Electric cars bring with them some highly charged questions: What should come first – the charging infrastructure or roads full of electric vehicles (EVs)? How do we recharge them? Is it possible for businesses to utilize electric cars in their fleets, or are they reserved for the driveways of green-thumbed private citizens?

A forward thinking company out of Etobicoke, Ontario has grabbed the proverbial electric bull by its horns, and has developed a few of its own solutions. Baka Communications, a wireless solutions company, runs a fleet of Chevrolet Volt company cars.  

The Back Story

The proprietor of Baka, John Marion, had a green awakening a few years ago, and for him there’s been no turning back. He has decked his home out in solar panels, insisting even his electric toothbrush stays ‘off the grid’. Marion’s commitment to green technologies eventually showed up at the office.

He decided to switch his fleet of cars to greener power because, in his opinion, the environmental impact of purely gasoline vehicle was too great. He chose the Volt for its range flexibility – the Chevy is able to extend its range beyond the battery’s capacity by powering the electric motors via a gasoline generator under-hood. Range is an important metric for any company when deciding what type of vehicle best suits their business, so for Marion, the Volt was a natural green fit.

Buying a small fleet of Volts was only part of the equation. Most business owners would be left scratching their heads if their fleet was suddenly switched to plug-in hybrids. ‘How many extension cords do we need? Will they reach the parking lot? Are we going to blow a fuse?

Jokes aside, Marion took a thorough approach, deciding to charge up his EV fleet with North America’s largest solar charging station. 

From a distance, Baka’s charging station looks reminiscent of a traditional gas station. From the overhead roof to the double-sided fill-up stations, to the don’t-crash-into-me metal barriers, it all looks as though gasoline flows here. Get closer and you begin to see distinctions. The roof is angled aggressively so as to shed snow and allow its solar panels to absorb sunlight no matter the weather. The ‘pumps,’ send electricity through their black rubberized hoses to universal adapters that plug into any electric car. Lastly, there are no oily puddles or shiny spots on the asphalt around the pumps – everything is electric car-clean.   

It was no small undertaking to build an eight-car solar powered charging station. For this, Baka turned to Renewz, a L’Île-Perrot, Quebec-based sustainable solutions company specializing in designing and constructing solar car ports. Renewz is a young company, just over a year-old, but has grown quickly and taken on several large projects. Renewz is bent on using Canadian- and U.S.-built technology, thus everything from the solar panels to the charging stations are sourced domestically.  

This project was the largest that Renewz’s taken on to date and completion ran perilously close to the deadline. The station’s ribbon cutting ceremony was a big deal, with many honourable guests in attendance including City of Toronto councillor Doug Ford, Etobicoke Centre MPP, Donna Cansfield and General Motors Canada VP of corporate affairs, Neil MacDonald, all present.

Marion told us that his company’s station is open for public use anytime an e-driver needs a charge. We asked how much that will cost. He offered up a baffled look, exclaiming: “Nothing! The electricity is free from the solar panels – it’s free energy from the sun so why should I charge?”

We wish Canada’s political powers displayed such generosity whist harvesting nature’s free resources. John makes a powerful point, emphasizing that while the project itself had a significant cost (not made public…), the long-term payoff is considerable – in this case, powering Baka’s fleet for 25 years before re-fitment’s needed, providing over 1.5 million kilometres of gasoline-free driving and eliminating 460 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the charging station.

Is it a one-off, unlikely to be replicated across the country, or will
like-minded green-thumbed business owners take note and electrify their
fleet vehicles? Time will tell…

An average of 275,000 cars pass by Baka’s charging station everyday on Etobicoke’s busy 427 Expressway, and Marion is proud of the exposure it will ge. What is his vision for the future of electric car charging infrastructure? “I like to promote it and I’m toying with some ideas. I know this type of package will be a hit down the road. I believe there’s a great future for this type of e-charging setup.”

So, will we see solar powered e-car charging stations popping up across the country, eventually replacing traditional gas stations? The short answer is, no.

While electric cars will no-doubt gain popularity and wider use, their unique propulsion systems require unique ‘refueling’ solutions. With the latest and greatest high-voltage charging technology on the market, they still require at least half-an-hour to obtain a usable, partial charge. Baka’s charging station requires close to four hours to fully charge their Volts from empty.

Baka’s 20 kW solar charging station is located at 630 The East Mall, Etobicoke, Ontario, and Marion welcomes you to drop by anytime for a charge.