Electric cars are no longer a thing of the future. In fact, as discussed in our previous article, the number of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) on the road is quickly growing, which means the need for conveniently located battery charging stations is also on the rise. But what does this mean for your association?

First, let’s start with a little bit of education on PEVs, often referred to as “electric cars.” Many times the perception is that electric cars run solely on battery power, similar to the Nissan Leaf, one of the pioneers in this market. But the truth is battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are only part of the story.

In addition to BEVs, we have Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PEHVs) which are commonly referred to as “hybrid plug-ins” or “hybrid electric cars.” These vehicles come equipped with an electric motor and rechargeable battery, as well as an internal combustion engine that can be fueled with gas.  Models like the Chevrolet Volt, and plug-in models adapted from hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius Plug-in, are examples of PEHVs.

While hybrid owners typically try to maximize the number of miles they drive on battery power, they know that they can always revert to gas if their batteries run low. BEV owners, however, are dependent solely on electricity and while their batteries can run for about 60-100 miles, they must continuously have access to charging stations. Which has sparked the hot topic of charging stations inside communities – because, let’s be honest, what’s more convenient than charging your electric car right where you live?

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

Before you get started, do your research – talk to other community Board members and local community leaders to see if, and how, the issue is being addressed locally. If your community is professionally managed, you may also want to consult your property management team for advice on how to get the ball rolling.

Below are some guidelines to follow if you decide PEV chargers are right for your community:

1. What do homeowners want?

While a few homeowners may have broached the subject of PEV chargers in the past, you still want to assess if the community as a whole has an interest or need. The only way to know that is to ask. A quick survey of homeowners should allow you to gauge their interest and help you decide if there’s reason to proceed.

2. Create a committee.

Once you’ve done your preliminary research, you’ll want to start doing additional homework. Your Board may decide to form a committee of homeowners interested in this project, including those residents who own PEVs. This committee can help you research the available charging options and vendors who can install and manage the equipment. You may want to encourage this committee to collaborate with your property manager and management team as they may be able to provide guidance and information. Involve the association’s attorney as well so that possible legal issues that may arise can be addressed.

3. Know your options.

Once your committee has completed its research, the Board should be informed of their options – not only what is available, but also what is most practical for their 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 PEV comes with a charging cord that you can just plug in, making installing a Level 1 a no-cost or low-cost option. If you already have electrical outlets in your community garage of parking facilities then this would be a “no added costs” option. Otherwise, it’s a few hundred dollars to install each new outlet. The downside of Level 1 charging is that it is a slow process. For example, the Leaf can be charged to half its capacity in 8-10 hours, so a resident may choose to charge it overnight.
  • 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 charger installation costs can range from several to many thousands of 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. However, Level 2 charging is much faster than Level 1, taking from just three hours (for newer PEV 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.  

4. Consult with an electrical contractor.

As mentioned above, before making the decision on which PEV charging option to invest in, your Board will need to understand your community’s existing electrical infrastructure. It is best to consult with an expert in these situations – 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 doesn’t already work with an  electrical contractor, or if your electrical contractor does not have PEV charging experience, a good property management company will likely have relationships with quality service providers and vendors.  With their guidance, your Board should be able to determine which charging options make the most sense, both logistically and financially.

5. Contact your utility company.

But installation costs are not the only thing to consider, financially. Your association should also contact your local utility company to inquire about any additional costs associated with an on-site charging station. Once again, this is an area where, if you have one, you may want to involve your property management company, as they may be able to leverage their combined buying power to negotiate better rates for the increased service demand.

6. Who will own and manage?

If once you’ve done all your planning you decide to go ahead and install Level 2 PEV charging stations in your community, then 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, they can be owned and managed by a third-party company for a fee, or they can be 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 once again involve the association’s attorney to determine the process for making any needed amendments to the community documents.  

8. Spread the word.

Now that the decision has been made, and the proper documents have been updated, the next step is to communicate the exciting news to your residents. Residents should receive regular communications about the installation and use of PEV chargers. These communications should come through multiple channels, including emails, articles in your community newsletter, direct mail, flyers, notices in common areas, etc. If your community has a virtual notification system, you may want to communicate it that way as well. 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. Community associations that are proactively installing charging units are not just staying ahead of the curve, they are also making significant a strides in 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.

Wednesday July 13, 2016