The challenges EV owners face when they live in multi-dwelling units

Published on October 24, 2019 in Smart Charging by Scott Lepold


EV owners living in apartments or condos sometimes have limited access to charging stations. What solutions are available?

Electric vehicles are steadily gaining popularity and it is predicted that EVs will represent 57% of all passenger vehicle sales by 2040. Improved battery technology and lower prices are just a few of the developments that have made EVs more appealing to the general population. Range anxiety, for example, is less of a concern, as newer battery electric vehicles (BEV) boast ranges of over 300 miles, which cover most daily commutes. There are also more public charging stations available than ever before. But is it feasible to survive on public charging alone, if an EV owner cannot charge at home?

This problem affects people who live in apartments and condos or those who rely on street parking. There are many terms for these types of buildings, such as multi-dwelling units (MDU) or multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs), and they can create “garage or plug orphans,” meaning those who cannot charge their vehicles at home. They all have their own unique circumstances, but they share the same problem for someone who is driving an EV: they don’t have access to a home charger. This affects a large percentage of the population in North America, particularly in larger urban areas, and it is not a problem that is easily solved. In order to accommodate these customers, utility providers need to understand their unique problems and help them find solutions for these challenges.

Infrastructural challenges

If an EV owner lives in a multi-unit residence it means someone else owns the parking lot or garage, so it is up to the owner to get a charging station installed. Unfortunately this is expensive and complicated, which can make building owners hesitant. Existing structures are not designed to support charging stations. Some smaller structures might not have any electricity, or there may not be any covered structure at all. Even if there is electrical infrastructure in place, it may not be able to support the increased load. Some municipalities require that all new structures be built with this framework in place, in order to avoid the higher retrofitting costs. However, it’s not just that charging stations have to be installed in the building, there is also the issue of where they are located within that building. Regardless of whether it is a new or existing building, owners need to consider the layout.

Installing charging stations is an expense and not every parking space needs a charger, but how can they ensure there is a charger in the right spots? There are often assigned parking spaces but tenants change and a new tenant may or may not have an EV. The reassignment of parking spaces is not an easy task, and in some cases parking is deeded to the condo, making this near-impossible. On top of this there could also be zoning permits or even historical building permits that need to be obtained.

There is also the issue of metering and paying for the electricity. Unless there are individual submeters at each station, which further adds to the expense, there is no clear way to bill the EV owner. Another concern would be that without some form of identification verification, such as a swipe card, someone else could use the station at the EV owners expense. A different approach would be for the building owners to offer charging at no cost for the EV owner, however there are a number of objections with this option. Property managers wouldn’t want to just absorb these costs, which means the expense would be passed on the owners/renters. This is not ideal either as it means people who don’t drive EVs are subsidizing the costs for those who do.

Potential solutions

ChargePoint, an EVSE manufacturer, has a line of charging stations designed for apartments or condos. There are personal charging stations for people with assigned parking spots where drivers pay a monthly service fee plus the cost of electricity and the property management company or condo board can recover costs by setting a rate for electricity usage. ChargePoint also offers a Community charging station for properties with shared or valet parking which gives the building owners the flexibility to set their own pricing rates. Both systems allow access through a mobile phone app or swipe card.

Another option is to create vehicle-side charging logs for individual billing. The Geotab Energy OBD II device, which collects driving and charging data, could be used to help create easy to understand charging reports. A detailed report could be created for each vehicle, showing charge times, duration and energy usage, which would provide proper billing for the EV owner. The benefit of this option is that it is EVSE agnostic, meaning it can be used with any brand of charging station.

Home charging report

Example of an individualized charging report from the Charge the North EV load profiling study.

Education is critical for all parties

Plug-in electric vehicles are still a relatively new technology and everyone is still trying to figure out how they fit into day-to-day life. Existing or potential EV owners living in multi-dwelling units or MURBs need to understand what options are available to them. Building owners, property managers, condo boards and voting residents need to understand the needs of EV owners, as well as the costs and benefits of integrating EVSEs.

Lastly, utility providers need to understand how to properly integrate this increased demand. This could include having networked charging stations with active load control or it could be encouraging the EV owners to charge during specific periods through a customer-controlled loadshifting program. In any case, before utilities can manage the additional load they need to better under driving and charging behavior of the EVs in their service territory. To learn more about this first step of EV integration, contact Geotab Energy to learn more about SmartCharge Rewards.

Learn how to profile and manage EV charging load with solutions for electric utilities by Geotab Energy.


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Disclaimer

Geotab's blog posts are intended to provide information and encourage discussion on topics of interest to the telematics community at large. Geotab is not providing technical, professional or legal advice through these blog posts. While every effort has been made to ensure the information in this blog post is timely and accurate, errors and omissions may occur, and the information presented here may become out-of-date with the passage of time.

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