Electric cars are no longer science fiction or fantasy.  As we discussed in our previous article, the growing number of PEVs (plug-in electric vehicles) on the road means more people need conveniently-located battery charging stations. As a result, this is a hot topic for many homeowners associations (HOAs), community associations and condo boards across the country.

First, an education on PEVs, or as they’re often called, “EVs” or “electric cars.”  Many people think that this category only includes vehicles that run exclusively on battery power, like the Nissan Leaf – one of the pioneers in this market – or the luxurious Tesla Model S.  That’s partially true, but BEVs (battery electric vehicles) are only one piece of the story.

The category also includes PEHVs (plug-in hybrid vehicles), also known as “hybrid plug-ins” or “hybrid electric cars,” which come equipped with an electric motor and rechargeable battery, as well as an internal combustion engine that can be fueled with gas.  These include dedicated models like the Chevrolet Volt, another pioneer in the field, as well as plug-in models adapted from hybrid vehicles, like the Toyota Prius Plug-In, the Honda Accord Plug-In and the Ford Fusion Energi SE.

Owners of hybrid plug-ins typically try to maximize the number of miles they drive on battery power, but they know they can always revert to gas if their batteries run down.  But owners of BEVs are dependent solely on electricity.  While their batteries can provide power for approximately 60 – 100 miles of travel, they must continuously have access to charging stations – and what’s more convenient than having stations right in their communities?

So is installing EV charging stations the right choice for your community?  If your association is considering it, consider this – you’ll not only satisfy the needs of current and future EV owners, but you’ll also enhance your property’s “green” image, which can increase property value and attract future residents.

So how should your Board proceed?  Start by talking to other community Board members and local community leaders to see if this issue is being addressed locally.  Do your research, including consulting with a good property management company.  If your community is professionally managed, your property management team can provide you with information and guide you through the process. 

1. What do homeowners want?  

A few homeowners may have raised the issue of installing an on-site EV charger, but is there an interest and need throughout the community?  The best way to know is to ask.  You can survey homeowners to gauge their interest, and if there’s reason to proceed…

2. Create a team. 

Now it’s time to start doing your homework.  Your Board can form a committee of interested homeowners – including PEV owners, if possible – to research the available charging options and vendors who can install and manage the equipment, and report back to the Board.  Your property manager and management team can collaborate with committee members to provide guidance and information. Involve the association’s attorney as well so that possible legal issues arising under the community documents and/or applicable law can be addressed.

3. Know your charging options. 

As part of your due diligence, your Board will need to understand the available – and most practical – charging options for your residents and community.  There are several charging levels available, but Level 1 and Level 2 are most commonly found in residential communities (a third option, DC Fast Charging, is better suited for commercial locations, due to its higher cost and power requirements.  To get you started, here is a brief summary:

Level 1 charging is the simplest option – all you need is a standard three-pronged, 120-volt AC wall outlet. Every EV comes with a charging cord that you can just plug in, making it a no-cost or low-cost option – no added costs if you already have electrical outlets in your community garage or parking facilities, or just a few hundred dollars to install each new outlet.  Level 1 charging is a slow process, so it’s best for longer parking stays – for example, a Chevy Leaf can be charged to half its capacity in 8 – 10 hours – so it’s a good choice for overnight charging in community garages or parking facilities.  However, it usually adds just five miles of additional range for each hour of charge.

Level 2 charging requires a professionally-installed unit that provides a 208 or 240 volt dedicated circuit, protected by a 40 or 80 amp circuit breaker.  Level 2 charging is much faster than Level 1, taking from just three hours (for newer EV models) to about six hours to charge a depleted battery to full capacity.  Level 2 charging also provides additional benefits, like adding up to 20 miles of range for each hour of charge, which makes it a good choice for electric cars that offer ranges of 100 miles or more.  But there is a cost for this convenience – Level 2 charger installation can cost several thousand dollars, depending on your community’s on-site transformer and electrical service capacity, proximity of electric service to parking spaces, the need to upgrade the electrical panel and service capacity, and other factors.

4. Consult with an electrical contractor. 

As we noted above, your Board needs to understand your community’s existing electrical infrastructure, as well as which charging options make the most sense, both logistically and financially.  To find out, consult with an expert – namely, an experienced electrical contractor.  In addition to providing advice, the contractor may be qualified to perform the installation – or refer you to a vendor who can.   If your association isn’t familiar with a local electrical contractor with EV charging experience, a good property management company will likely have relationships with quality service providers and vendors. 

5. Contact your utility company. 

In addition to installation costs, it’s important for your association to have an idea of the additional costs associated with an on-site charging station.  To find out, contact your local utility company.  Your property management company may be able to leverage its combined buying power to negotiate better rates for the increased service demand.

6. Who will own and manage?

If you decide to install Level 2 charging stations, your association will need to decide who will own and operate them.  Typically, there are three options:  they can be owned and managed by your HOA or community association, owned and managed by a third-party company for a fee, or owned by your association and managed by a third-party company.  In all of these options, users would either be charged a flat monthly fee or for actual electricity usage. 

7. Revise your policies

Once you have gathered all necessary information, you will need to again involve the association’s attorney to determine the process for making any needed amendments to the community documents.

8. Spread the word. 

Once all decisions have been made, it’s very important to communicate with residents about the EV chargers and how they can be used.  Communication should be frequent and through multiple channels, including email messages, articles in your community newsletter, direct mail, flyers, notices in common areas and more.  Some communities or property management companies also have virtual notification systems – for example, FirstService Residential can instantly deliver messages by phone, text or email through its Resident Alert system. 

Once considered the future of transportation, electric cars are now a reality for many drivers – and more car buyers are making the switch each year.  By exploring the process for installing charging units to support homeowners’ choices, your association will stay ahead of the curve – and that will go a long way towards enhancing residents’ lifestyles, now and in the future.  If you’d like more information about enhancing your community’s quality of life, contact FirstService Residential.

Electric vehicle charging stations can add value to your high-rise and offer a desirable amenity to residents. For more great ways to upgrade your high-rise amenities, sign up to download our infographic to learn more about repurposing spaces, adding services to your building and how working with a professional property management team can enhance your residents’ lives.

Wednesday February 24, 2016