BC Hydro’s clean energy spokesman “Dave” might be driving across B.C. in his electric vehicle, making charging EVs look easy.
But the lighthearted videos promoting EVs for the masses don’t quite match the experience of people living in condos and strata councils grappling ways to accommodate the vehicle owners.
Many are struggling to balance the needs of a few EV drivers against a majority of residents who don’t yet own a plug-in electric car, and while changes are coming, finding appropriate solutions has not been easy.
“You want to make owners happy and protect the environment but, also, we have to look at economics of scale as far as the building is concerned and what we can accommodate,” said Charlie Young, president of the strata council at Princess Gate, a condo building near Coquitlam's City Centre Aquatic Complex.
Residents may want to accommodate the future and support EV ownership, he said, but strata councils don’t have the time, expertise or money to deal with what could be a costly change to electrical and parking infrastructure.
Thanks to new rules, stratas can charge fees for using power to charge EV batteries and recover fees for the installation of Level 2 chargers but making wholesale changes requires the support of 75% of residents — a high threshold to meet especially if a special levy is needed to upgrade a building’s electrical capacity.
At Princess Gate, the council has adopted a stopgap measure, charging residents $25 a month to use a standard 110-volt outlet to charge their car, but Young said attempts to accommodate have opened up other cans of worms, including the need to reassign parking spots.
“Gee whiz, how many changes can we accommodate in our building?” he said.
Grappling with these questions is becoming more common since federal and provincial incentives created a buying frenzy of EV cars. But while the issue may be new for many stratas, EV clubs and associations say strata councils should be required to find ways to accommodate EV drivers.
Groups such as the Vancouver EV Association have written to Selina Robinson, minister of municipal affairs and housing (also a Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA), asking for right-to-charge legislation, similar to what is in place in Ontario and other jurisdictions.
Jim Hindson, a retired professional engineer who has owned an electric vehicle for five years, says governments may have to compel strata councils to deal with the issue of EV charging, and right-to-charge legislation may be the answer.
Such legislation would establish a process, requirements and timelines for installing EV charging stations, establish who would be responsible for installation and operation costs, put in place dispute resolution mechanism and lay out the conditions for reasonable denial.
While the legislation may seem draconian to some, Hindson said it’s necessary to make EV car ownership easier and enable B.C. to meet its target of 100% zero-emission vehicle sales by 2040.
“It’s the number one barrier [to EV ownership]. We’ve got the cars, we’ve got the range, we’ve got the [public] infrastructure coming.”
But strata councils are understandably concerned about what they could be getting into. Princess Gate’s Young said he’s interested in providing EV charging if an affordable solution can be found.
“Otherwise, we may have to say no.”
He’s hoping a BCIT demonstration project to find efficient ways to retrofit condos with electric vehicle charging stations may provide some of the answers.
His strata has applied to be one of three multi-residential buildings to participate in the study that would see the complex's electrical capacity assessed, a plan developed for the building to install EV chargers and, using the engineered plan, purchase and install the first six EV chargers.
BCIT would use Level 2 smart charging units that would cap the electricity used and share the load amongst several vehicles at a time.
But to be selected, 75% of residents must approve a bylaw to alter common property.
“We’re looking for buildings that have EV drivers in it, and ones that have a good base of people that want to buy electric cars,” said Kelly Carmichael, research associate for BCIT’s Smart Microgrid Applied Research Team.
He said BCIT has recently completed a successful project retrofitting LED light poles with Level 2 chargers in New Westminster to make it easy for “garage orphans” without access to charging in their condos to get powered up.
The current project, set to get underway this fall, would be to use low-cost chargers that can do energy management without a networking fee commonly charged by other companies and would be affordable to replicate in multi-residential buildings throughout Metro Vancouver.
One idea BCIT is looking at is an open automated demand response (ADR) system that would would slow down electric car charging for a few hours, enabling the strata to sell surplus electricity to BC Hydro with revenues that could be put towards more charging systems.
“We’re developing our project so that it interfaces with this,” said Carmichael, “These are definitely big issues, we want to make sure we can deal with them.”
For now, buildings like Princess Gate and others that are struggling with the issue of how to accommodate EV charging may have to wait for technology to make it easy and manageable.
Young, a retired BCIT instructor in the health field, said he hopes his former employer will provide some of the answers.