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Featured image: A screenshot from Bella Victoria Apartments' website showing a floorplan with an attached garage.

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Arizona Apartment Complex Shows How To Do Multi-Family EV Charging Right

One of the big challenges for the EV transition is how to make it possible for people who can’t charge in their own driveway or garage. For some people, street parking is the only option, and some cities are responding by offering either public charging or allowing residents to install their own charging equipment in a dedicated spot. For many other people, they live in a parking lot owned by the apartment’s or condo’s owners, and they don’t want to shoulder the cost of building infrastructure to charge cars in every space.

I made the mistake of trusting just such a property owner in 2018. I lived at an apartment in the Phoenix metro area, and part of the deal for the somewhat high rent was that they’d offer EV charging. This worked out OK initially, as the two chargers were enough for the 3 or 4 people who had an EV in the complex. But, as more people bought EVs, the charging stations were increasingly hard to get time on. Then, one of the stations broke and I couldn’t charge for over a month.

Once the station was finally repaired, I had a very interesting conversation with a guy from the company that did the repairs. It turns out that the apartment’s management didn’t quickly repair the station because they hated paying for the electric bill, and were glad when it died. When residents hounded them and reminded them that this was a promised amenity they were paying rent for, they finally caved in, but complained about the cost of the failed part.

While the station was repaired, the apartments didn’t want to expand EV charging on the property, nor did they want to allow me to even use a 120v plug that went on my own electric meter. Clearly, I had been sold a bill of goods on EV charging, and I ended up needing to move away. To this day, the apartments are still trying to get me to pay thousands for an early move out, but that’s another long story.

What’s important to this story is that this model of providing minimal EV charging for apartment dwellers isn’t viable. But, CleanTechnica recently came across some apartments in nearby Mesa, Arizon,a that looks like it could actually work for apartment dwellers.

Charging For Each Apartment

The obvious problem with what I experienced with my old apartment’s way of doing things was that resources were simply spread too thin. One or two stations, shared by even the few EVs in the complex in 2018, just wasn’t enough. For one, the station just wasn’t available as much as it needed to be. Then, when it’s used almost continuously, the equipment breaks down faster.

Instead of trying the same failed cheapskate approach, Bella Victoria Apartments decided to try something different: offer every apartment an attached garage with its own EV charger.

“If you have an EV, living at Bella Victoria is the pinnacle of convenience. No need to waste your time or range trying to find a public station. Every home has its own charging outlet in the garage so you can relax inside while your battery recharges outside,” said Hudd Hassell, President of Bela Flor, in a 2020 press release (when the complex first opened).

Details are a bit thin, and we don’t know what kind of charging equipment they’re using, whose meter it’s on, and what happens when a charging station breaks, so we reached out to them for those details. We’ll update this article or write a new one once we hear back. But, that having been said, this approach is still obviously superior.

First off, having one plug per apartment means that households with one EV have a dedicated charging station. Families with more than one EV can work out charging within the household, and not try to share a charger with neighbors who are sleeping, not home, or who just don’t want to talk to you. Nobody has to go without a charge, in other words. Plus, you don’t have to worry about being ICEd.

Also, this helps spread the wear and tear and downtime out more. With most stations not charging continuously, each station should go a lot longer between repairs. If a complex offers a couple of public chargers (using a pay per kWh arrangement), there’d even be a backup for equipment failure so that the driver can keep their car charged up while waiting for the electrician to fix it.

Finally, it seems like the Bella Victoria apartments are likely putting the garage chargers on the apartment’s electric service. (Update: Each apartment has the charging station on its own service, allowing for time-of-use rates and other benefits typical for homeowners) This probably allows the residents to take advantage of time of use rates, and perhaps even bidirectional charging in the future. It also means there’s an incentive to drive efficiently and choose efficient EVs, because they’re paying that power bill.

Perhaps more importantly, putting the electricity bill with the tenant means the apartment complex’s management won’t feel later like they’re getting cheated or something. This allows them to charge lower rent, and be more competitive, too. This means this will be more sustainable not just environmentally, but from a business perspective.

This Doesn’t Have To Be Only For Expensive Luxury Apartments

I don’t have anything against expensive apartments. They’re nice, and people who want one should be able to get one. But, everybody can’t afford to pay $2,000/month for rent. So, this idea does need to be adapted to cheaper apartments with outdoor parking.

The good news is that apartments don’t need to offer a garage or even an EVSE to provide drivers with the opportunity to charge at home. Most new EVs come with an EVSE in the trunk when you buy them today, and these are often dual voltage units allowing drivers to charge either Level 1 or Level 2 with the same cable. So, all an apartment complex really needs to provide is something like what you’d find at an RV park. A locked box with a NEMA 14-50 (50 amp) and a standard 20 amp plug inside would be more than enough.

The real challenge will be to get lower-priced apartments to start offering this at more spaces in their lots before EV sales start to really penetrate the lower end of the market.

Featured image: a screenshot from Bella Victoria Apartments’ website showing a floorplan with an attached garage.

 
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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.

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