Accommodating electric vehicles in condos

Addressing the remaining roadblocks to retrofitting existing buildings with charging stations
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
By Michelle Ervin

While Toronto developers are building more and more electric vehicle-charging stations into new condos, retrofitting them into existing buildings continues to be a challenge.

There are currently more than 2,000 electric vehicles (EVs) in Ontario — most are concentrated in major cities including Toronto, Ottawa and Mississauga — and this number is growing. As a result, it is becoming increasingly likely that urban condo boards and managers are starting to receive requests from vehicle owners for on-site charging stations.

According to Ron Groves, manager of education and outreach at the non-profit organization Plug’n Drive, and its director of operations Josh Tzventarny, the main barriers to implementing charging stations in condos all relate to attitude, infrastructure and logistics.

To confront the attitude barrier, Plug’n Drive is involved in widespread education, which includes everything from appearances at the Canadian International Autoshow, holding a special EV Day at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square, and, more recently, attending the ACMO/CCI Condominium Conference.

Though charging stations can be installed in buildings during construction with relative ease, the same can’t be said for older condominiums that were designed before anyone could have anticipated their need. These properties may not have the capacity to supply the additional power required, thereby creating an infrastructure barrier.

“Electric vehicle chargers draw about as much energy as your stove,” Groves says. “But unlike your stove, they draw it constantly, whereas your stove actually cycles the burner to maintain a temperature either on top of the stove or in the over.”

That doesn’t mean charging stations can’t be introduced in these buildings. But it does mean it will cost money to expand the building’s infrastructure.

This raises one important logistical question: who will pay for the costs of accommodating electric car charging? Depending on where the electric car owner’s parking spot is located, it may also cost additional funds to run the conduit from the electrical room to the charging station, creating another logistical barrier.

Though there are solutions to these programs, like having the owner switch parking spots with someone who is located closer to the electrical room, Tzventarny acknowledges that this in itself can be a sticky situation. Another potential alternative, Groves says, is to create a charging station at one of the visitor parking spots.

Installing a charging station into an existing building requires that an electric car owner get his or her condo board on their side. Groves recommends that owners go to their boards with options in hand. He says that boards may consider installing charging stations as part of upcoming projects, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, or during planned renovations. And if a condo board is upgrading its infrastructure to accommodate one owner, it should also build in the capacity to accommodate other owners down the line, he adds.

Once installed, the question of who will pay for the use of a charging station can also be contentious. Though the cost to operate an electric vehicle is low — Tzventarny says that it’s just pennies per day — other condos owners may make the argument that no one is paying to put gas in their car, so they shouldn’t foot the bill for another person’s fuel costs, Groves says.

While condo boards have the option of installing a metre, Tzventarny says that the Ontario Energy Board lays out certain rules about re-selling electricity. Consequently, only local utility companies like Toronto Hydro can charge for electricity, Groves explains.

“What (a condo board) can do is charge for the use of the charger — a $2 flat fee, or a buck an hour or whatever — and in there would the 12 cents (per) kilowatt hour,” he says.

As local utilities test-drive different options in an effort to establish best practices for retrofitting existing buildings, Plug’n Drive is marketing its own potential solution: a pay-per-use dual wand unit. The equipment — costing anywhere from $2,700 to $4,800 for installation — requires users to call a 1-800 number or scan a QR code to plug in. The tool then tracks their usage by time for their bill.

Tzventarny says that in time, charging stations will become one of a handful of amenities, like a swimming pool or squash court, which will factor into a building’s competitiveness among prospective buyers.

In the meantime, Plug’n Drive is preparing a one-day seminar on condos and electric car-charging stations for the Canadian Condominium Institute and WWF slated to take place this spring.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.

One thought on “Accommodating electric vehicles in condos

  1. Michelle,

    A lot has changed on the condo / EV scene in the last couple of years. With more requests for accommodation and charging, boards and managers are really seeing this as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

    Signature Electric has now installed dedicated Electric Vehicle metering and control panels in the GTA. Often serving multiple chargers in place for the residents.

    With the recent announcement of the more moderately priced Tesla Model 3, Tesla is convinced that the multi residential market is going to continue to need special attention. They are quite confident that increased sales of the Model 3 will push the requests for chargers in the condominiums and apartment buildings.

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