No longer the products of science fiction fantasy, electric cars are now a reality of everyday life.  While the reduced emissions of personal electric vehicles, or PEVs, are good news for the environment, their charging requirements may create challenges for condo associations trying to navigate their infrastructure requirements, legal implications, management concerns and even aesthetic considerations.

Since most condominium communities don’t even have electrical outlets near parking spaces, let alone high voltage conductors and conduits running through them, accommodating PEVs takes some special planning and a little bit of work.

“In the past two years we have seen the interest in PEVs grow from a rarity to commonplace. These are no longer one-off challenges, but rather, a conversation that all communities, not just high-end high-rises, need to be ready to tackle,” said Chris Normandeau, C.E.M., LC, LEED AP BD+C, Director of FSEnergy, a division of FirstService Residential.

He cites California’s Senate Bill 880, which if passed, would make it illegal to impose any condition that "effectively prohibits or unreasonably restricts" installation of charging in an owner's designated parking space.

“California is likely an early adopter with respect to PEV infrastructure. PEVs are here to stay and it is immensely important that associations are prepared to work with their residents when – not if – these situations arise,” he continued.  “Installing PEV charging equipment is fraught with a variety of challenges,  such as technical, legal, political, managerial, aesthetic and more.  As with all complicated and challenging opportunities, proper preparation and execution can ensure that what could have been a nightmare becomes, in fact, pleasant and simple.”

Let’s take a look at how you can help residents plug in.

1. Navigate your stakeholders.

When you’re making parking changes, there are a lot of parties who’ll need to weigh in. In addition to the PEV owner, consider the wants and needs of the association, the building or community management staff, owner or landlord, other residents, the electric utility and community document requirements, as well as all applicable governing federal, state and local laws.  It also helps to gather information on current parking policies, electrical capacity and overall resident interest in accommodating PEVs. Consider creating an advisory committee, and don’t be afraid to reach out to experts like a good property management company, which can pull together resources like other communities who have completed PEV infrastructure, your local power company, a qualified contractor and more.  

2. Identify who’s going to pay for the work.

This is always an important question. Complete installation of charging equipment can cost several hundred to tens of thousands of all depends on the type of equipment that’s used, permitting, conduit, panel or even service upgrades, trenching, labor and whether or not your condo community will need landscape repair. These costs could be covered by the resident PEV owners (this is the easiest way), or multiple residents could pitch in for installation. Another alternative may be for the association to pay for the major costs (engineers, upgrading service, running a high voltage conductor infrastructure…) in which case PEV infrastructure would be offered as an amenity, like a pool or fitness center.  There are other creative options you can devise to fit your community, but always check first for relevant provisions in the community documents and local laws that may affect your decision.

3. Determine who pays for the additional electricity.

Of course, with a bunch of PEVs plugged in, someone has to pay for the power.  One option is to institute a flat monthly user fee, but remember that light users may not be happy to share the financial burden of heavy users. Another option is to have the association cover the additional electricity costs, which may upset residents who drive conventional vehicles.  Sub-metering the electrical consumption of each PEV is a solution that many people and associations find reasonable, but it can be tricky to pull off.  It would mean the association manager or office staff must administer the charges and manage the billing, payments, etc., which can be very time consuming, even with only a few PEVs. – and would become even more labor-intensive as PEVs become more popular over time. Additional options include implementing an automatic charging accounting system or hiring a service provider to manage the process. While these solutions would incur added administration fees, they ensure that each user pays for their own power, while freeing up the management staff to provide the level of service excellence the association has become accustomed to.

4. Account for capacity and equipment.

Allowing a trusted electrical engineer, electrician and utility representative to review the existing service, transformers, panels, conductors, and other charging infrastructure is imperative – in fact, it should ideally be done before any residents purchase a PEV. Installing a single 110V slow charger for a PEV may be a simple solution, but it becomes much different when the requirement is for dozens of 220V fast chargers.  Other considerations, like what types of charging station your association allows, should also be considered. As the technology evolves, this consideration may be not only aesthetic, but more importantly, a safety concern.  

5. Change assigned parking if you need to – and are able to.

Because of the limitations of electrical infrastructure, you may need to swap residents’ parking spaces a bit. Understandably, this may be met with some resistance by residents who perceive their proposed new space as a downgrade, but open communication can help minimize hard feelings.  The reality is that it will end up being a lot cheaper if PEV charging spaces are located closer to the electrical panel. As an alternative, you can implement shared spaces for charging equipment (just be sure to formalize a shared-use policy so residents don’t monopolize the spaces), or proactively wire the majority of the parking garage to anticipate this need.

6. Choose the right contractor.

This is an important project, and you’ll want it to go smoothly. Seek a licensed, bonded contractor with experience in PEV charging infrastructure. Make sure they pull all necessary permits and that they handle all required inspections. If you need help locating a contractor, a good property management company will be able to make a referral.

When you’re embarking on transitioning to a PEV-friendly community, expect the process to take at least six months – that includes the initial exploratory phase with your residents, infrastructure, utilities and vendors. But when it’s complete, you will have provided a way for community members to plug in, save fuel and help preserve the planet. For more forward-thinking insights energy-saving ideas, contact FirstService Residential.
Friday February 27, 2015