Charging Up Your Properties for the EV Surge
Electric vehicles are coming in large numbers. Here’s how to get your communities ready.
Multifamily owners and managers have a major new priority. As automakers commit to ending the production of internal combustion engines, and charging stations for new projects become mandatory in many locations, accommodating electric vehicles will be part of doing business. By 2030, 26.4 million EVs will be on the road nationwide, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
Though that projected number amounts to only a modest share of the roughly 280 million vehicles in use today, the EV surge has broad implications for retrofitting, development and the local power grid. About 80 percent of EV charging takes place at home, which places heavy responsibility on owners and property managers.
Whether a community is in planning or has been in service for decades, the first consideration for installing chargers is the property’s location. Sara Neff, head of sustainability at Lendlease Americas, begins this analysis from a technical standpoint: the ability to provide the power that the different types of chargers need. “It’s important to start from the source, which is where the electricity is coming from,” she told Multi-Housing News.
Experts emphasize that when it comes to EV installation, no two communities are exactly alike. “If you end up having to install 50 or 100 chargers, you better check to make sure that your electrical panels are sufficient, and that will tie into circuit breakers and transformers,” advises Doug Jung, vice president of investment at Grosvenor.
An important first step is conferring with local utilities and engineering consultants. “Before we put a shovel in the ground or even buy the property, as part of our due diligence, our process is to bring on a team of consultants that determine infrastructure from the local utility providers,” reported Dan Ferguson, senior vice president of development at Quarterra.
A key decision is which of the two major categories of chargers is the best fit for a community. Take the case of a property that can accommodate dozens of Level 1 chargers, which dispense 12 amps from a standard electrical outlet, and can replenish a depleted battery in eight to 12 hours.
That same property may be able to serve residents with a considerably smaller number of Level 2 chargers. This equipment delivers between 15 and 80 amps and recharges vehicles in less than half the time as their Level 1 counterparts. For a property that needs several dozen Level 1 chargers, only 12 to 16 of the Level 2 variety may be required.
The catch is that Level 2 chargers also consume more power and cost more. Level 1 installation ranges from $1,000 and $1,700 per charger, compared between $1,200 and $2,000 for Level 2.
Capacity to add devices, too, is a key priority. “When we (install), we want to make it as easy as possible to drop in more stations when the demand comes,” said Neff.
Retrofitting presents its own set of challenges. A property’s configuration is often a limiting factor. Garden-style communities may have more spread-out parking lots, so that developers must drill into asphalt before placing wiring. A plus, experts say, is getting as close as possible to the property’s main power meter, which at many communities is located in the clubhouse.
Another site-specific challenge is the strain that the vehicles will have on the power grid. Much of today’s power grid was built early in the 20th century and is unequipped to handle millions of EV chargers at once.
In Los Angeles, which has the highest volume of electric vehicle sales in the country, and where Neff oversees many installations, the city’s public utility reported that it would have to double its power output over the next ten years. “Let’s pretend that there is nothing wrong with the building: the utility has challenges providing enough power (alone), as there is increasing demand for stations,” Neff said.
Best practices for incorporating chargers varies widely with of the property’s capabilities and local regulations. “The infrastructure is a big question mark. Are you building on a cliff, or in a dense urban center?” asked Andres Pinter, co-CEO of Bullet EV Charging Solutions.
Such challenges extend to retrofitting, particularly in urban areas with high EV usage rates. In addition to technical, financial and demographic considerations, a key point is in determining where on the property the chargers will be located is tied that into the structure of a property. Kent Reckllhoff, director of capital projects, renovations and maintenance at Marquette Management, emphasizes that each retrofitting is different in these respects. “You initially have to look at the type of parking structure and the type that you have at your property to determine the best approach,” he told MHN.
Another concern for retrofitting is not only the cost of the equipment, but their consumption of time and resources. “The cost of retrofitting make-ready chargers after a certificate of occupancy is already issued is dramatically higher than the bill,” Pinter observed. “Between sourcing the equipment and going through the bureaucracy of red tape and regulation, you are talking about 6 months to a year to get the approvals in place.”
In addressing these questions, developers and operators must combine convenience, efficacy and cost-effective development with ease of use. ‘It’s a big priority for customers and tenants,” Pinter added. “You want to make sure that it is no different for the way people are parking today, except that there are chargers there.”
One solution is integrating chargers with onsite power generation and storage. Quarterra, which owns seven properties in Los Angeles, operates under the CalGreen Code, which mandates solar power in all new residential properties. Ferguson advises the installation of chargers on 10 to 25 percent of a property’s parking stalls. “Some of that is upsized during a lease-up, or as the local area starts to adopt more EVs.”
In addition to expansion capacity, owners and operators also need to consider the technology they will use for the chargers. Jung advises operators to consider EV adoption rates as well as vehicle standards.
Such major automakers as Ford, GM, Rivian and Hyundai, plan to switch from GSS power standards to the North American Charging Standard by 2025. “If you are going to be committing significant capital dollars for these installations, you do not want to be purchasing things that are obsolete in a year or two,” Jung cautioned.
Determining electric delivery capabilities and adoption rates not only helps developers determine the chargers’ optimal placement and types to install, but their most effective use. Additionally, these considerations should factor in the community’s demographic market. At the Quin, a 370-unit community in Schaumburg, Ill., a Chicago suburb, The Finger Cos. uses the devices to appeal to the property’s cohort of professional, middle-age renters.
“The tech-heavy employment base contributes to the higher percentage of EV owners, and we have a demographic of families and middle-age people who buy EVs,” noted Hunger Wagner, executive vice president of The Finger Cos. The Quin has scaled the type and number of chargers at its property to demand. The community currently uses 16 Level 2 chargers plus 14 Level 1 devices.
The Level 2 chargers are first-come, first-served, while the overnight chargers can be rented for a monthly fee. This lets time-strapped residents use the devices when it’s convenient for them, and other residents have a fully energized vehicle ready to go in the morning. The company’s goal is to recoup electricity costs and earn overage fees for chargers used past the allotted time.
The object is to provide convenience and efficiency for residents and property operators while also recouping operating expenses for a popular amenity. “We only charge the cost of what the electricity costs us,” Wagner said. “We have that plus a marginal fee above that to handle the costs.”
Additionally, operators should also streamline use as much as possible. Residents should be encouraged to move their cars as soon as possible after charging is complete. Here, some firms have taken to charging overage fees for the chargers’ uses.
Pinter believes that the highest priority, no matter the approach, is to anticipate the approaching large-scale use of EVs and their impact on communities: “There is a finite supply of electricians and installers in this country. As time passes, that scarcity is going to become more acute; every new development should include EV chargers and be pre-wired for the future.”