Creating the World’s Longest Green Highway

Let’s talk about the evo­lu­tion of Sun Coun­try High­way.

Sun Coun­try High­way was orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed to put an end to the chick­en and the egg sce­nario with elec­tric vehi­cles and elec­tric vehi­cle infra­struc­ture, which has been going on for over a cen­tu­ry, and to final­ly allow the elec­tric vehi­cle indus­try to move for­ward by actu­al­ly cre­at­ing an infra­struc­ture which was ahead of the elec­tric vehi­cle for the first time in his­to­ry. So, basi­cal­ly we want­ed to cre­ate the infra­struc­ture to allow peo­ple to trav­el with elec­tric vehi­cles, and once they could trav­el, the idea was what they would buy elec­tric vehi­cles.

Our mis­sion was to put elec­tric vehi­cle charg­ing sta­tions across Cana­da so that elec­tric vehi­cles would be able to trav­el from British Colum­bia to Prince Edward Island.

Tell us about the financ­ing to build this infra­struc­ture.

Well, it need­ed to be done with­out request­ing funds from the gov­ern­ment and from the tax­pay­er. Not only because of speed of imple­men­ta­tion, but also to prove a point that aver­age peo­ple can make a dif­fer­ence and if enough aver­age peo­ple come togeth­er we can actu­al­ly imple­ment bet­ter than gov­ern­ment run pro­grams in some cas­es. So, it allowed us the flex­i­bil­i­ty to maneu­ver when we need­ed to and sim­ply get it done.

Yes, there were lot of finan­cial sac­ri­fices, but for any­body to real­ly do any­thing which is prob­a­bly the right thing to do, there are going to be some finan­cial or time sac­ri­fices. So, in the scheme of things glob­al­ly, and for the EV indus­try itself, it real­ly wasn’t that much of a sac­ri­fice.

For the gov­ern­ment to invest in infra­struc­ture it is almost like going to a horse race. You real­ly don’t know or they don’t know what is going to work, what is not going to work, where the elec­tric vehi­cles are going to go – that sort of thing.

As long as there is a charg­ing infra­struc­ture that works for them today it is going to be a good bet, but to focus on the charg­ing infra­struc­ture and hope that you pick the right one, the right lev­el, the right com­pa­ny, that is the chal­lenge.  The “right tech­nol­o­gy” has failed mis­er­ably if you look at that mod­el glob­al­ly. Gov­ern­ments have lost a lot of mon­ey and, if any­thing, the indus­try will lose cred­i­bil­i­ty if they con­tin­ue to do that.

They should, if they are going to sup­port the move­ment, help fund the vehi­cles and pro­vide some rebates there; those vehi­cles will be around for a very long time because the main­te­nance is very lit­tle. One day they are going to have to pay car­bon tax­es if they don’t do some­thing. So, by fund­ing elec­tric vehi­cle pur­chas­es they could actu­al­ly mit­i­gate some of the rea­sons why in the future they are going to actu­al­ly imple­ment a car­bon tax, so it is either pay now or pay lat­er.

How did you man­age to do this?

Well, first, we need­ed to have a charg­ing sta­tion that was incred­i­bly reli­able. Bells and whis­tles were not real­ly nec­es­sary; it was real­ly impor­tant to have some­thing that peo­ple could rely on when they came to charge and that it would work when they plugged their car in. It is dif­fi­cult to cre­ate a move­ment when the infra­struc­ture is fail­ing. It was decid­ed that we would get one of the com­pa­nies in the move­ment to cre­ate our prod­ucts for us, adjust them a lit­tle bit to make sure they were able to charge every sin­gle elec­tric vehi­cle in North Amer­i­ca, and then not only charge it but be able to charge the vehi­cles faster by a few hun­dred per­cent more than what the actu­al elec­tric vehi­cles could charge present­ly.

So, we deter­mined who we were going to use and got an agree­ment in place with them to sup­ply the prod­ucts and adjust them to our specs and then we start­ed try­ing to give them away. That was a lot more dif­fi­cult than expect­ed. First we heard: I have nev­er actu­al­ly seen an elec­tric car, nev­er been in one. And sec­ond was: I have nev­er even heard of elec­tric cars and you want me to cov­er the install on these units? That was real­ly the most chal­leng­ing, find­ing the host loca­tions that could under­stand what we were doing and believed in what we were doing and were will­ing to cov­er the costs to install those charg­ers.

The rea­son that was crit­i­cal was because when elec­tric vehi­cles arrived at those host loca­tions, we want­ed to make sure the host loca­tion was incred­i­bly excit­ed and hap­py to see them and was very excit­ed to give away their pow­er for free to that elec­tric car, even if that elec­tric vehi­cle own­er wasn’t spend­ing mon­ey at their loca­tion. So, that was just to make sure the move­ment would be enhanced and the expe­ri­ence was one that elec­tric vehi­cle own­ers were maybe not used to.

It is pret­ty cool when you can go to a place and they are will­ing to open their doors to you and spend mon­ey on you just to empow­er you to con­tin­ue doing what you are doing and to allow the move­ment to take place. That was real­ly com­pli­cat­ed because to find those host loca­tions, not only the charg­ing sta­tion or the install or the elec­tric­i­ty down the road, but to find them, the cost was sub­stan­tial.

What kind of feed­back have you got­ten since this project was com­plet­ed?

 Well, the feed­back was sub­stan­tial to say the least. One of the goals in launch­ing Sun Coun­try High­way and cre­at­ing the world’s longest green high­way across one of the world’s largest and most geo­graph­i­cal­ly diverse coun­tries was to prove that elec­tric vehi­cles could trav­el long dis­tances, in the mid­dle of a Cana­di­an win­ter – over the Plains and the Rocky Moun­tains – at very lit­tle cost, with very lit­tle emis­sions.

So, the com­ple­tion of the world’s longest green high­way project proved that elec­tric vehi­cles do have a place and they can actu­al­ly make a dif­fer­ence in the eco­nom­ics, in the social aspect of things and on the envi­ron­ment, giv­ing a lit­tle bit of hope towards the future to a lot peo­ple that were maybe look­ing for a lit­tle bit of hope.

Have you talked to many fleets about this project?

Ini­tial­ly, when we launched we weren’t talk­ing to fleets too much. We were sim­ply focused on get­ting the charg­ing sta­tions installed as fast as pos­si­ble and launch­ing the high­way as fast as pos­si­ble. There was a lot of crit­i­cism towards our project — that it was impos­si­ble,  that we couldn’t do it with­out gov­ern­ment fund­ing, that we couldn’t do it with­out large cor­po­rate fund­ing,  and there was just no way we could put it in one of the largest coun­tries in the world and do it in a year.  Fur­ther, that it didn’t make sense to give away elec­tric­i­ty for free and it didn’t make sense.

Peo­ple were focused on the urban cen­ters – New York, L.A. But, doing the urban cen­ters wouldn’t real­ly prove a point. Peo­ple sim­ply won’t buy into the elec­tric move­ment if they can’t trav­el when they want to. So, the whole idea was to allow peo­ple to trav­el long dis­tances between cities instead of just in cities.

Let’s talk about the next phase.

In the first year Sun Coun­try High­way cre­at­ed the world’s longest high­way green high­way and we drove it in the mid­dle of a Cana­di­an win­ter in a 100 per­cent elec­tric vehi­cle and it didn’t cost us any­thing to do it– it was a pret­ty cool expe­ri­ence.

The sec­ond year was to “green” most of Canada’s high­ways, roads and free­ways and we are com­ing up to almost 90 per­cent of those, mean­ing that it is pos­si­ble to dri­ve one of the pro­duc­tion elec­tric vehi­cles today over 80 per­cent of the roads in Cana­da. Again, the goal is there is to get up to 90 per­cent right around the two year mark; right around our birth­day.

We are also expand­ing through­out the States and look­ing at many oth­er coun­tries on the elec­tric vehi­cle infra­struc­ture side; if we can make people’s trav­el green­er, it can save them mon­ey. It can assist soci­ety and if it can make the world bet­ter at the same time, then we are prob­a­bly going to make some­thing hap­pen.

How can fleets make an impact in this move­ment?

If fleets can “green” their fleets, save mon­ey, reduce some of their oth­er issues that they are deal­ing with today — and real­ly make a true dif­fer­ence for more peo­ple than just them­selves — then it is sub­stan­tial. Fleets do con­trol a lot of the vehi­cles around the world, so they have a lot of pow­er and a lot of influ­ence. How­ev­er, if they do not buy into tech­nol­o­gy in trans­porta­tion, there is a chance the tech­nol­o­gy may fail.

It is the fleets this time that are prob­a­bly going to have to prob­a­bly adopt a lit­tle bit quick­er,  because oth­er­wise the fleets that do will have a huge com­pet­i­tive edge on them whether it is a munic­i­pal­i­ty, a province, a nation, a state or anoth­er cor­po­ra­tion.

kent@suncountryhighway.ca

 

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