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VIDEO: Annapolis Valley instructor Colin Robar hopes to inspire new generation of electric vehicle drivers


Drive it and they will come

WINDSOR, N.S. —

It’s definitely, uh, hard to miss. But that’s kind of the point. 

Colin Robar, a driving instructor with Young Drivers, went with a bold, lime-green colour for his new set of wheels. But the car isn’t just green on the outside. 

Robar speaks with a sparkling enthusiasm inside his new Chevrolet Bolt as the new-car smell wafts through the cabin.

He’s been instructing drivers now for several years, even training other instructors. He’s used a lot of vehicles to get the job done.

But his latest one is a big change from the norm.

Recently brought in from Quebec (because he had to have that audacious colour), the Bolt runs completely on electricity, making him the first Young Drivers instructor in Canada to use an electric vehicle (EV) to teach students. 

“The type of driving that I do tends to be pretty inefficient, helping students deal with traffic, parking, and that involves a lot of idling and things like that, so driving something like a Civic under normal conditions, you’ll get pretty good efficiency but, as a driving instructor, we’re going to add 50 to 100 per cent onto that fuel consumption because of how much we have to do,” he said. 

Colin Robar, a driving instructor with Young Drivers, is the first in his company across Canada to begin teaching new drivers with an electric vehicle.
Colin Robar, a driving instructor with Young Drivers, is the first in his company across Canada to begin teaching new drivers with an electric vehicle.

 

“With the electric car, that eliminates all of it. There’s no idling with this car, you’re either making the engine work or not.” 

There’s no gas to worry about, no oil changes, barely any maintenance.

But it didn’t come cheap.

At approximately $45,000, the Bolt has a bit of a shocking sticker price, but Robar said it’s the long-term savings that will win out in the end. 

“As a society, we’re not at the point yet where people are going to be giving up their cars, so I would much rather do my part by teaching young people to drive efficiently, safely, and electric cars, really, are our next step,” Robar said.  

He drove a hybrid before this and had been debating switching to an electric vehicle for some time. A recent federal rebate of $2,500 to $5,000 approved for electric cars in the 2019 budget sealed the deal. 

NO TRIPS TO GAS STATION

A week into owning the car Robar already noticed an impact on his weekly expenses, with no trips to the gas station and only a slight increase in his electrical usage. 

And for training drivers, he says the car works great.

There are, he admits, some subtle differences from the EV and a gas-powered car.

When the engine turns on, it’s silent. The car will project some sounds inside and outside the vehicle solely for driver and pedestrian awareness, but other than that it’s whisper-quiet. 

It’s able to accelerate extremely quickly, with no need to wait for gears to shift. 

Robar, who uses his car all day for his profession, covering Kentville to Windsor, says he drives up to 250 kilometres each day, which is well below the vehicle’s 400-kilometre range. 

He also uses an app called PlugShare, which highlights all of the available public charging stations in the province to avoid getting stuck somewhere. 

A screenshot from the mobile PlugShare app, which highlights all of the electric vehicle charging stations and outlets across the province and beyond.
A screenshot from the mobile PlugShare app, which highlights all of the electric vehicle charging stations and outlets across the province and beyond.

 

Robar thinks getting more EVs on the road is a complicated, but important next step to help mitigate climate change and pollution. 

He hopes to be a part of the solution by giving training drivers the chance to hop behind the wheel of an EV. 

“I had one of my friends drive the car yesterday. He has a (sports car), a big SUV and a pick-up truck, which are high consumption vehicles. He loves his toys,” he said. “He took (the Bolt) out for 10 minutes and decided that when he got rid of his car, he would get one of these. He was so impressed by the driving experience.” 

Robar is hopeful that other driving schools will start incorporating electric vehicles into their fleets.

“We, driving instructors, should be starting this adoption. We’re the ones doing inefficient driving, and we’re on the road all the time,” he said. “Taxi drivers, delivery trucks — these are the vehicles that should be going electric.”

The president of Young Drivers is monitoring how this initiative goes and it could lead to more EVs across the country, Robar said. 

“Of all of the places to take this plunge, it’s kind of funny that it’s in a place like this, not in Toronto or Vancouver.” 

NOVA SCOTIA POWER

Sanjeev Pushkarna, manager of customer solutions with Nova Scotia Power, is an electric vehicle enthusiast as well.

Electric vehicles pose both a huge opportunity and challenge to the province’s electrical utility, but he remains optimistic. 

“I believe in electric transportation, even beyond passenger vehicles, because I know it’s the right thing to do,” Pushkarna said. “We are starting to see a lot more interest in our customer base who are interested in the technology and we’re responding to that by helping customers to make an informed decision.”

Pushkarna, who owns a Tesla Model 3, said the utility is helping to educate customers by highlighting the different EVs available on their website and they will soon launch an electric vehicle cost calculator, which will show the variances in costs from gas-powered and electric-powered vehicles. 

He said they’re often asked if electric vehicles make sense, given the electricity generation methods currently used in Nova Scotia, which includes a mix of fossil fuels, like coal, and green energy, such as wind generation and hydro. 

For Pushkarna, the answer remains a resounding yes.

“Given the efficiencies of these vehicles, you can reduce your carbon footprint by driving an electric vehicle by up to 50 per cent,” he said. “That will continue to increase over time as we continue to add renewable energy onto the system.”

Nova Scotia Power is planning to generate 40 per cent of its energy through renewable energy sources by 2020. 

In terms of the province’s adoption of electric vehicles, Pushkarna says Nova Scotia is off to a solid start but there’s still a long way to go.

“The upfront cost of these vehicles is still a barrier for many, but if they do take a look at the total costs of ownership, they will find that the price gap is becoming a lot smaller than it used to be,” he said. 

He added that prices are continuing to come down as battery technology becomes more advanced and affordable. 

CHARGING STATIONS

One of the ways Nova Scotia Power’s parent company, Emera, has tried incentivizing electric vehicles is by partnering with the federal and provincial governments to install public fast-charging stations across the province from Yarmouth to Sydney.

Emera funded 50 per cent of the initiative after the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board prevented Nova Scotia Power from funding the project, a precedent which means the utility can now only focus on managing grid risk and educating the public on the vehicles. 

Each station has a level three and a level two charging station, allow quick charges for fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

The federal government has set an ambitious goal of having 100 per cent of all vehicles on the road electric-powered by 2040. 

For Nova Scotia Power, that’s both exciting and challenging. 

Colin Robar’s hard-to-miss Chevrolet Bolt is definitely green, not just in colour.
Colin Robar’s hard-to-miss Chevrolet Bolt is definitely green, not just in colour.

 

“Along with the opportunities that electric vehicles offer ratepayers… if you start to charge up your vehicle instead of gassing it up, it offers the opportunity to contribute to fixed costs for the province, which can lead to rate stability,” he said. “There’s also a risk to the grid, with multiple people charging at the same time, that could cause a peak in demand, which could be detrimental to our infrastructure.” 

Pushkarna said the utility is already looking into ways to mitigate that potential increased spike in demand, including smart charging — charging at home in different ways, with incentives from the power utility to charge during off-peak hours.

Another option would be “utility-controlled charging,” which essentially gives the utility control over when the vehicle is charged, while still ensuring the car is fully charged for when the user needs it. 

“We need more people like Colin Robar and organizations like Clean Nova Scotia out there highlighting what these cars are about,” he said. 

ELECTRIC VEHICLES ON THE RISE

According to a study by Electric Mobility Canada, a non-profit electric vehicle advocacy organization, more than 93,000 vehicles were on the road in Canada in 2018, a 90 per cent increase over the year prior.

And although electric vehicle sales were up 125 per cent compared to 2017, they still only made up for 2.2 per cent of all passenger vehicle sales. 

There were approximately 223 electric vehicles in Nova Scotia in 2018, but that’s expected to rise. 

The province with the most EVs is Quebec, with more than 38,000 electric passenger vehicles on the road in 2018.

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