How to navigate the highs and lows of EV charging in MURBs
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EV Charging
Nov 15, 2023
Mehanaz Yakub

Some wins punctuate the many challenges of putting EV charging into MURBs. But there’s a long way to go to make it seamless, according to our expert panel

To better understand the obstacles associated with adding EV charging in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs), Electric Autonomy brought together experts from SWTCH, ICON Property Management, the International Council on Clean Transportation and the government of Quebec. Photo: Electric Autonomy

Some wins punctuate the many challenges of putting EV charging into MURBs. But there’s a long way to go to make it seamless, according to our expert panel

Difficulties in installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure in multi-unit residential buildings, condos and stratas is an obstacle that property managers, the charging industry and policy makers must overcome.

There are some positive signs of progress. More municipalities are adding EV-ready by-laws to their building codes and some provinces, too. But overall access to charging in these buildings persists for millions of Canadians.

To better understand the obstacles associated with adding charging in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs), Electric Autonomy brought together experts from SWTCH, ICON Property Management, the International Council on Clean Transportation and the government of Quebec.

The discussion highlighted a range of challenges including policy issues and lack of education. But also some successful strategies and practical approaches for addressing EV charging in MURBs.

A summary of the panel discussion is available below. You can also watch a video of the full session, sponsored by SWTCH, below.

Challenges for setting up charging in MURBs

Marie Rajon Bernard is an electric vehicle associate researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). She says her organization is finalizing a research paper addressing the challenges of providing overnight charging in MURBs.

The research involved conducting interviews with stakeholders to identify the top challenges and potential solutions.

Five main themes are clear:

  1. Clarifying the different regulations related to building and parking infrastructure, outlining the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder in installing such infrastructure and addressing fire safety protocols in apartment building parking lots;
  2. Enhancing the process of stakeholder engagement, with a focus on how to streamline approval processes for charger installations and optimize interactions with electric utilities to minimize electrical upgrade times;
  3. Managing electrical grid capacity to make the best use of existing building infrastructure and exploring options for upgrades if necessary;
  4. Improving education and awareness to ensure communication about EV charging and assistance for MURB residents and managers; and
  5. Addressing cost considerations, including how to handle the initial higher costs of EV charging infrastructure, determining a fair distribution of costs and clarifying who should bear these costs and when should they pay.

ICON Property’s real-world case study

ICON Property Management presented the story of how it added electric vehicle charging in a condo building in midtown Toronto.

It all began six years ago. One resident expressed interest in purchasing an EV and requested adding a charger in the building’s parking lot. But after consultations with other building residents, 57 residents in the condo wanted to get EV chargers.

Initially, ICON hired an electrical engineer to assess the building’s capacity for EV chargers.

“We found out..there was only capacity for three or four individual units, but I have 259 parking spots,” said Melissa Minor, senior property manager vice-president, pre-construction services at ICON.

ICON began exploring its options, which led them to SWTCH, a Toronto-based EV charging and energy management company. SWTCH helped ICON submit an application to the federal government’s Zero Emission Vehicles Infrastructure Program (ZEVIP) for funding.

(The Ontario Condominium Act doesn’t allow condo corporations to use reserve funds for charger installations. This is something Minor says should be changed.)

ICON’s application to ZEVIP was successful and, in January 2023, charger installations within the building’s four-level parking lots began. They were completed by April.

With SWTCH’s charger technology, ICON was able to set up 120 charging stations.

“We’ll be doing a phase three now and installing even more chargers for the residents,” said Minor.

The project has been “great” adds Minor.

“Communication was key for all of it, whether it was for the actual installation or if it was just the project itself,” said Minor.

“We wanted to explain to people that the infrastructure was going to be an investment and was going to be something of value for their property.”

Uneven policy regulations

ICON’s success shows that the process of installing chargers in condos and other MURBs is becoming less challenging.

But, still, not enough property managers are taking the plunge to add EV charging to their buildings.

This is because of an “unevenness…in terms of the policy incentive environments across the country,” explained Mike Mulqueen, director, commercial partnerships at SWTCH.

In Canada, there are no national building code regulations mandating that all buildings must be EV-ready. Provinces, territories and municipalities have the ability to create their own building bylaws and codes, which has resulted in inconsistent sets of regulations across the country.

“So some environments like B.C., for example, have a very rich policy incentive environment that’s driven a ton of activity and really following best practices…every building in B.C. has a requirement to adopt an EV-ready plan,” said Mulqueen.

In Quebec, about 3.2 million people reside in condos or MURBs. Starting this year, every building on Quebec’s construction code will need to be EV-ready with an electrical outlet,” said Mathieu Lemay, Member of the National Assembly of Quebec and parliamentary assistant to the Minister of the Environment, the Fight Against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks.

Additionally, the Quebec government is allocating $108 million over the next five years to ensure that 600,000 parking spaces in apartment buildings are EV-ready, adds Lemay.

(A complete list of all the jurisdictions in Canada that have or are considering charging requirements for condos, stratas and other MURBs is available here.)

Importance of education

Along with an unevenness with policy, there is an unevenness with the level of education that condo boards and property managers have that makes adding chargers in MURBs difficult, said Mulqueen.

To address this issue, he suggested promoting case studies like ICON’s as well as showcasing best practices and structured processes to better inform property managers and residents about EV charging solutions.

He added that it is crucial to encourage a structured and networked approach to implementing EV charging infrastructure in MURBs. Rushed solutions may not be scalable and could create equity issues and limit future EV adoption within the building.

Drawing insights from programs abroad, the ICCT’s Bernard highlighted an “interesting program” in the Netherlands.

The government there partly pays for a consultation service led by licensed experts to homeowners’ associations and housing groups. Consultants assess electric installation needs and identify available incentives, safety measures and cost distribution between owners and between the association. This information is then presented in non-technical language.

“It has been proven to be pretty successful,” said Bernard. “They conducted a survey afterwards to see the impact of this program and about 80 per cent of the survey participants said that it led them to decide to implement EV charging infrastructure in their building.”

“So it really showed the importance of educating people and how, when people know about all solutions, then it turns into having an easy readiness plan and then it being implemented.”

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