world amps. Most likely they all need to be hydra style with sharing charge between multiple plugs in order to bring the per plug cost down and reduce the need to move your car during the night. For example, it would be better to have one 4 headed EVSE that can bring 4 EVs to full charge overnight in 8 hours than one EVSE that can bring 1 EV to full charge in 2 hours. That’s also why CHAdeMO makes no sense at hotels.

            This issue, in North America, was moot the moment the Leaf shipped with J1772. If they had chosen to do CHAdeMO only, and provided EVSE’s and adapters for slow L2 to CHAdeMO at low cost and with widespread deployment, then at least that would have made some sense. But they didn’t do that.

            In any case, 50 kW EVSE’s are just plain a waste of money.