EVs 101: An introduction to electric vehicles

From kilowatts to Level 3 charging, there’s a lot to learn when buying an electric vehicle

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If you haven’t heard, electric vehicles exist.

Yes, they’re still more expensive than the average vehicle, and yes, public charging infrastructure isn’t as robust or reliable as it could be, making going beyond the range of an electric vehicle an exercise in patience.

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But as automakers continue to bring new electric vehicles to market (there are now more than 50 models to choose from in British Columbia), many consumers are indicating that their next new vehicle purchase could be an electric vehicle. But with that decision comes many questions, as electric vehicles are very different from the traditional ICE (or internal combustion engine) vehicles we are all familiar with. And considering that, according to a recent JD Power survey, about 55 per cent of Canadians surveyed have never been in an electric vehicle, there’s a lot to learn.

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So, here’s a brief overview of some of the terms and concepts you’ll need before going electric.

Hybrids, plug-ins and BEVs

There are many “electrified” vehicles on the market, but not all are created equal. Some have spark plugs, some don’t and some still need gas while others don’t.


Toyota popularized the hybrid vehicle with its Prius line. A hybrid vehicle is one that is powered by a gasoline engine and one or more electric motors. It doesn’t have a plug. There are also mild hybrids and full hybrids; the former cannot drive on battery alone, while the latter can run on battery alone for limited range and speed. Fuel economy is the biggest benefit of a hybrid vehicle.

Plug-in hybrid

Like a hybrid, a PHEV uses a gasoline engine and a battery to turn the wheels, but it has a plug that, when plugged into a power outlet or charger, adds power to the battery. The latest generation of PHEV has an all-electric range of more than 80 kilometers, so many owners with short commutes and daily commutes can drive their vehicle without using the gasoline engine. These vehicles are considered by many to be the best of both worlds, having the benefits of an electric vehicle for city driving (low operating cost and zero emissions) and the benefits of a gasoline vehicle: quick and easy refueling for cross-country trips. road.

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Battery electric vehicle

BEVs are what many consider an electric vehicle. All power comes from a large battery that must be plugged in to charge. There is no gasoline engine. Most BEVs sold in Canada have a range of more than 350 kilometers and some have more than 500.

Fuel cell electric vehicle

It is a hydrogen-powered vehicle that mixes compressed hydrogen stored in an onboard tank and oxygen to generate electricity. Some FCEVs have small batteries for storage, but most simply derive power for the engines from the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The benefits of an FCEV include zero emissions and fast refueling, but the biggest drawback is the very limited number of public hydrogen stations. (In BC, there are three in Metro Vancouver, one on Vancouver Island and one in Kelowna.)

A 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, seen here from the Chevrolet Bolt, is the EV equivalent of a tank of gasoline, and the kWh figure indicates the capacity of the battery.
A 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, seen here from the Chevrolet Bolt, is the EV equivalent of a tank of gasoline, and the kWh figure indicates the capacity of the battery. Photo supplied

A kilo what?

Kilowatt (kW) vs kilowatt-hour (kWh): A kilowatt, or 1000 watts, measures the rate at which something uses electricity, while a kilowatt-hour measures the amount of electricity used. In the case of electric vehicles, a kilowatt-hour number also describes the capacity of the battery pack (something like liters in a tank of gasoline). The relationship between these two also influences the load. For example, if you charge your electric vehicle with a 50 kW charger for one hour, you will get 50 kWh of energy in the battery. Current electric vehicle batteries vary in size, with the most common being between 60 and 90 kWh.

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Ready, plug in, charge!

There are three ‘levels’ of electrical chargers used in Canada, with Level 1 (essentially a 120-volt garden-type plug like the one your toaster plugs into) being the most common and Level 3 the rarest.

Level 1

This is the most basic (and by far the slowest) way to charge an electric vehicle. Level 1 charging typically takes a full 24 hours to recharge an empty EV, and some newer EV models do not charge to this level.

Level 2

If you get a home charger, it will be Level 2, with a 240V output and a near-empty charging time in the range of four to eight hours for a typical electric vehicle. Many public chargers are also Level 2.

Level 3

Also called “fast” and “DC” charging (for direct current), this is the fastest way to charge an electric vehicle and can charge a car to 80 percent in as little as 30 minutes. Tesla’s Supercharger network is Level 3, and these fast chargers can also be found at gas stations (i.e. PetroCanada) and BC Hydro public chargers.

Andrew McCredie is editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Sun and The Province and host of Postmedia’s Plugged In podcast. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

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