Making new residential buildings 100 per cent EV-ready: essential and affordable
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EV Charging
Jan 7, 2021
Brendan McEwen

In the first in a series of articles that explores how to make the built environment EV-ready, Brendan McEwen outlines some of the global best practices that B.C. cities have pioneered in new construction requirements

In the first in a series of articles that explores how to make the built environment EV-ready, Brendan McEwen outlines some of the global best practices that B.C. cities have pioneered in new construction requirements

In just 15 to 20 years, most cars in Canadian cities could be electric vehicles. Supportive public policies and price parity with combustion engine vehicles in the next three to five years will be keys to speeding this transition.

But beyond those two elements, the most important factor determining whether households adopt an EV as their next vehicle will be access to convenient EV charging. And the most common, convenient place to charge an EV is at home, where vehicles are parked every night.

The challenge of EV charging in multi-family buildings

In a single-family home with onsite parking, it is usually relatively simple to install EV charging. However, accessing home charging in apartments and townhomes is typically much more challenging. Renovating common electrical systems in condominiums involves a host of complicated electrical design, legal and management issues. And it can be expensive: the cost of implementing a single EV charger in apartments participating in incentive programs in B.C. has averaged about $7,000, with many buildings facing significantly higher costs. (In a future article, we will explore how best to provide access to EV charging in existing buildings, at substantially lower cost.)

While we can’t change the past, we can learn from it. And the lesson here is that we must future-proof all residential parking in new developments to ensure that those households have a simple, cost-effective process to accessing at-home EV charging.

EV-ready parking requirements

Luckily, we have a made-in-Canada solution pioneered by B.C. municipalities to follow that is recognized as the global best-practice “EV-ready” parking requirement. The City of Vancouver and 13 other municipalities, together representing most of the new development in B.C., have amended their zoning or parking bylaws to require that all residential parking spaces in new developments feature an adjacent wired electrical outlet capable of providing Level 2 (208V or 240V) charging or higher. The availability of an outlet ensures that any resident with an onsite parking space has a source of electricity at which they can install an EV charging station (or EVSE, which stands for EV Supply Equipment) once they begin to drive an EV.

These requirements specify that outlets must be labeled that they are for EV charging; this is both a Canadian Electrical Code requirement and also a helpful “nudge” for drivers to consider an EV. And they include performance requirements, allowing for reasonable levels of load sharing between EVSEs that use EV Energy Management Systems (EVEMS), a range of technologies that control EV loads. Allowing for the use of EVEMS is a key feature to ensure 100 per cent EV-ready requirements are affordable for new developments.

The importance of EV Energy Management Systems to enable cost-effective EV-ready parking

There are different types of EVEMS. For example, circuit sharing is a common load management scheme, whereby multiple EVSEs share the same branch electrical circuit. If only one EV is charging, it can receive the full capacity of the circuit, charging relatively quickly. But if multiple EVs are charging simultaneously, the EVEMS controls EVSE loads, throttling down power consumption so that the total power draw does not exceed the capacity of the circuit.

Other types of EVEMS exist as well. These include: load-switching schemes that allocate power between the EV charger and other priority uses on the same circuit; panel-sharing, which controls power at the electrical panel level; and service monitoring, which measures the real-time electricity demand of a building, reducing EV loads whenever the total building load approaches some pre-defined limit.

What all these EVEMS systems have in common is that they allow for greater numbers of vehicles to have access to EV charging, without greatly increasingly the electricity capacity of the building. And reducing electrical capacity needs means substantially lower costs for 100 per cent EV-ready housing developments. A costing study prepared in 2017 by AES Engineering for the City of Richmond in B.C. illustrates the significant electrical savings that EVEMS can realize for 100 per cent EV-ready new construction.

Of course, sharing power does slow down the vehicles’ rate of charge. But a certain amount of sharing is perfectly OK for home charging applications — all vehicles will still be able to fully recharge by the morning. Cities with EV-ready requirements will typically specify the maximum allowable amount of load sharing (see for example, the City of Victoria’s Technical Bulletin). The exact amount of power sharing that is allowable depends on geography. For example, Vancouver allows for four-way sharing on a 40A circuit whereas the Township of Langley, where households tend to drive further and need more power, allows three-way sharing on a 40A circuit. 

Fully EV-ready residential parking is the way to go

Implementing EV charging at the time of new construction is much lower cost than retrofitting wiring in after the fact. Making parking EV-ready typically adds 1-to-2 per cent to the overall cost of constructing new onsite parking (the latter, in Vancouver, averages $50,000 to $100,000 per parking space).

While some policymakers assume that we can require a lower level of EV readiness, such as 20 per cent or 50 per cent, there are two problems with this approach. First, under most forms of parking tenure in multi-family condominiums (limited common property, common property with long term leases, etc.) it is extremely difficult and costly, or simply not possible, to “swap” parking spaces. Secondly, even if swapping were possible, we would only be future-proofing properties for the first decade or so of EV adoption. In time, these partial solutions still saddle the building with complicated future retrofits.

Notwithstanding the fact that some cities are wisely moving to reduce or eliminate minimum parking for new construction (Go Edmonton! Hooray Toronto and Vancouver!) to improve overall affordability and livability, if parking is included in new construction, households’ assigned parking spaces must be EV-ready to make it simple for residents to choose an EV. Canadian cities should move quickly to adopt this best practice.

Brendan McEwen

Brendan McEwen is Director of Electric Mobility & Low Carbon Strategies at AES Engineering, where he helps government and utility clients plan for the transition to a zero-emissions, electrified future.

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