Think Energy

Summer Recharge: EV-olving Transportation with Cara Clairman

Jun 20, 2022

In our last episode, we spoke with Loren McDonald about the shift in social perception when it comes to adopting EVs across Canada. However, it’ll take more than just a social shift for this adoption to happen. This week we’re revisiting our conversation with Cara Clairman, President and CEO at Plug'nDrive—and a prominent leader in the EV space, who shared her unique perspective on Canada’s readiness to adopt EVs, barriers the country is facing, whether Canadian businesses and municipalities have a role to play in EVolution, and more. 

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Dan Seguin  00:06

This is thinkenergy. The podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin, and my co host Rebecca Schwartz, as we explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Hey everyone, welcome to the summer rewind edition of the thinkenergy podcast. While we recharge our batteries during these lazy hazy days of summer, we're bringing back some blasts from our podcast past. We'll be reintroducing some of our most popular interviews that garnered a lot of attention and interest. There's been a lot of talk about the future electrification of energy on the path to net zero. The episodes we've selected are very future focused with themes around Green Innovation, renewable energy, and our impact on the environment. So I hope you enjoy the summer rewind edition of today's episode. In the meantime, have a happy summer. And we'll be back on August 15. To kick off another exciting season. Cheers. Hey, everyone, I'm Dan Seguin.

Rebecca Schwartz  01:30

And I'm Rebecca Schwartz, both from Hydro Ottawa.

Dan Seguin  01:33

And we'll be hosting the thinkenergy podcast. So are you looking to better understand the fast changing world of energy? Every two weeks, Rebecca and I will be taking you on a tour and discuss some of the coolest trends, emerging technologies and latest innovations within the energy sector.

Rebecca Schwartz  01:52

We'll be engaging in great conversations with game changers, thought leaders and industry leaders who welcomed the opportunity to share their expertise and views with you, our listeners.

Dan Seguin  02:03

So stay tuned as we explore some traditional and some coffee facets of this industry.

Rebecca Schwartz  02:09

This is the thinkenergy podcast.

Dan Seguin  02:12

Hey, everyone, welcome back. This is the thinkenergy podcast. And on today's episode, we'll tackle EV-lution of transportation. I'm Dan Seguin.

Rebecca Schwartz  02:28

And I'm Rebecca Schwartz. Hey, Dan, you have an electric vehicle,right?

Dan Seguin  02:32

I sure do.

Rebecca Schwartz  02:33

I'm curious. What's your experience been? Like? Would you recommend an EV for your one and only favorite co host?

Dan Seguin  02:39

Mm hmm. I would 100% Recommend one. I love my little EV. I've actually owned two. And now my wife has just ordered her very own. I have no regrets.

Rebecca Schwartz  02:54

That's good to know. Now, if I could just get a solid pay raise, I'll be able to afford one hint hint nudge nudge.

Dan Seguin  03:01

Hmm. I have some great news about that Rebecca. First. Both the Feds and some provinces have great incentive programs. With these rebates EVs are really much more affordable. In fact, as part of Canada's goal to help fight climate change, there are plans to make owning a zero emission vehicle more accessible than ever before, through addressing affordability and adequate infrastructure. Today's guests will have lots more to say about that.

Rebecca Schwartz  03:35

Oh, visions of having my very own EV are getting a little bit more clear. You have my attention go on.

Dan Seguin  03:41

In fact, the pressures on; the Government of Canada has mandated 100% of car and passenger truck Sales be zero emission by 2035. All kinds of measures will be required to support this transportation evolution. Everything from incentives for zero emission vehicles, to investments in infrastructure to partnerships with auto manufacturers are being pursued.

Rebecca Schwartz  04:06

Wow, that seems so soon. But that's exciting. There are so many more things I'd like to know when asked. So here's today's big questions. Are Canadians ready to embrace this relatively quick transition over to EVs? What are the barriers and do Canadian businesses and municipalities have a role to play in the EV evolution?

Dan Seguin  04:26

Joining us today we have Cara Clairman, CEO and President at Plug'n Drive and a prominent leader in the EV space. She's here today to provide us with all of the answers. Cara, welcome to the show. Maybe you could start by telling us a bit about your organization and its mandate.

Cara Clairman  04:52

Well, thanks so much, Dan, for for inviting me to do this. Plug'n Drive is a not for profit. So we're out there trying to educate consumers on the environmental and economic benefits of switching to an electric car. And so most of our work revolves revolves around that outreach and education to help people make the switch.

Rebecca Schwartz  05:12

The Government of Canada has set what some might call an aggressive mandate for 100% of new light duty vehicle sales to be zero emissions by 2035. Why has Canada set this mandate? And how does it play into the larger picture of net zero by 2050.

Cara Clairman  05:27

So I'm sure a lot of your listeners will know that transportation is actually one of the largest emitting sectors not just here in Canada, but pretty much everywhere around the world. And in fact, in many provinces of Canada, transportation is the number one largest emitter larger than industry larger than buildings. And so we really can't achieve our climate goals if we don't tackle transportation. So of course, tackling transportation is a few, a few different things, not just EVs. But EV is a ready technology that's here that would really, really help in terms of reducing emissions from consumer vehicles, as well as now some medium and even heavy duty. And this opportunity is huge. Because if you just take Ontario, for example, you know, our number one emission source is transportation, and our electricity grid is already extremely clean. We're about 95% emission reduction if we switch to EVs, because our electricity grid here is already about 90 plus percent free of greenhouse gas emissions. And that's true in many provinces of Canada. So if you look at our electricity grid across the country, you have, you know, a number of provinces that are hydro only. So it's, you know, BC, Quebec, Manitoba. And so if you look across the country, we're already about 80% GHG, free pretty much. And so it's just such a perfect match with the with improving the emissions from transportation across Canada, we have an extremely clean energy grid. And if you think about our electricity, here in Ontario, it's mostly nuclear and hydro, a little bit of, of solar and wind, very small amount of natural gas. So we're already about only 5%, five to 8% fossil fuel on the grid. So plugging into our cars into that grid offers a huge emission reduction at about 90 to 95%. So as a long way of saying, you know, requiring new EV sales is a relatively easy way for the government to start making the transition for the transportation personal vehicle fleet, and would allow Canada actually to achieve the net zero by 2050, which it really can't do if it doesn't tackle transportation.

Dan Seguin  08:00

Now, Cara, are you able to expand on how Canada's zero emission vehicle mandates compare globally? Are we on par with other countries?

Cara Clairman  08:10

Well, I'll answer that question sort of in two parts. How we are now compared to the globe and other countries and how we will be right now I'd say we're a bit behind. Because we don't have an aggressive enough, EV set of EV policies, and we have quite a patchwork across the country in terms of provincial policies. And so our adoption rates are actually on the low side relative to a lot of other countries. I'd say we stand around 10th Right now, you know, in comparison to other countries that have, you know, better policies than we have. However, the policy of zero emission new sales, right, that's just new sales, we'll still have gas cars around for quite a while. zero emission, new sales by 2035. Is, is quite progressive. And I would say it's not the most aggressive policy, there are a few countries ahead of us, like Norway has, you know, a mandate for 2025. And there are a number of European countries that have set 2030. But 2035 is definitely in the pack, I would say in terms of of leadership in the top, you know, 10 or 15 countries. What we really need to do though, is make this a law. You know, right now, we just have a sort of a vague commitment to it and until it's legislated, it really doesn't have a lot of meaning.

Rebecca Schwartz  09:42

What are some of the main barriers to zero emission vehicle adoption?

Cara Clairman  09:47

Okay, well, there's lots of barriers still remaining, although we're making lots of good progress. We did a survey about four years ago, and I think the results probably would hold true today as well. While asking people about about what was preventing them from choosing an electric vehicle, and actually the number one barrier was price, which surprised us, we expected people to say range or lack of public infrastructure or something like that. But three to one, they actually said, they thought EVs were too expensive. And so we know that the upfront sticker price is is a problem for people, it is still a bit more expensive than the equivalent gas car. What people don't really know is that the total cost of ownership of an EV, even at today's prices is less. But it's always a challenge to help people understand you're going to pay more now and save later. And we have to help people see the advantage of doing that. So I would say you know, cost and then also education because you have to help people understand that total cost of ownership over time. And actually, to help consumers on that specific point, we've, we've put a really great new tool on our website called Find your EV match, which really helps you see the total cost of ownership for for electric vehicles income, and you can even compare an EV to your existing gas car that you currently drive and see your monthly savings. And so this is a really, really important point. I would also say, of course, you know, we do need more infrastructure, and they're still in some range hesitancy concern, but I really believe that the range issue is going away as an issue as the battery technology improves. And of course, as public infrastructure improves.

Dan Seguin  11:40

Okay, Cara. How is your organization working to build consumer awareness and education to help remove consumer concerns around EVs?

Cara Clairman  11:50

Well, I mean, Dan, this is what we're doing every single day. You know, we've built our whole program around helping the consumer get over their concerns. And so we're quite accustomed to every single concern and question people have. And basically we do it in a couple of ways. We have our EV Discovery Center in Toronto, which is you know, a bricks and mortar facility, people can come learn all about EVs, no pressure to buy anything, and test drive the latest make some models. And we have found through our research that test drive is key to helping people get over their concerns. And that's been a bit of a challenge during COVID, although we are back to doing test drive. And then secondly, we have our mobile EV Discovery Center or our meet, which we take to smaller cities and towns all over to sort of bring the EV Discovery Center concept to them. And so that's a great opportunity for people to learn again, and a no pressure environment is fun. And then we have our roadshow, which you know, where we go out to even farther afield locations for a day or two days to give people that chance where they may not have any, for example, and EV dealers in their community. So we're really trying to reach everyone. And so that so those are the main things that we do. And I would just add the the other program that we have that we find is really helping consumers is our used TV program, which has a rebate attached to it and we're doing this online through webinars, but it's to help people understand who who had that idea. Oh, you know, I love TV, but I think it's just too expensive for me to help them understand that use these are a great opportunity affordable and available and in the webinar we run through a you know sort of everything you need to know to choose the used EV that's right for you. And then Plug'n Drive is offering $1,000 rebate to anyone who lives in Ontario. If you buy a used EV.

Dan Seguin  13:53

Wondering if you can tell us about Plug'n Drive's Electric Vehicle Discovery Center and what goes on there?

Cara Clairman  13:59

So the Discovery Center is as I said, at bricks and mortar facilities, a sort of imagined Science Center meets cars showroom, you want to see some photos of it, you could just check it out on And the great thing there is it's you know, interactive fun, like I said, like a science center. People come just for fun to learn. And of course, we aren't selling cars. So people don't have that pressure that they feel they sometimes have when they go to a dealership. And then we have all the makes and models sitting right there for people to test drive. And that test drive is so key to helping someone get over their concerns. Because a lot of the times people have a preconceived notion about what an EV might be like, and they don't realize like how fun it is to drive and that these are really fantastic vehicles with great pickup. And it kinda just reminds people of the quality and the fun. And then we can run through with them how much money they're going to save and the emission reductions and our stats tell the story about 35% of the people after visiting the center, within six months have bought an electric car.

Rebecca Schwartz  15:07

How can Canadian businesses support the transition to electric vehicles? And how can they acquire access to the proper funding?

Cara Clairman  15:14

Yeah, we've started doing a lot of work with businesses. And what we find is, you know, number one, what they can do is look at workplace charging, we know that the home is the number one place, people want to charge about 80% of us plug in our cars at home at night, take advantage of low time of use prices. It's where it's convenient, all those reasons. But the second place people want to charge is that work. And actually, studies at UC California have shown that if someone sees a charger at work, and then talks to a colleague who has an EV at work, they're six times more likely to adopt an electric car. So one of the great things that a business can do is put in some workplace charging, and then also do some education around using that charging and help their employees get on board. And some businesses are even offering an incentive to their employees to consider an EV, especially companies that are looking at their own GHG reduction targets. And transportation might be one of the main emitters of their of their organization. So they can use those chargers for their own fleet. They can electrify their own fleet that way, and they can help their employees. So those are a couple of ways. Businesses can help support the transition. And then you've asked about access to funding there, there is some funding through enter can the program is called ZEVIP Zed E VIP where businesses can apply to get some funding for workplace type charging systems.

Dan Seguin  16:51

It would seem that municipalities across Canada have a large part to play to support the government's mandate and to make charging stations more accessible. In your experience. Has this been the case? What's your view on the role municipalities play in the electrification of transit?

Cara Clairman  17:09

Yeah, municipalities do have an important role to play. And I think they are starting to recognize it more and more. So for example, one role that municipalities are playing and it's proving really important is in terms of standards for multi unit buildings. So for example, a municipality can require a certain green standard for condos or multi unit buildings being built in their in their territory, and that will ensure that the you know, rough in is there for the plugs in future and that new buildings will get built with you know, with the ability or sort of EV ready to help their citizens because let's face it, especially in the Greater Toronto Area, a lot of people live in multi unit. And we need to make it possible for these people to plug in. There's other roles they can play, for example, we're seeing a lot of municipalities set up you know, their own EV policies for their, you know, for public parking, for example, street parking for for different, making certain municipal lots available for charging, there's there's lots of ways that municipalities can help. And there are, you know, through the associations, there's sharing, I know of EV policies across municipalities that don't have to reinvent the wheel.

Rebecca Schwartz  18:32

All right, Cara, can you talk to us about Canada's electric highway? Can we actually drive our EVs coast to coast?

Cara Clairman  18:40

Yes, you can. It's still not that easy, I have to say. But the thing I always want to remind is that this is not a trip that many people are doing. You know, maybe some of us have done it once in our life, or, you know, it's the thing that happens very rarely. So it's not as critical. It's more of again, it's a nice to do. It's sort of a psychological thing. People think, oh, it's great if you can, it's still a challenge, but doable and getting easier. You know, it's something that I would say, no, it's not a trip I'm ever going to do and I mean, I drive my car just more locally. So I wouldn't want people to hesitate getting an EV because this isn't the easiest trip to make.

Dan Seguin  19:28

It seems that national sales of EVs are closing in on 4%. What are your recommendations to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicles in Canada?

Cara Clairman  19:38

Well, there's just a whole bunch of things we need to do. So for example, right now in British Columbia, we're hovering around 10% of new sales, Quebec, close to 8%. Ontario, we're down at 2%. And so you can see that the variability in the different policies are leading to very different results. And so there's a couple of things, we need to make some consistency across Canada because what happens when you have certain provinces with really aggressive policies and certain policies, provinces without it, the vehicle supply goes to those provinces with the more aggressive policies. And then it's really hard for people, for example, in Ontario, to get vehicles, and so that ZEV mandate, or ZEV standard that the federal government is talking about is really important for making, you know, some more consistency across the whole country. So I'm very supportive of that. I'd also like to see some consistent building codes across the country, it seems ridiculous that in 2021, where we still have condos and apartment buildings being built with no potential for EV charging in the future, and it's so much more expensive to do a retrofit than to do it when you're building a building. So the building codes need to be updated, to make sure that the buildings are required to at least rough in for evey charging in the future. So that's another really, really important one. And then, you know, we, you know, I'd like to say that the time of needing incentives is over, it isn't over. We still do need incentives for the next couple of years. I think we're going to hit price parity in a few years time, and then we won't need them anymore. But but for now, I think we do. And because the environmental benefit is so large, I think it makes sense that governments continue to support it.

Dan Seguin  21:32

What about charging stations, is charging infrastructure rolling out at the pace to support the transition to 100%, zero emission vehicle sales by 2035.

Cara Clairman  21:44

Well, we do still have more work to do in the area of public charging, but again, I'm one of those people who doesn't think this is as critical to the rollout as some other things. You know, as an EV, driver, and Dan, you said, you're also an EV driver, we are charging at home, most of us are charging at home. And we are very occasionally using public charging. I only use public charging a few times a year. And I think I'm pretty typical on a road trip or work trip. And so you do need more infrastructure, we can't have single chargers out there. You know, we need to multiply those we need them to be in strategic locations. We need them to be in places where you can grab a bite to eat and use facilities and all that. So there's work to do, but I am not of the view that this is a primary barrier to evey adoption. Really, the infrastructure you need is at home and it's ready right now.

Rebecca Schwartz  22:44

Cara, can you tell us a bit about the sentiment among automotive manufacturers? Are they embracing the transition to EVs at all?

Cara Clairman  22:51

Well, we're certainly I mean, you really can't turn on your news or open your your apps, which is how most of us probably get our news these days without seeing a new announcements. So we certainly are seeing the commitment to EVs. In the future, where there's a bit of a struggle, I would say it's sort of right now. Right now in Canada supply is extremely low. It's quite difficult to get vehicles, all the manufacturers are ramping up. But that doesn't happen overnight. And so, you know, we need to do a bit more to get the vehicles in here right now. The exciting thing is, you know, here in Ontario, we're going to be making EVs in the next couple of years. And so the supply challenge will get fixed. And and then we're going to see, I think, you know, just massive changes, but for now the next year to two years, we definitely have a struggle to to bring in the vehicles. And we have to show to the automakers that Canada is a good place for evey adoption, because of course they send the vehicles where they think the best opportunity is to sell them.

Dan Seguin  23:55

Cara, just wondering what should consumers know about zero emissions vehicles today? How has technology evolved over the past few years? And are there funding opportunities for consumers looking to purchase one?

Cara Clairman  24:09

Well, of course, I want people to know that EVs are a fantastic option right now, what I hear from a lot of consumers, which which is helpful, is you know, yes EVs are the future, I'm sure that we're all going to be driving EVs. But what I think a lot of people don't realize is that they're totally ready for primetime right now. Fantastic quality, good range, everything you really need is already there. And of course, the fun and the super great pickup and all those things too. And so I think, you know, people shouldn't hesitate, that that when they're ready for a new car, this should be good. In terms of funding opportunities. I would say, you know, of course the federal government still has its $5,000 rebate available. And as we you know, in the election, we basically got the same government and they have committed to continue that. So we know that will continue. Some provinces have a provincial incentive that layers on top of that, unfortunately, we don't have that in Ontario right now, which is makes us a little bit of a laggard. Compared to other provinces, there are now six provinces with rebates, which makes it hard for Ontario to attract vehicle. So when people go looking for a vehicle, they're challenged to find one. What I would tell consumers that are looking for one and don't want to have to get on a waiting list is to look at the US market. There's a lot of great options in the US market right now. And of course, as I said, Plug'n Drive has $1,000 incentive to buy a used EV, and an extra $1,000 If you scrap an old gas car and buy a used EV so that's a great option. If you can't find the new vehicle that you're looking for.

Rebecca Schwartz  25:54

In your view, Cara, what does the future of Canada look like when it comes to zero emission vehicles?

Cara Clairman  26:00

Well, I think I think pretty much everyone has realized even the most Die Hard sort of auto analyst who really really hesitated on EVs. In terms of their reporting. I think even they have realized like this is coming, there's no stopping it. It's, it's the question mark is like how fast and I think groups like mine and other other EV sort of advocacy type groups are really it's all about how can we get this transition to happen faster, because if you agree that climate change is a crisis, we really can't wait for sort of a slow market transition, we need to do everything we can to speed it up. So that includes incentives, that includes building codes, that includes ZEV mandate policies, that includes all sorts of local initiatives to try to encourage people to speed it up. But I do feel very optimistic that you know, we are going to see a huge swing in the direction of EVs even by 2030.

Dan Seguin  27:03

Okay, Cara, how about we close off with some rapid fire questions?

Cara Clairman  27:08

Okay, skip the skip the favorite word. I really didn't have one.

Dan Seguin  27:12

What is the one thing you can't live without?

Cara Clairman  27:16


Dan Seguin  27:17

What is something that challenges you?

Cara Clairman  27:19

Something that challenges me? Well, I mean, I guess the reality is in a nonprofit setting, you're always you're always having to raise money. And so that's always a challenge for anybody in the NGO sector. That's that's probably our biggest challenge.

Dan Seguin  27:35

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Cara Clairman  27:40

Well, I think I would love the teleportation oh my gosh, you know, I love EVs. But let's face it, there's still cars. And, you know, they still contribute to gridlock and traffic and all that. And it would just be so awesome to be able to just teleport to some other location.

Dan Seguin  27:58

Now, Cara, if you could turn back time and talk to your 18 year old self? What would you tell her?

Cara Clairman  28:05

I would tell her to do more public speaking. Who knew I would end up doing so much public speaking in my career, I really didn't get started in that till I was much older. And I feel like it's a useful skill for any job just to feel confident talking in front of other people, whether that's five people or 500 people. So I would definitely say get yourself in front of an audience and practice public speaking.

Dan Seguin  28:32

And lastly, what do you currently find most interesting in your sector?

Cara Clairman  28:38

Oh, my gosh, my sector is so fascinating. You know, it's funny because I come from the electricity sector as you do. And I think there's a lot of people with this idea. That's kind of an old, stodgy, boring sector. And so I find it so exciting that there's so many opportunities for innovation. And it's not just EV, it's storage, and renewables and there's just there's just so much of interest happening in the electricity sector. I hope young people are really looking at it for future career options.

Rebecca Schwartz  29:09

All right, Cara. We've reached the end of another episode of The thinkenergy podcast. Thanks so much for joining us today. We hope you had fun.

Cara Clairman  29:16

I did. Thank you so much for having me.

Dan Seguin  29:18

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the thinkenergy podcast. And don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests, or previous episodes, visit I hope you'll join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.