Supporting “Garage Orphans” — EV Charging For Apartment Dwellers

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Multi-unit dwellings, which includes apartments, condos, and townhomes, have historically proven difficult or expensive to electrify, and have therefore lagged in their uptake of EV charging solutions. 

I know this all too well: as the owner of an EV who lives in an apartment building with a growing number of EV and plug-in hybrid drivers, it has become increasingly difficult to manage my charging experience at home. Sometimes the stations are overrun by EV drivers scrambling to charge at one of the two stations offered in my building; sometimes the stations are blocked for hours at a time by an internal combustion engine (“ICE”) vehicle, an issue known as “ICE-ing” in the EV driving community. Whatever the issue, it’s become clear that the two stations currently deployed will not be enough in the long run, and that more charging stations will be needed in order to meet the looming acceleration of EV adoption. 

And if this problem is present in my multi-unit dwelling, the odds are good it is an issue at others, as well. To seek out some answers, I spoke to FLO, a leading North American charging network provider, about how they service multi-unit communities, and what more can be done to ensure these “garage orphans” can find a charge when they need one.

Curbside & Streetlight Charging Is Key 

According to FLO, curbside charging is an important element in providing support to multi-unit tenants, especially in urban centers. While FLO offers traditional curbside models that can be installed in the ground, the company has, in an innovative twist, developed a charging station that can be mounted directly onto streetlight poles. These streetlight charging stations have proven to be among the quickest and easiest solutions to the need for EV charging services in multi-family properties. Last year, FLO partnered with the City of Los Angeles to roll out 151 EV charging stations by leveraging the city’s pre-existing infrastructure in the form of street lighting poles. Street poles, especially those that have undergone an LED conversion process, offer the benefit of being wired to receive electricity while supplying a sturdy pole that can support the mounting of an EV charger — they are also ideally located next to coveted street parking. All in all, they are a perfect solution towards increasing public EV charging at no additional cost to consumers.

The LA streetlight integrated with the FLO SmartTWO charger. Photo credit: FLO.

Given the natural advantages of light pole charging, FLO was able to quickly deploy these charging units across all 15 city districts at a significantly lower cost for the city, paving the way for increased EV uptake in L.A. This solution can be scaled to any city equipped with light poles and makes for an exciting new chapter in North America’s growing EV infrastructure initiatives.

More EV-Friendly Buildings Are Needed, Fast

However, curbside charging, either traditional or streetlight-mounted, won’t provide enough coverage to support the rapidly increasing demand for charging services in multi-unit dwellings. More charging stations will be needed, and with increased public pressure coming from government bodies to adopt cleaner energy in response to our climate crisis, the question developers and condo boards should be asking is not whether they should equip their buildings with EV charging compatibility, but when they should.

With EV penetration rates currently low in many parts of North America, it may seem a bit foolish to developers, many of whom are driven by profit margins and economic imperatives, to undergo the expensive process of ensuring their new building is wired with the electrical infrastructure necessary to allow tenants to install an EV charger in their parking space. However, with EV sales holding strong through the pandemic and uptake on the rise, it won’t be long before twenty, thirty, or even fifty percent of the vehicles housed in a multi-unit dwelling are electric, with all those drivers trying to rustle up a charge. Not only is this a potential issue for tenant satisfaction, but many governments and jurisdictions are moving forward with legislation that requires developers (for new builds) and condo boards (for existing multi-unit buildings) to ensure that those who want to make the transition to electric are able to, demonstrating a need for those in the industry to begin pondering questions of electrification now.

The good news for developers is that making a building EV-ready doesn’t require a charging station in every parking spot, at least not yet. Taking the opportunity now to lay down the electrical infrastructure necessary to install a station later can significantly reduce the overall cost of installing chargers, as retrofitting a building to make it EV-ready can be expensive and tedious. Further, having this infrastructure ready makes it so that future tenants or condo owners can bring their own charging stations if allowed, or leverage one of the many upcoming “charging as a service” models being rolled out by solutions providers like FLO. 

A MURB deployment with the FLO Core+ charger. Photo credit: FLO.

Given the environmental imperatives, incoming emissions reduction legislations, and the rising number of drivers choosing to go electric, developers will eventually have no choice but to arrive at the cost/benefit equation detailed here and start developing buildings with EV charging in mind. 

We know that the future of transportation is necessarily electric, but that doesn’t mean that owning and driving an EV today is not without challenges, especially for people like me who live in a multi-unit dwelling. However, after speaking with FLO, I was encouraged to know that there are players in the industry who are aware of these challenges and are working actively to solve them.

This article is supported by FLO.

Read more about EV charging here.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1951 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba