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To improve understanding of how to overcome the unique challenges of charging in condos and MURBs, Electric Autonomy Canada invited a panel of experts from BC Hydro, Tridel, Dunsky and SWTCH Energy to share solutions and best practices in the final webinar in our five-part discussion series on public charging.

Industry panelists in the final episode of Electric Autonomy Canada‘s national discussion series on EV charging discussed ways for condos, MURBs and strata to meet growing EV charging needs

One of the keys to encouraging the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in Canada is by ensuring people have access to charging where they live. But for the over 12 million Canadians living in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs), condos and stratas, the challenge of securing EV charging infrastructure in their buildings can be varied and complex.

To improve understanding of how to overcome the unique challenges of charging in condos and MURBs, Electric Autonomy Canada invited a panel of experts from BC Hydro, Tridel, Dunsky and SWTCH Energy to share solutions and best practices in the final webinar in our five-part discussion series on public charging.

A replay of the full panel discussion, sponsored by SWITCH, is available in the link above and you can read a summary of the event below.

Ensuring EV-ready buildings

When it comes to enabling access to EV charging in MURBs and condos, establishing building codes that include EV-readiness regulations and standards can ensure that new builds are constructed with parking spots that will be specifically designed for charging.

In Canada, provinces and territories have the authority to set building regulations, but none have yet included anything to assist EV charging. In their place, about two dozen municipalities across the country, including Toronto and Vancouver, have taken the lead by amending local bylaws and adopting regulations that will require all new units to be EV-ready.

“For new construction, ideally provinces [should be taking the lead] but if the province isn’t taking the lead, then leading cities should adopt requirements that all residential parking in new buildings be EV-ready,” says Brendan McEwen, managing consultant at Dunsky Energy and Climate Advisors.

He adds that the federal government can take more action, too. The first step to be taken is adding EV-readiness regulations within the National Building Code and the National Energy Code since many provinces model their codes off of the national one. This would ensure all new builds going forward are EV-ready.

“That’s what we ought to do to sort of stem the bleeding for new buildings,” says McEwen.

For existing buildings, McEwen is supportive of more federal and provincial incentive programs to help “implement comprehensive retrofits that are going to future-proof a large proportion of parking for EV charging.”

McEwen points to the BC Hydro’s EV-ready rebate program for apartment and condo buildings as an “excellent model” that provides up to $3,000 for the creation of an EV-ready plan as well as up to $600 to install the electrical infrastructure to implement the plan.

“[The program] ultimately is going to result in a lot lower costs for these building owners and residents to provide EV charging,” says McEwen.

Costs of setting up charging stations

It typically costs $8,000 to $10,000 to install a single charging station in a multifamily building, says McEwen.

To help manage the expense of setting up chargers, Tridel, a Toronto-based real estate developer, first determines the number of chargers it will install on-site based on its clients’ needs.

“[Adding excess capacity is] not a smart way to manage cost if the equipment’s going to be sitting there and [people] not using it for a while,” says Graeme Armster, director of innovation and sustainability at Tridel.

Around 30 per cent of Tridel’s current condo buyers in new developments are asking for chargers to be installed.

“The demographic there is really twofold: people that have EVs already and they need the infrastructure and [people] planning for the future and probably their next vehicle will be an EV,” says Armster.

After establishing the number of chargers needed, it’s then critical to find an electrical-equipment supplier capable of future-proofing the installations, adds Armster. The ideal charging system is scalable for the future and is equipped with smart charging capabilities.

“Buildings have to plan for the long term because there’s electrical infrastructure and networking infrastructure that needs to support upwards of 50 to eventually 100 per cent electric vehicle adoption,” explains Mike Mulqueen, director of partnerships at SWTCH Energy.

“You don’t want to build out in a way that’s going to preclude future EV drivers from being able to charge their vehicles at home.”

Managing load

Since more EV chargers and charger use demands higher volumes of energy, utilizing smart charging is essential. These systems are able to manage the most efficient and economical times to charge the vehicles, which will save money.

Charging speed is also a factor. Faster chargers are more expensive and will impact the need (or not) for smart charging.

“I think, no question, we like things done quickly. The trade-off though is faster [charging] speeds are more power and it’s more cost,” explains Reid Arkinstall, program manager at BC Hydro. “And so there’s a balancing act within any kind of situation where you’re wanting to balance what’s appropriate with a reasonable cost.”

In many instances, condo residents often find themselves in friction with their condo boards over adding charging for EVs and the amount of energy it will require.

“I think the government could come up with a better policy so that…there’s a clear policy that the condo has to follow in terms of meeting residents’ needs for power,” says Armster.

According to Mulqueen, charging stations with seven to 19 kW are better suited for MURBs and condos.

“The reality is most EV charging is going to be much like how you charge your cell phone. It’s going to be where your vehicle is parked for long periods of time, so that’s at home, or, at work. And the level of charging that you need — it’s not a fast charger — it’s typically a level two charger,” he says.

Determining energy capacity

In order to determine if an existing MURB, condo or strata has enough electrical capacity to support multiple charging stations, Arkinstall recommends reaching out to utilities to access meter data, which will give critical information on how much power residents typically use and the existing spare capacity of the building.

In the case of British Columbia, BC Hydro provides buildings with 12 months of data on their energy consumption, which includes residential units and common areas. Building developers and owners can then share that data with an electrician, electrical contractor or electrical engineer to perform a load calculation to assess the building’s electrical capacity.

“My experience of running the program here in British Columbia for EV charging in condos is that the vast majority of condos have no issue with capacity,” says Arkinstall. “That’s not to say there aren’t scenarios, but when you’re doing load calculations with data, you get a far more accurate assessment.”

Each panellist in the discussion agreed that cases where a building doesn’t have enough spare capacity and will therefore need infrastructure upgrades are the exception, not the rule.

“If you’re a multifamily resident out there or condo board association member and your electrical contractor is telling you are at capacity and you can’t provide EV charging, get a second opinion because you could save quite a bit of money,” says McEwen.

But even in a worst-case scenario where a building exceeds capacity, SWTCH’s Mulqueen explains that installing an EV energy management system with charging stations can help considerably.

“The availability of power really depends on the time of day and what else is happening in the building,” says Mulqueen.

“So even in the most constrained buildings, we find there is a solution. It’s not going to be a [fast] five-minute charge, but there is power available at all times.”