With a Level 3 charger, the battery of a Ford Mustang Mach-E can top up to 80 per cent in about 30 minutes. And as Earth Day is on Friday, we take that time to talk with Pierre Lussier, the president of Earth Day Canada, on his organization’s efforts to expand EV infrastructure in the country and where he thinks the future for Canada’s EV adoption will be.
Pierre Lussier has been the president of Earth Day Canada since 1995. And while most Canadians know Earth Day as April 22, the privately funded organization works year-round to promote and help with environmental issues all across the country, with government, community and corporate workshops and training on issues such as waste management, renewable energy and nature management. And under Lussier’s guidance, Earth Day Canada has also looked at the world of electric vehicles in the country, with a number of initiatives including infrastructure and helping move the needle on EV adoption.
“We have a charging station network, EcoCharge that we are operating, and that’s among the programs that we’re building with [the grocery chain] IGA,” says Lussier.
“These projects, the great majority is private money. And we have a couple of grants. But grants are more for sustainable transportation. And this one is a $5 million grant from Natural Resource Canada for the acquisition of fast charging stations. But it’s a project of $15 million.”
Earth Day Canada’s EcoCharge network has 100 Level 3 chargers across Quebec and New Brunswick at 50 sites at IGA and Sobeys food stores, making it convenient to charge while you do groceries. This is the first stage of a multi-stage project that Lussier says will span across Canada, with 100 stations by the end of this year. And, while he’s coy on the next steps, he does reveal it’s that convenience that is key to charging infrastructure.
“I think it’s a place where you need to inhabit, you can live in it,” he says. “I think the charging station should be a place where you want to belong. A place where you can spend 20 minutes or more, at the swimming pool, at the daycare, or yoga. It’s about, how can you be a good human being and enjoy your community and have a low impact on the environment?”
Over the years in implementing the EcoCharge network, Lussier has learned that it’s not as simple as just buying the equipment and plugging into the grid. For any company looking to install chargers, the biggest attribute needed is the ability to pivot on your plans.
“The fast charging station is going to cost you between, $200,000 and $1.5 million. And especially in built-up areas – you’re not coming into an empty field – so I think this is the part where you need to adapt. Our network is well placed. But to find a definitive location is going to take three plans, two visits, and then a third visit after the plan, because it’s a case of ‘Have you seen this or not, and there’s the gas line, and then the cable behind the power unit is the wrong cable,’ etc.
“And then of course, at the beginning of the project, we were at the end of the parking lot, and now we’re as close as possible to the door. That makes up a year and a half of this project. Everything changes. And it’s a different location [with every installation]: finding the location, making sure electricity is available. Now finding the materials; at some point there’s an electrician that says there’s no more PVC pipe, and it can’t be done.
“So many issues to deal with”
Lussier and Earth Day Canada aren’t just focusing on charging; he sees a segment of vehicles that are often overlooked with all the hype of shiny new electric passenger cars, and has a program to help that along the way.
“There is our Transition Wow program. Transition Wow supports the conversion and acquisition of electric light trucks. This is a segment that is totally on the rise for emissions; car emissions in Canada have stabilized, in fact they’re going down a little bit. But from medium and lightweight trucks, all of this is going through the roof. Because of course, we consume so many goods at home. It’s part of our sustainable mobility division.”
The biggest impediment to this program, as many people already know, is the dearth of available electric pickups and light delivery trucks on the market, and any that are available are hit with the production crunch of chip shortages and supply chain issues.
“Within the the lightweight truck segment there’s not much available at this moment,” says Lussier. “So our mobility division is here to work with conversion. With Wow, it’s more of the services around the stations, it’s all about training people how you can get ready to move your fleet to electric mobility. And for now it’s training, and helping you finding vehicles.
“We are targeting cities for utility vehicles, but we’re also teaming with a car sharing company, but it would be truck sharing, so your citizens can use the truck during the weekend.
“As we are working within this we’re finding that there’s no training program for municipal employees and particularly repairmen within this course. So we’re meeting everybody, we’re bringing the people together.”
For overall EV adoption across Canada, Lussier sees subsidies as a key driver in getting more people into electric cars. He points out that Quebec and British Columbia, the two provinces with the highest subsidies, are also the two with the highest uptake of EVs.
“Subsidies, they make it difference. I know this is a movement. This is an accelerating movement. But it’s kind of a movement that is also fragile with the lack of availabilities.
“I think Ontario at some point is going to go all in, either way, because this is coming.”
The organization has a number of campaigns for Earth Day this Friday, including focussing on solving ‘eco-anxiety’ and other suggestions on how to celebrate at home, all of which can be found on its website. Lussier is obviously very passionate about the environment and changing people’s views and habits to help make a better, greener world. But his push for more EVs and his plan for an extended, convenient charging infrastructure across Canada is a year-round task that, for him, won’t stop anytime soon.
“We see the vision. I think it’s going to be very important for us to be very active, making sure that our vision is to have something that can be scaled rapidly,” he says.
“We’re a truly charitable organization. We’re only motivated by our mission.”