As electric vehicle sales ramp up, Waterloo-based cleantech-telematics company FleetCarma is playing a key role in helping public utilities prepare to manage changing demands on the power grid.

In a program launched today called Charge the North, FleetCarma is giving away 1,000 of its palm-sized devices to electric vehicle (EV) owners across Canada, free of charge. The devices, which plug into the onboard diagnostic ports of vehicles, will gather information to help power authorities make sure the right infrastructure is in place as more and more motorists go electric.

Canada’s Ministry of Natural Resources has invested $3.25 million in Charge the North, money set aside in the 2016 federal budget as part of a larger commitment, expanded upon in the 2017 budget, to promote infrastructure for vehicles powered by alternative fuels.

An estimated one-quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has said. At the same time, Canadian motorists are increasingly warming up to electric vehicles, sales data compiled by FleetCarma show.

In the first quarter of 2017, EV sales were up 68 per cent across Canada over the same quarter a year earlier, and had more than doubled in Ontario

In an interview with Communitech News, FleetCarma CEO Matt Stevens said Charge the North will also look at how to optimally manage electric-vehicle charging at workplaces and multi-unit housing complexes – a timely focus given this week’s news that some Ontario condominium dwellers have been prevented by their condo boards from charging their EVs at home.

Stevens said FleetCarma’s technology is already capable of addressing those concerns, since it can track power usage by individual EV owners, and thus enable condo boards to bill them for it.

Meanwhile, FleetCarma’s technology has been drawing increasing interest from authorities in the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, as both motorists and their governments look to curb climate-changing emissions.

In April, Con Edison – the utility that powers New York City and neighbouring Westchester County – partnered with FleetCarma to launch SmartCharge New York, a program that pays EV owners cash rewards for charging their vehicles at off-peak times. This reduces stress on the power grid and has the potential to reduce costs for all electricity users through increased efficiency, Stevens said.

As with Charge the North, the New York program gives motorists access to their own EV data so that they can monitor their performance and compare it to that of other program participants.

Stevens said FleetCarma has grown quickly as a result of these programs, from 25 employees six months ago to 40 today, with more hires planned in the coming months.

Photo: Charging up at Upper Merion Township by Montgomery County Planning Commission is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Anthony Reinhart
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Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.