Electric truck driver in Yellowknife faces charger compatibility issue at home

Ben Baird of Yellowknife purchased his electric truck expecting to install the Level 2 charger it came with. He knew he’d have to pay to upgrade his electrical panel, but he didn’t realize he’d also have to pay $12,000 to upgrade the transformer his home is connected to. He opted for a different solution. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Ben Baird bought a slower Level 2 charger for his Ford F-150 Lightning instead

When Ben Baird purchased a fully electric truck, he expected to install the Level 2 charger it came with at his Yellowknife home.

Ford’s F150 Lightning comes with an 80 amp charger. It would have required Baird to upgrade the 100 amp panel in his home to a 200 amp panel — an expense he was prepared to pay.

But in order to provide that level of power to his home, Baird said, power distributor Northland Utilities told him he’d have to pay $12,000 to upgrade the transformer in his neighbourhood as well.

“It was not something that I was expecting,” said Baird.

Researchers are studying what will happen to residential power grids in the North as more Level 2 chargers are brought online. And while they’re looking at challenges utilities and government will need to address as gas-powered vehicles are phased out in the future, Baird is an example of the challenges people could face in the present.

Northland Utilities is a joint partnership between ATCO Limited and Denendeh Investment.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Jay Massie, ATCO Electric’s VP of northern development and Indigenous relations, said the need for infrastructure upgrades for Level 2 chargers can vary significantly.

“It is important to understand that a power system’s costs, maintaining and replacing all electrical infrastructure, are set in approved rates, and borne by all customers,” Massie said. “If one customer requires system upgrades for their exclusive use, they bear those costs.”

Baird said the Level 2 charger he now has installed at home provides 40 amps of power to his electric vehicle, instead of the 80 amps charger he’d hoped to install. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Baird didn’t pay for the transformer upgrade. Instead, he bought a different Level 2 charger from Canadian Tire. It doesn’t need as much power because it doesn’t charge as fast, said Baird, but it still meets his needs — charging the vehicle within 10 hours.

“That’s an overnight charge. Whereas the one it came with, it is almost double that. So what, four hours for a full charge? So it’s not quality, per se — it’s just how fast it is,” he said.

Are Level 2 chargers a necessity?

Jeff Philipp, who also drives an electric vehicle in Yellowknife, told CBC News in an email a Level 2 charger in the North is like a garage: “very nice to have, but not essential,” he wrote.

“I do not have a charger but I do have a 240-volt outlet that allows me to charge at a Level 2 rate — which is more than enough for daily driving of under 200 kilometres. Our average daily drive is closer to 20 kilometres.”

Philipp said an advantage of a charger is that it has a brain, timing charges so they happen when power is cheaper in jurisdictions that change their electricity rates depending on the time of day. There are no off-peak rates in the N.W.T., which is why he uses the 240-volt dryer outlet instead. His home has a 200 amp panel and, unlike Baird’s, can handle that power demand.

Most three-prong outlets in a home are 120 volts, which is considered Level 1 charging for an EV. There are also devices available that allow a 240-volt outlet, usually intended for bigger appliances like dryers, ovens and air conditioners, to be shared with an electric vehicle.

Mark Heyck, the executive director of the Arctic Energy Alliance in Yellowknife, agrees Level 2 chargers are not necessary for owning an electric vehicle in the N.W.T. — wall outlets can meet peoples’ needs, depending on what they are.

“Particularly for northern communities and even in a bigger northern community like Yellowknife, we’re typically not driving more than 10 to 20 kilometres per day. So even in the cold of winter when your range is going to be diminished, you don’t need, you know, super-fast charging most of the time.”

A fully electric truck, with its front hood open. The spot where an internal combustion engine would typically go is storage space in the electric Ford F150 Lightning. (Carson Asmundson/CBC)

There were 72 electric vehicles in the N.W.T. as of December, according to the territory’s infrastructure department. The Arctic Energy Alliance has given out rebates for 21 Level 2 chargers since it began its electric vehicle rebate program in 2020.

“It sounds like there’s still quite a few people who are just plugging into conventional outlets and then possibly using public charging infrastructure during the day. At least a couple of clients that I’ve spoken to, that we’ve had, that’s precisely what they do,” said Heyck.

He also said there are a wide range of Level 2 chargers on the market. The one that came with Baird’s truck would have delivered 80 amps of power, but the type affixed to the fence of Baird’s home can deliver between 16 and 40 amps depending on the electrical panel it’s connected to.

Heyck and Massie both urged people considering installing an electric vehicle charger at home to contact an electrician. Massie said an electrician can assess a home’s service, evaluate the capacity to use more power, and to talk about any permits that might be needed.

No regrets

Heyck has heard anecdotally of people who don’t have adequate electric service for the installation of Level 2 chargers at home. He also said there are going to be growing pains figuring out how to accommodate and encourage any kind of novel technology.

“We’ll have to, you know, start to have those conversations with utilities to make sure that everybody is on board with how we’re going to proceed,” he said. “There may even be some regulatory aspects to it because it’s possible the Public Utilities Board might want to weigh in on what’s being charged for these upgrades.”

The federal government announced in December plans to phase out the sale of gas-powered light duty vehicles by 2035. Although transportation accounted for 63 per cent of the N.W.T.’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, only 7.5 per cent of overall emissions come from light duty cars, SUVs and pickup trucks, while 24 per cent come from heavy duty diesel vehicles like transport trucks.

Baird thinks the government should make it easier for people to install residential charging infrastructure. But even after navigating those challenges, he doesn’t regret buying his electric truck. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Baird said government should be working out a way to make the installation of charging infrastructure at home an easier process.

“It’s a real pain,” he said. “It should be just, you know, the charger that comes with it, you hire your electrician, and boom boom boom you call it done.”

But after driving it around the city for a year and half, Baird doesn’t have regrets about purchasing his electric truck.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I love it.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Study forecasts challenges of electric vehicle chargers on northern power grids, CBC News

Finland: Cold weather perfect to pioneer electric aviation says Finnair, The Independent Barents Observer

Norway: Arctic Norwegian city gets world’s northernmost electric post truck, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Mining boost in Russian central Arctic to feed electric vehicle market, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Giant battery factory bringing economic boom to Northern Swedish city, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska’s first, electric public transit bus ready to hit Anchorage streets, Alaska Public Media

Liny Lamberink, CBC News

Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She previously worked for CBC London as a reporter and newsreader. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca

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