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Electric Cars and How They Work

Electric Cars and How They Work

Electric vehicles (EVs) are accelerating in popularity in Canada. In 2021, over 150,000 EVs were sold in Canada, more than double the previous year. Clearly, these futuristic-looking cars are capturing the interest of Canadian drivers thanks to their smooth and quiet operation as well as their environmental benefits.


But how exactly do EVs work and differ from traditional gas-powered vehicles? In this post, we’ll provide a detailed overview of EV components and technology to demystify these innovative vehicles.

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Brief History of EVs

Electric vehicles have been around for over 100 years, though their popularity has risen and fallen over time. In the late 1800s, electric cars actually outsold gasoline-powered cars. This was in large part due to the innovations of early EV pioneers like Thomas Edison and Ferdinand Porsche. EVs were quiet, easy to operate, and didn’t have the smell and vibration issues of early gas cars. However, by the 1910s, gas cars became more affordable and had better range. As roads improved and cheap Texas oil was discovered, gas cars came to dominate the market.

For decades, EVs took a backseat to internal combustion engine vehicles. But by the 1960s, concerns about air pollution led to renewed interest in electric transportation. Breakthroughs in batteries, motors, and power electronics in the 1980s and 1990s enabled major improvements in EV range, performance, and speed. This laid the groundwork for the first viable modern electric cars like the GM EV1 in the 1990s.

While early EVs faced challenges like cost and range, today’s EVs have benefited immensely from over 100 years of technology development. Lower battery prices, expanded charging networks, and economies of scale have enabled EVs to become a competitive and sustainable transportation choice.

 

How an EV Works

The key difference between electric cars and gas-powered cars is the powertrain. Gas cars rely on internal combustion engines that burn petrol to move pistons and turn the wheels. EVs use electric motors powered by large battery packs to propel the vehicle.

When the driver presses the accelerator pedal, the battery sends electricity to an inverter which converts the DC power into AC power. This electricity flows to the electric motor and generates a magnetic field. The magnetic interaction between the rotor and stator inside the motor causes the rotor to spin. This motion is transferred to the drivetrain and wheels, pushing the EV forward.

Instead of loud revving noises and vibration from explosions, EVs provide smooth, quiet operation. The battery pack, electric motor, power electronics, and regenerative braking system work together seamlessly to deliver emissions-free transportation.

 

EV Batteries

The battery pack is the heart of an electric vehicle, providing all the energy to power the electric motor and vehicle systems. Modern EVs predominantly use lithium-ion batteries which offer high energy density, efficiency, and long cycle life. Lithium-ion batteries work on the principle of lithium ions moving between two electrodes (the anode and cathode) through an electrolyte solution. This generates a flow of electrons that provides electric current to drive the motor and vehicle. Key advantages of lithium-ion chemistry include:

 

  • High energy density – Li-ion batteries can store a large amount of energy in a relatively small and lightweight package. This gives EVs extended driving range from a compact battery pack.
  • High cell voltage – Individual Li-ion cells operate at 3.6-3.7V, three times higher than nickel-based batteries. This reduces the number of cells needed for a given voltage.
  • Low self-discharge – Li-ion batteries have minimal self-discharge when not in use, so EVs can be left parked for weeks without significant battery drain.
  • No memory effect – Li-ion batteries do not exhibit “memory effect” where repeated partial charging/discharging permanently reduces capacity.

 

Lithium-ion batteries require sophisticated battery management systems to monitor individual cells, control charging and discharging, and maintain optimal operating conditions. Keeping cells within a safe operating temperature and voltage range maximizes performance and longevity. The battery management system also balances charging between cells to prevent under or overcharging.

Ongoing research aims to increase Li-ion energy density further to enable longer EV range from smaller, lighter batteries. Improved electrolytes and additives also seek to boost battery life and safety. Lithium-ion chemistry will continue dominating EV batteries for the foreseeable future.

 

Electric Motors

The electric motor is the powerhouse that makes EVs go. It converts the electrical energy from the battery pack into mechanical rotation that turns the wheels. EV motors have very different characteristics compared to gas engines.

There are three main types of electric motors used in modern EVs:

 

  • AC induction motors – Most common, mature technology, lower cost
  • Permanent magnet motors – More efficient, higher performance, more expensive
  • AC synchronous reluctance motors – Compact, efficient, rare earth metal-free

 

A key advantage of electric motors is instant torque delivery. Unlike gas engines that need to rev up to deliver peak torque, the torque from an electric motor is available immediately when the accelerator is pressed. This provides neck-snapping acceleration from a standstill.

Additionally, electric motors convert over 90% of input energy into mechanical power. This is far higher than the 30-40% efficiency seen in gas engines. As a result, EVs can utilize battery energy very efficiently to maximize driving range.

Between the instant torque and high efficiency, electric motors give EVs a distinct performance advantage over gas-powered vehicles.

 

Power Electronics

Power electronics are key components in electric vehicles that control and condition the flow of electricity. They act as the interface between the battery pack and the electric motor.

The main power electronics in an EV include:

 

Inverter

The inverter converts the direct current (DC) electricity from the battery into alternating current (AC) electricity that is required to drive the electric motor. It takes the DC output from the battery pack and uses switching devices to create a three-phase AC signal to control motor speed and torque.

 

DC-to-DC Converter

The DC-to-DC converter steps down and regulates the high voltage of the battery pack to the lower voltages required by an EV’s electronics and low voltage systems, such as lights, infotainment, etc. It ensures stable power delivery at different voltages.

Overall, power electronics make sure electricity flows to where it needs to go within the EV drivetrain and systems. The allow the battery voltage to be optimized for range while still powering lower voltage components safely and efficiently.

 

Regenerative Braking System

A key efficiency booster in EVs is the regenerative braking system. This technology allows the EV to recapture kinetic energy that would normally be lost as heat during braking.

Here’s how it works: When the driver steps on the brake pedal, sensors detect the deceleration and trigger the electric motor to switch into generator mode. As the wheels slow down, the motor acts as a generator, converting the car’s momentum into electricity. This electricity is then fed back into the battery to partially recharge it.

Essentially, regenerative braking transforms the EV into a self-charging hybrid whenever it needs to slow down. By recapturing energy during braking, regenerative systems can increase overall EV efficiency by up to 25%. This leads to extended driving range as less electricity needs to be drawn from the battery.

In contrast, gasoline cars lose all their kinetic energy as wasted heat during braking. This makes EVs much more energy efficient in stop-and-go traffic conditions. Regenerative braking gives EVs a major efficiency advantage over conventional vehicles.

 

EV Charging

EVs require regular charging to replenish the battery and maximize driving range. There are three main types of EV charging stations:

 

Level 1 Charging

Level 1 is the most basic charging method and uses a standard 120V household outlet. The charger that comes with the EV plugs directly into the wall outlet. Level 1 provides 2-5 miles of range per hour of charging, so it is best for overnight charging. The low voltage means Level 1 takes a long time to fully recharge an EV’s large battery pack.

 

Level 2 Charging

Level 2 charging requires a 240V outlet, similar to those used for electric dryers and other major appliances. Many homes already have 240V circuits available, if not a compatible outlet. Level 2 charging stations can fully recharge an EV battery overnight and provide 10-20 miles of range per hour of charging. This makes Level 2 ideal for both home and public charging stations.

 

DC Fast Charging

DC fast charging provides the quickest charging option by converting high-voltage AC power to DC power. This allows direct transfer into the EV battery. Fast chargers can add up to 100 miles of range in 15-30 minutes. However, the equipment is expensive and fast charging frequently can degrade batteries over time. Fast charging stations are best for providing a quick boost during long road trips.

 

Maintenance

One of the best perks of owning an electric vehicle is the minimal maintenance required compared to a gas-powered car. EVs have far fewer moving parts under the hood – no engine, transmission, belts, hoses, spark plugs, etc. This simplicity translates into fewer repairs and longer service intervals.

Without a complex internal combustion engine, EVs don’t require regular oil changes, air filter replacements, engine tune-ups, and other routine maintenance associated with gas cars. There’s no engine air filter, oil filter, timing belt, head gasket, radiator fluid, or emissions system to maintain. Brake pad replacements are also less frequent thanks to regenerative braking reducing wear on the friction brakes.

Overall, maintenance costs are estimated to be about 35% lower for EVs compared to gas-powered vehicles. The electric motor should run for at least 100,000 miles with minimal servicing needed outside of tires, brakes, and fluids. With fewer mechanical components to inspect and replace, EV owners enjoy greater reliability and significantly reduced maintenance bills.

 

Environmental Benefits

One of the biggest advantages of electric vehicles is their positive environmental impact compared to gas-powered cars. EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions – they don’t expel any pollutants from the tailpipe since they don’t burn gasoline or diesel. This helps improve air quality, especially in urban areas where tailpipe emissions from traditional cars accumulate and contribute to smog. Studies have shown that widespread adoption of EVs can significantly reduce air pollution and its associated health effects.

While EVs have no tailpipe emissions, there are emissions associated with generating the electricity to charge them. However, EVs typically have a lower lifetime carbon footprint compared to gas-powered cars because most emissions happen at the power plant, which is more efficient at generating electricity than a car engine is at burning gas. Plus, as more renewable energy sources like solar and wind are added to the grid, charging an EV will become even cleaner over time.

According to Canada’s National Energy Board, driving an EV in Canada produces about half the lifetime emissions of driving a gas-powered vehicle. So by choosing to drive electric, individuals can reduce their personal carbon footprint and environmental impact.

 

EV Models Available in Canada

There are a growing number of attractive EV options for Canadian drivers to choose from across multiple vehicle segments. Here’s a look at some of the most popular battery electric vehicles on sale in Canada:

 

Tesla Model 3

The Tesla Model 3 is currently the top selling EV in Canada thanks to its sleek styling, engaging performance and cutting-edge technology. This compact luxury sedan offers up to 547 km of range on a single charge. All Model 3s come standard with autopilot, over-the-air software updates and access to Tesla’s nationwide Supercharger network.

 

Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf is one of the world’s best selling EVs with over 500,000 sold globally since its launch. The 2022 Leaf provides up to 363 km of range. Nissan’s e-Pedal system allows for one-pedal driving. Advanced driver assistance features and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are standard.

 

Chevrolet Bolt

The Chevy Bolt delivers an EPA-rated 416 km of range from its 60 kWh battery pack. Its sporty handling and DC fast charging capability make it a versatile EV. The Bolt offers lots of interior space thanks to its crossover-inspired design. The latest models add Super Cruise hands-free driving assist.

 

Kia Niro EV

Kia’s Niro EV crossover provides plenty of space and utility. It can travel up to 383 km on a charge. The Niro EV features lane keeping assist, smart cruise control, pedestrian detection and more. Its 64 kWh battery can charge to 80% capacity in under an hour at a 100 kW DC fast charger.

 

Hyundai Kona Electric

The subcompact Hyundai Kona Electric SUV combines a stylish exterior with a modern interior. It offers 415 km of range in its top trim. The 64 kWh battery charges from 10-80% in under an hour with 100 kW DC fast charging. It comes well-equipped with a 10.25” touchscreen and support for Android Auto/Apple CarPlay.

This represents just a sample of the EVs available to Canadian consumers. As more automakers launch electric models, customers will continue gaining options to find their perfect EV match.

 

Limitations

Despite the benefits, there are some limitations to consider with electric vehicles in Canada:

 

Range Anxiety

Many Canadians worry about running out of charge before reaching their destination, known as “range anxiety”. EV driving ranges are generally 100-400km on a single charge, far less than gas vehicles. Range is reduced in cold winter weather. Finding a public charging station en route can be challenging in some rural areas.

 

Charging Infrastructure

While public charging stations are expanding, infrastructure is still limited compared to gas stations. Home installation of a 240V Level 2 charger can be expensive. Public fast charging takes 30-60 minutes. Charging needs to be planned into trips and routines.

 

High Upfront Cost

The purchase price of EVs is typically $10,000-$15,000 more than gas-powered equivalents. Provincial rebates of $5,000-$8,000 help offset costs. Lower fuel and maintenance costs compared to gas vehicles can lead to savings over time. But the initial price is prohibitive for some buyers.

 

Future Outlook

The future looks bright for EVs in Canada as technology continues advancing and adoption rises. Here are some key areas of expected progress:

 

Improving Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries will keep getting cheaper, more energy dense, and faster charging. Solid-state batteries are on the horizon too, promising 2-3x the energy density and reduced safety risks. Further battery chemistry improvements will enable longer ranges from 500-1,000 km on a single charge.

 

More Affordable EVs

As production scales up, EVs are projected to reach cost parity with gas vehicles in the mid 2020s. New affordable EV models like the Chevy Equinox and Hyundai Ioniq 5 make ownership more accessible. Used EVs entering the market also provide budget-friendly options.

 

Charging Networks

Charging infrastructure build-out is key to mass adoption. Canada now has over 12,000 public charging stations and growing. Ultra-fast chargers can replenish 200+ km in 10 minutes. Advances like vehicle-to-grid integration will also enable EVs to feed power back into the grid.

 

Conclusion

In summary, electric vehicles operate quite differently from conventional gas-powered vehicles. Rather than relying on internal combustion engines, EVs use batteries to store electrical energy. This electricity powers electric motors connected to the wheels to propel the vehicle. Key components in EVs include the battery pack, electric motor, power electronics like inverters, and regenerative braking systems to recapture energy.

EVs provide a quiet, smooth driving experience with instant acceleration and zero tailpipe emissions. As battery costs continue to decrease and charging infrastructure expands, electric vehicles are gaining traction in Canada as a sustainable transportation solution. With more model options and improved ranges, EVs make sense for many Canadian drivers thanks to lower operating costs and environmental benefits.

 

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Questions About How Electric Cars Work

Electric cars in Canada work by using an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine to propel the vehicle. The electric motor is powered by a large battery pack, typically lithium-ion, that is charged by plugging the vehicle into an electric power source. When the accelerator is pressed, the battery sends electricity to the motor which turns the wheels.



Some benefits of owning an electric vehicle in Canada include lower fueling costs since electricity is cheaper than gas, reduced maintenance due to less moving parts, environmental benefits from producing less emissions, access to carpool lanes in some provinces, and government rebates or incentives in most areas of the country. Additionally, most Canadian provinces have an abundance of renewable energy from hydroelectric dams resulting in even lower emissions during charging.



The range of most electric cars in Canada is between 150-550km on a full charge depending on the vehicle and conditions. Range is affected by outside temperature, battery size, driving style and use of climate controls. Many new models coming out are pushing past the 500km threshold for range. And with Canada’s extensive public charging network, range anxiety is decreasing for EV drivers.



Charge times for electric vehicles in Canada vary greatly depending on the charging station and vehicle capability. Most full charges take between 6-12 hours on a standard 120V household outlet. With a higher voltage Level 2 station, charging can take 4-10 hours. Using DC fast charging stations, compatible electric cars can charge to 80% in as little as 20-40 minutes.

Charging an electric vehicle in Canada costs a fraction of fueling a gas-powered car. On average, charging an EV in Canada costs between $0.12-$0.25 per kilometer driven compared to $0.18-$0.30 per kilometer for a gas vehicle. Exact costs vary by province, with Quebec having some of the lowest rates due to extensive hydroelectric infrastructure. Overall, Canadian EV drivers pay about 75% less in fuel costs compared to gas.

Like all vehicles, electric cars suffer range loss in extremely cold Canadian winters. Estimates peg range loss between 20-50% depending on conditions and battery thermal management. Using climate controls, fast driving, and short trips can exacerbate winter range loss. Many new models feature heat pumps instead of resistive heaters to reduce drain on battery and some allow battery preheating while plugged in.

The public charging network in Canada has expanded rapidly in recent years through government and private funding. As of 2022, there are over 13,000 public charging stations across the country with more in development. While not as extensive as gas stations yet, the network covers most major routes and population centers to alleviate range anxiety. Apps and car navigation systems also make finding stations simple.

Installing a home Level 2 EV charger in Canada typically costs between $800-$2,000 including equipment and labor. Costs are very dependent on site conditions and electrical panel capacity among other factors. Many electrical contractors now specialize in home charger installation. To reduce costs, federal and provincial incentives up to $1,000 are available in most regions.

Electric vehicles sold in Canada adhere to the same strict safety standards for crashes as internal combustion engine vehicles. They feature crash structures, airbags, and the latest tech to protect occupants. Battery packs are shielded extremely well for protection too. Winter driving also poses no additional safety risks for EVs which undergo cold weather testing. Their heavier weight actually improves handling.



Studies have shown Canada’s electrical grid has sufficient capacity to handle increased adoption of electric vehicles without substantial upgrades needed. Even if 30-50% of vehicles were electrified, impacts are expected to be manageable through smart charging programs and infrastructure improvements funded by increased electricity demand. Canada also has an abundance of renewable generating sources to meet new demand.

To incentivize the purchase of zero-emission vehicles, the federal government and most provincial governments currently offer purchase incentives and tax rebates worth between $2,500-$8,000 typically. Some used EV incentives also exist. Additionally, reduced electricity rates for EV charging, exemption from gas taxes, and other non-financial incentives are offered in many regions of Canada.

Electric vehicles charged from Canada’s electrical grid produce significantly less lifetime emissions than gas vehicles – about 75% less on average. Widespread EV adoption is key to reducing Canada’s greenhouse gases to meet climate change targets. Even in provinces still reliant on fossil fuels for electricity, EVs are cleaner over their lifespan. As Canada’s grid gets greener, EV environmental benefits will keep growing.



According to hydro companies and grids, the increased demand from substantial electric vehicle adoption will be manageable through updating infrastructure like transformers and power lines over the next decade. Smart charging programs can also shift demand away from peak hours. Increased electricity demand from EVs is predicted to be modest compared to overall grid capacity as gas vehicles are phased out.

Quebec is currently the leader in electric vehicle adoption due to generous provincial incentives, an abundance of renewable hydro power, and a widespread public charging network. British Columbia and Ontario also rank highly thanks to substantial charging infrastructure, low renewable electricity rates, and purchase incentives. Almost all urban centers now have a strong framework for supporting EVs as well.

A few disadvantages of owning an electric car in Canada include higher upfront purchase prices compared to gas cars, lack of long-distance travel and rural charging infrastructure still, longer travel times on trips requiring multiple charging stops, reduced performance in very cold weather, and longer charging times compared to gas station fill ups.

Modern electric vehicles have proven to be very reliable during cold Canadian winters. Battery thermal management technology keeps cells at optimal temperatures using glycol coolant and heat pumps. Regular software updates also fine tune performance for winter conditions. And with fewer mechanical parts than gas engines, there is reduced wear and tear during cold weather operation overall.

Electric vehicles well suited for Canadian winters feature heat pumps for efficient interior heating, battery thermal conditioning for optimal performance, at least 250km of range, fast charging capability, and cold weather testing by the manufacturer. Top models include the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model 3 and Y, Nissan Leaf Plus, Chevrolet Bolt EUV, and Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kona Electric.

Electric vehicles have substantially lower maintenance costs than gas-powered cars in Canada – up to 60% less over the lifespan of the vehicle. With fewer fluids, filters, belts, spark plugs and other parts to service, maintenance is reduced to tire rotations, brake checks, and software updates primarily. Most service can be performed by dealerships across Canada as EVs become more popular.



All major automakers provide extensive electric vehicle training to dealership technicians as more models come to market. Many colleges and trade schools have also implemented EV certification programs to meet demand for qualified personnel. Between dealers, independent shops, and mobile technicians, most urban regions of Canada now have an adequate supply of trained EV service professionals. Rural areas still have gaps but are quickly catching up.

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