With the price of gas going up this summer, have you ever considered the alternatives?

Electric vehicles are often a passing thought, but proponents are trying to change that by making them more accessible to the average motorist.

In 2010, there were fewer than 100 electric vehicles on the road. Today, there are more than 1,400 electric vehicles on the road in Ontario.

Despite these numbers, electric car sales still make up a paltry 0.1 percent of new cars sold in Canada.

In effort to boost that number across the country, organizations and municipalities are taking steps to improve the current power infrastructure.

Earlier this year, London, Ont., installed three new Green Fleet charging stations as part of a $27,000 pilot project, with the bulk of the funding coming from the private sector. 

Though initial numbers don’t indicate a huge spike in use, city officials are pleased with the results so far.

“For the naysayers, you’ve got to start somewhere. I believe gas stations started the same way. People didn’t believe that we needed those because you’d continue to feed your horse,”  Jay Stanford, London’s director of environmental programs and solid waste, said  in an interview with CTV London.

With many Canadians hesitant to make the switch to electric, other organizations are trying to highlight their overall benefits.

Plug’n Drive, a non-profit organization, is hosting  EV (Electric Vehicle) Roadshows across Ontario. These events bring the electric vehicle out of the showroom and into a test drive environment. 

To help spread the technology to the ‘burbs, Plug’n Drive has partnered with both Greenlots and the Canadian Auto Association ( CAA) to set up an open connected network of charge stations across the province of Ontario. What they’re doing:

  • Greenlots sets up  universal charge stations
  • Plug’n Drive will set up an app on your smartphone, tablet that allows you to find an available station, and pay for charging
  • CAA has created a charge station map to make it easier to find and locate the nearest charge station.
  • Toronto Hydro is working to improve the power grid to accommodate the extra strain on the system for car charging.

That last step is important. Even during off-peak hours, it takes 3to 5 times more power to charge car batteries than it does to power your house, according to Toronto Hydro.

Toronto Hydro is also working with the building owners and condominium boards to ensure that the infrastructure is in place for wiring of charging stations at home.

The utilities aren’t the only group looking at helping to alleviate the charge problem. The auto manufacturers are also doing what they can to make the batteries last longer and go further on a charge, taking the need of charging the car at night, every night, out of the equation.

Auto analysts say that determining whether the investment in charging stations is worthwhile is a bit of a catch-22.  

“Before we’re going to see a more widespread use of electric vehicles, we have to see a big investment in charging stations and the problem with putting in a big investment in charging stations is right now we have so few electric vehicles on the road -- it isn’t worth the investment,” said Tony Faria, professor of marketing at the University of Windsor.

Going the distance

Some of the electric vehicles are actually Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV), like the Ford Fusion Energi, the Ford C-Max Energi, and the Toyota Prius Plug-in.  These vehicles are like Extended Range Electric Vehicles, only they have three different driving modes: Electric, Hybrid and Gas.

In full electric mode, you can go upwards to 52kilometres in distance, which is roughly the regular commute distance of your average driver. In hybrid mode, on the Fusion Energi, you can get upwards to 1,000 km before you have to fill the tank.

The next option is the Extended Range Electric Vehicle, most notably the Chevrolet Volt. Like the PHEV, and the EV, the Extended Range EV also has a plug-in charger for the battery.

In pure electric mode, the Volt can go 60km. Once the battery is drained, the gas motor kicks in, and the vehicle gets an extra 500km or more, depending on your driving style.

The final option, of course, is the Electric Vehicle. Before there was only one vehicle to go for – the Nissan Leaf. This was the first mass-produced electric vehicle. But now, as technology comes readily available, there are more choices. 

The electric vehicle differs from the other two options, in that it doesn’t have a back-up power source, should you drain the battery. But as technology gets better, so does the range.

Currently the shortest range you can go on an electric car is 122km, and that is in the Ford Focus EV.  But on the flip side, the farthest you can go in an electric car is 480km, in the Tesla Model S. In that car,  you could do a round trip from Toronto to Niagara Falls.

And as more and more people are looking to electric vehicles as alternatives, the provincial governments is offering incentives to purchase them. Currently, Ontario is offering a rebate of up to $8,500, while Quebec is currently offering a rebate up to $8,000. British Columbia  is offering a price point incentive up to $5,000.

These rebates, combined with the usual summer sales events that dealership offer can get you into an Electric Vehicle for the same price as sub-compact gas-powered car.