Condo & Apartment Charging: Moving The EV Revolution Forward

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Many cities preen about their climate change mitigation strategies, including policy measures to support the widespread uptake of EVs. However, with the population saturation in urban centers, many individuals who would like to own an EV cannot, as their apartment or condo complex doesn’t provide the necessary EV charging infrastructure.

Typically, EV charging locations correspond to popular places such as city centers, shopping areas, train stations, and university campuses. These highly visible, highly active places tend to be host to relatively short parking times and high rotation rates, so they only meet the daily charging needs of a few users.

The state of private and public charging infrastructure depends largely on access to technological innovations that are beginning to transform the market, but these still heavily benefit single-family home and workplace charging. What can be done to support private charging infrastructure in highly populated and shared areas like apartment and condo complexes? An apartment or condo parking space with no outlets is relatively useless for an EV.

California Sets the Standards for EV Infrastructure Progress

California politicians are working to move the state toward electric vehicles and away from fossil fuels. The California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project (CALeVIP) works with community partners to develop regional incentive projects to install plug-in EV chargers and accelerate the expansion of charging infrastructure. CALeVIP offers incentives for the purchase and installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure at publicly accessible sites throughout California.

ChargePoint-retail-parking-lot Charging station

Additionally, well aware of the EV charging challenges at multifamily dwellings, the California Building Standards Law via the Department of Housing and Community Development is aimed at promulgating mandatory building standards for the installation of future electric vehicle charging infrastructure for parking spaces in multifamily dwellings.

That law requires the department and the commission to use specified provisions of the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen) as a starting point for those mandatory building standards.

CALGreen applies to the planning, design, operation, construction, use, and occupancy of every newly constructed building or structure on a statewide basis unless otherwise indicated. Additions and alterations to existing buildings which increase a building’s conditioned area, interior volume, or size are also covered by the scope of CALGreen.

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EV-Ready Building Practices: Construct Now, Save Later

Building codes are sets of rules and regulations that govern standards for how residential and commercial buildings are constructed. Some cities are adopting ordinances requiring new buildings to be “EV Ready” — having the conduit and wiring in place for chargers to be installed. EV Ready building codes can vary by region, but typically they require new building construction to prepare a certain proportion of parking spots for EV charging stations to be installed at a later date, supporting sustainability goals and EV drivers.

It is much harder and more expensive to retrofit existing buildings. ChargePoint has calculated EV charging costs as $1,650 for new construction but $3,750 to $6,975 when retrofitting. That’s a potential savings of $2,100 to $5,325 per charging spot if prepped/done at the time of construction.

EV charging

ChargePoint outlines that, as more apartment and condominium residents switch to driving on electricity, they need a convenient, reliable way to charge their cars at home. Even if on weekdays, drivers with workplace charging can recover the miles they’ve used on daily commutes and errands, what about weekends?

Apartment and condo owners/managers who offer EV charging attract and retain high-value, green-minded residents. At the moment, it seems that these drivers also earn more. If the apartment & condo owners/managers provide EV charging convenience for residents and potential residents who need home charging, the appeal and value of their properties can increase. Naturally, EV charging points also help apartment/condo complexes to improve their sustainability goals, often leading to LEED certification if they pursue that.

It’s time to see more apartments and condos engage in some imaginative problem-solving to address gaps in EV charging while increasing the value of their properties.

Any apartment or condo owners/managers looking to take this exciting step forward into the future would, of course, be wise to follow best practices based on the experience of EV charging pioneers before them and EV drivers themselves. As such, we have to recommend that they (you?) download a copy of our brand new EV Charging Guidelines for Cities. Much of the report addresses how city officials and staff, in particular, can plan and implement ideal EV charging infrastructure to stimulate EV revolution in their borders, but the report also includes clear, concise, easy-to-use design guidelines and standards that condo owners/managers can use internally or can require that any EV charging companies use when providing chargers or EV charging services to their communities.

There are other components to the guidelines that condo owners/managers could explore, but the following are the 9 key design guidelines the paper includes:

Critical Design Guidelines for Charging Stations

EV charging stations should be highly visible and easy to access. As such, the following are some key tips for charging station design:

1. Strong colors

Colors that catch the eye should be a notable element of any charging station.

2. Lights

Lights should be included as part of the station in an elevated position designed to catch the eye and illuminate the whole space. Lights should also be included around the charging ports and/or control screens to help with user visibility at night and to help signal if a car is charging or not.

3. Good Height

The tops of charging stations should stand well above the height of an average car, including an SUV.

4. Cords/Cables Included

Instead of just including a port for charging, stations should have the cords/cables included, so that a driver can just get out of the car, grab the cord from the station, and plug it in.

5. Cord/Cable Holders

The charging stations should also have integrated systems to help keep cords/cables completely off the ground and limit tripping.

6. Clear Instructions

Stations should have very clear, simple instructions for how to use them, ideally in a graphical or illustrated format. This is especially helpful with new drivers or those coming from abroad.

7. Clear & Simple Pricing Information

People like to know what they are paying for and how much it costs. It also helps with transparency and building trust, especially as e-mobility is still a young industry with differences between countries and providers.

8. Customer Support Information

A 24/7 phone number is almost essential. It is guaranteed that some drivers will have problems and you can usually make sure they are quickly and responsibly handled with a short phone call.

9. Branding/Marketing/Placemaking

Charging stations also offer an opportunity for city placemaking, branding, and public education about the benefits of using EV or renewable energy. Slogans such as “My Warsaw” or “I ♥ Lviv”, an environmental/health message about the source of the energy, a carbon offset tracker/thermometer, etc. can look nice, make people care more about their environment, and enhance community cohesiveness.

Urban EV Charging Options Keep Expanding

More and more employers are installing chargers at workplaces, the second most common place people charge their vehicles after their residences. The US Department of Energy suggests that there are a number of resources available to help employers design, implement, and manage the right EV charging program for their organization. These include assessing employee demand; procuring and installing chargers; and managing them. The agency offers more resources about workplace charging via the its Workplace Charging website or the Clean Cities’ Workplace Charging Toolkit. Again, our new EV Charging Guidelines for Cities can be helpful in such locations as well.

German automaker Volkswagen Group agreed to add charging stations to US cities as part of restitution for its decades-long diesel emissions scandal. The program, called Electrify America, will deploy charging points at about 500 charging locations, of which about 75% of the stations will be at workplaces and the rest at multifamily dwellings, such as apartment buildings and condos.

The remaining charging stations will be placed in high-traffic areas with more frequent charging activity. Electrify America selected 17 metro areas including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fresno, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, Raleigh, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and Washington, D.C, to roll out the chargers.

Final Thoughts

University of Michigan researchers reported in 2017 that 16,000 US public charging stations and about 43,000 individual charging connectors or plugs were in use. The ratio of charging stations to gas stations was about 1:10. China had 190,000 chargers installed by September 2017, with stated plans in place to expand the network to 800,000 charging points. A study of shared EV fleets drawing power from the current NYC power grid would reduce GHG emissions by 73% and energy consumption by 58% compared to an automated fleet of ICEVs.

The electric car market is growing at a rapid pace right now, especially driven by more attractive offerings like the Tesla Model 3, new Nissan LEAF, and Chevy Bolt that have especially been able to take advantage of dropping battery prices. The trends point to increased demand for EV charging in US urban areas in the next few years.

Reading some multi-housing charging case studies can definitely help apartment and condo owners/managers to see how other developers, property owners, management companies, and homeowner associations have planned and provided PEV charging infrastructure for their residents. Like any cultural shift, transitioning to EVs will seem incremental — that is, until one day when cars with internal combustion engines will be antiquated, probably only seen on private race tracks. That day is sooner that we might think.

Images by EV Charging Guidelines for Cities report, Tesla Shuttle | CleanTechnica, ChargePoint × 2, EV Charging Guidelines for Cities report, and Tesla Shuttle | CleanTechnica

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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