Planning to install EV chargers in your condo? You’ll need a strategyOpinion
Nov 6, 2020
Maxime Charron

Installing EV chargers in condominiums/strata and multi-unit residential buildings can be a challenge. Charging consultant Maxime Charron shares a six-step plan for success

Image: LeadingAhead Energy

Installing EV chargers in condominiums/strata and multi-unit residential buildings can be a challenge. Charging consultant Maxime Charron shares a six-step plan for success

The first battery-electric and plug-in-hybrid electric vehicles entered the market over 10 years ago. Since then, countless home charging stations have been purchased and installed to provide the convenience of leaving home with a “full tank” every morning. 

However, due to the current growth in the market, every day people ask me about the cost of home charging. The most common question: why is it so much more expensive to install an EV charging station in a shared parking lot — say, an underground parkade of a condominium/strata building — compared to a single-family house?

We are here to answer that question and provide a strategy for condo and strata owners to succeed in the process.  

No shared panel, no problem

Let’s start with a typical single-family home, where the electric panel is located in the garage or close to an exterior wall. The panel is not shared with any other parties and is directly connected to the home utility metering system. In this scenario, a simple off-the-shelf charging unit (dumb or networked) will be the best option. If there is enough room available on the existing panel to add a 40-amp breaker, the process is very simple:

1. Purchase an EV charging unit of your choice.

2. Contact a local electrician for installation.

If there’s no room to add a new breaker on the panel, the options include installing a device (a DCC-9/10 unit depending on the scenario) that manages the load between the house and the charger, removing the need for a service upgrade. 

Condos need a strategic plan

In a perfect world, it would be as easy to install EV charging stations in a condo. However, that is far from the actual case. In a condo parkade, the power comes from a house panel on common property that feeds services in common areas shared by all occupants.

Because the power from the panel is shared, it would be a mistake for the condo council to approve single requests to connect charging units without a strategic plan in place. Doing so could lead to headaches in the future as more people make the switch to EVs only to find the building no longer has any extra available electrical power.

We often see this mistake playing out in newer condos where a few residents come together to get a few charging stations in their own parking stall. This sometimes works for the short-term, but even the newest condo building will run out of power quickly as more people are switching to EVs. This scenario will lead to heated conflicts amongst condo owners. It is why planning the right future-proofing strategy is crucial. 

Step-by-step process

Instead, many things need to be considered before any charging units are installed. To help condo owners navigate through the exercise, I recommend the following step-by-step process:

1. Schedule first meeting with condo council to gauge interest and get approval to investigate. 

2. Schedule site visit by a local EV charging provider to determine the electrical availability for EV charging and service options.

3. Council to explain to condo/strata owners the different options/issues, choose and vote on the EV strategy to be implemented. Those options include: 

  • Visitor stalls for everyone to use
  • Future-proof by roughing-in 100 per cent of stalls 
  • Assigning one stall at a time (first-come, first-served)
  • Use load-sharing technology (smart charger vs. smart panel vs. dynamic) to install more stations with the same amount of power in the electrical infrastructure 
  • Choice of equipment/service protocols (Open Charge Point Protocol or Proprietary Network)
  • Smart (networked) vs. dumb chargers? (Smart require Wi-fi or cellular reception) 

4. Get pricing for the selected options from EV charger suppliers/installers.

5. Council approves EV charging supplier/installer to provide work.  

6. Proceed with installation. 

Solutions will vary

One of the most important factors determining the chosen plan is the building’s electrical infrastructure. Older buildings are less likely than newer ones to have free power to be tapped into.

In some scenarios, it will be cost-prohibitive to install the electrical infrastructure to suit 100 per cent of all residential stalls in a condo building. The long-term answer in those cases will likely be to invest in a few sharable stalls and require EV-driving residents to fulfill the balance of their needs at the growing fast-charging public network, as we currently do with gas stations. With vehicle charging speeds and range of charge increasing, making an occasional stop at the nearby fast-charging site to recharge can be part of the weekly routine. 

Editor’s note: This story was updated on November 10th, 2020 to more accurately indicate the correct DCC types.

Maxime Charron

Based in B.C., Maxime is the founder of LeadingAhead Energy and a board member of Electric Mobility Canada

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