Retrofitting EV chargers into a multi-family building: the merits of a 100-per-cent EV-ready approach
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EV Charging
Feb 11, 2021
Brendan McEwen

In the second in a series of articles on how to make the built environment EV-ready, Brendan McEwan looks at innovative approaches and incentive programs to best retrofit existing multifamily buildings for EV charging

Electrical infrastructure installed as part of a 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofit. Source: AES Engineering

In the second in a series of articles on how to make the built environment EV-ready, Brendan McEwan looks at innovative approaches and incentive programs to best retrofit existing multifamily buildings for EV charging

Access to at-home electric vehicle charging is critical to enabling adoption of EVs. As noted in my first article in this series, local governments in British Columbia have taken the critical step of requiring that residential parking in new buildings be 100 percent EV-ready (i.e. requiring each parking space to feature an adjacent electrical outlet capable of level 2 charging), and many other local governments in Canada and elsewhere are considering similar requirements.

But in addition to new construction, we need to ensure that existing multifamily buildings are properly futureproofed to provide households with convenient and affordable access to EV charging. To date, few buildings in Canada have undertaken any retrofits to implement EV charging. Those that have typically took one of two approaches: incremental EV charging installations, or comprehensive, 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofits.

The former is more common, but the latter has several key advantages. Let’s examine both types of retrofits:

1. Incremental EV charging installations

To date, most multifamily buildings that have implemented EV charging simply install one to a few EV chargers (or EVSE, which stands for EV Supply Equipment). In such cases, chargers are often located at commonly accessible parking spaces, such as visitor parking, and are meant to be shared. Alternatively, some buildings have put chargers at residents’ assigned parking spaces. 

While this approach usually meets the needs of a building’s first few EV drivers, challenges emerge as EV adoption increases over time. Notably, sharing charging equipment can become difficult. In cases where the chargers are shared, the most efficient use might require drivers to regularly move their vehicles in the middle of the night, which is inconvenient and therefore unlikely. Additionally, incrementally adding dedicated electrical circuits at more parking spaces can often exhaust buildings’ limited spare electrical capacity well before most drivers have access to EV charging. 

Finally, implementing EV charging infrastructure as a series of one-offs is relatively expensive. For example, the cost per EVSE in projects that apply for the B.C. multifamily and workplace EV charging incentive has averaged almost $7,000. The CleanBC Go Electric rebate for multifamily buildings currently offers to pay 50 per cent of the costs per EVSE, up to $4,000 (more details below). Quebec’s multi-unit building charging station rebate offers up to $5,000.

While these provincial incentive programs may be good first steps to enable EV adoption, the high cost per EVSE likely means such incentives will not be financially sustainable as demand accelerates. And in provinces that do not have similar incentives, it is challenging for drivers, condominium associations and rental building owners to justify the costs of adding a single EVSE.

2. 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofits

The 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofit approach is a more comprehensive solution that provides the same level of futureproofing municipalities are increasingly requiring of new construction — namely, an electric outlet adjacent to each parking space, at which EVSE can be installed in the future. EVSE costs are usually paid for by drivers when they start driving an EV and require the service, while condominium associations or building owners will pay for the upfront common electrical upgrades to make the building EV-ready.

These retrofits will almost always make use of EV energy management systems (EVEMS), technologies that allow for the sharing of electrical circuits between chargers. Use of EVEMS greatly reduces the electrical capacity required to provide EV charging. In my firm’s experience designing such systems in B.C., it is usually possible to allow all parking spaces in an existing building to have access to an adequate amount of electricity for EV charging without exceeding the spare capacity available. In turn, use of EVEMS avoids a new electrical service, which is an expensive and often lengthy process, and helps minimize the costs of electrical infrastructure in the building. 

Beyond those upsides, 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofits have several other advantages:

  • Lower life cycle costs. 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofits will cost more upfront than adding one or two chargers. But over the longer term, they will realize significant savings and cost much less per parking space. As noted above, designing for use of EVEMS from the outset will reduce life cycle infrastructure costs. Each building is different, and costs cannot be estimated without a detailed review of individual buildings’ systems; however, in my company’s experience, the average cost per EV-ready parking space is less than $1,000. Additionally, an EVEMS allows a building to minimize peak electricity use, which can significantly reduce utility bills and subsequent drivers’ costs.
  • Greater convenience. 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofits provide electricity to each drivers’ regular assigned parking space, where they normally park each evening. Charging in your assigned space is more convenient than scheduling use of a shared charger, particularly as EV adoption increases.
  • Simple process to access charging. When buildings rely on incremental charger additions, each new charger can take months to approve and install. In contrast, buildings that implement 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofits can quickly add another charger when a driver acquires an EV. The accompanying table, prepared by AES Engineering for BC Hydro, compares the implications of 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofits versus incremental EVSE additions in multifamily buildings. 

Note, it is critical that EV-ready retrofits be properly planned. This includes a feasibility assessment and subsequent electrical design by an experienced electrical engineer. 

chart comparing 100% EV ready retrofits with incremental additions of EVSE.
Comparing 100% EV Ready Retrofits with incremental additions of EVSE.  Source: AES Engineering and Origin Sustainable Design + Planning. 2020. 

The CleanBC EV Ready rebate: a model to emulate

As noted, despite the advantages of 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofits for multifamily buildings, they have a significant one-time upfront cost which often keeps condominium associations and rental building owners from investing in these upgrades.

To address this challenge, B.C.’s CleanBC Go Electric program recently introduced an EV Ready rebate for multifamily buildings, the first such program in North America. The program provides rebates for:

  • An EV-ready plan: A rebate of up to $3,000 for the creation of an EV-ready plan. The plan must include an electrical capacity assessment; conceptual design of charging infrastructure to meet minimum performance requirements; identification of EV energy management systems, equipment and services compatible with the conceptual design; and cost estimates sufficient for the building owners’ budgeting purposes.
  • EV-ready infrastructure implementation: A rebate of up to $600 per parking space to install the electrical infrastructure in accordance with the EV-ready plan, to a maximum of $80,000.

B.C.’s EV Ready rebate program presents a model for other jurisdictions to emulate. Encouraging multifamily buildings and workplaces to implement 100-per-cent EV-ready retrofits will significantly lower the life cycle costs of providing convenient EV charging in urban centres. Indeed, this approach provides an excellent opportunity for economic stimulus as part of Covid-19 recovery. EV-ready retrofits are “shovel-ready” projects that will create jobs in the near term, while best enabling uptake of electric mobility for decades to come. 

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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