Part 2: Installing Charging Stations for Electric Cars in Your Community
Electric cars have arrived and in abundance. In fact, as we discussed in our previous article, there has been a surge of plug-in electric vehicle (PEVs) purchases within the last five years. This means the need for conveniently located charging stations is also quickly growing. But what does this mean for your association?
To understand the demand for charging stations within communities, we must start with a little bit of education on PEVs, often referred to as “electric cars.” A common misconception with electric cars is that they run solely on battery power, similar to the Nissan Leaf, one of the pioneers in this market. But battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are only part of the story.
In addition to BEVs, there are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), which are commonly referred to as “hybrid plug-ins” or “hybrid electric cards.” PHEVs have an electric motor and rechargeable battery. An internal combustion engine is built into the vehicle so that it can also be fueled by gas. Examples of PHEVs are the Chevrolet Volt, and plug-in models adapted from hybrid vehicles like the Honda Accord Plug-In, the Toyota Prius Plug-in, and the Ford Fusion Energi SE.
Typically, owners of hybrid cars try to maximize the amount of miles driven on battery power, but they know they have the option to switch to gas if the battery runs low. BEV owners, however, rely exclusively on electricity to power their vehicle, and while their batteries can run for about 60-100 miles, the need for conveniently located charging stations is a must. This has sparked the hot topic of installing charging stations inside communities.
So how do you determine if installing PEV charging stations is right for your community? Consider this – by installing charging stations you’ll not only satisfy the needs of current and future electric vehicle owners, you’ll also go a long way in enhancing your community’s “green” image, which can increase your property values and attract future residents.
But before you get started, do your homework. It’s a good idea to talk to other community Board members and local community leaders to see if, and how, the demand is being addressed on a local level. Survey your residents and if your community is professionally managed, you may also want to consult your property management team for advice on how to get the process started.
Below are some guidelines to follow if you decide PEV chargers are right for your community:
1. What do homeowners want?Is there a high demand for a charging station within your community? The only way to find out is to survey your residents. A quick survey should help you gauge their interest and determine if there’s reason to move forward.
2. Create a committee.Now is the time to put your research into action. You Board may decide to form a committee of homeowners interested in the topic, including those residents who already own PEVs. These committee members can be charged with researching possible charging options, as well as vendors who can install and manage the equipment. Your property management team should also be able to offer the committee valuable insight and possibly guide them through the process. It may also be a good idea to include your association’s attorney so that any possible legal issues that may arise can be considered and addressed.
3. Know your charging options.Do your due diligence so that you can provide your Board with charging options that are available and practical for your community. Though there are several charging levels to choose from, the most commonly found in communities are Level 1 and 2. A third option is DC Fast Charging, which is best suited for commercial locations due to its higher power requirements and price-tag. Here is a brief summary of Levels 1 and 2.
Level 1 charging is the simplest option because all that is required is a three-pronged, 120-volt AC wall outlet. Every electric vehicle comes equipped with a charging cord, making it a minimal cost, and sometimes no-cost, option. If your community already has electrical outlets installed, there are no additional costs. Should you need to install some, it should cost a few hundred dollars. Level 1 charging is a slow process, making it ideal for longer stays or overnight charging in community parking facilities or garages. For example, the Leaf can be charged to half capacity in 8-10 hours using this option.
Level 2 charging required a professional-installed unit that provides a 208- or 240- volt dedicated circuit, protected by a 40- or 80- amp circuit breaker. The benefit of Level 2 charging is that it is much faster than Level 1. For newer electric vehicles, it should take 3-6 hours to fully charge the battery. Level 2 charger installation costs can range from several to many thousands of dollars. The installation costs depends on several variables such as 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. Level 2 charging also delivers additional benefits, such as adding up to 20 miles of range for each hour of charge, making it a good choice for electric cars that can provide ranges of 100 miles or more.
4. Consult with an electrical contractor.Before making the decision on which PEV charging option makes the most sense for your community, your Board needs to understand your community’s existing electrical infrastructure. It is best to consult with an experienced electrical contractor. In addition to providing advice specific to your community, 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.In addition to installation costs, it is important for your association to get an idea of any additional utility costs associated with on-site charging stations. Contact your local utility company for this information. Again, if you have a property management company, you want to involve them in this step in the process 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 you go with Level 2 charging stations, your Board will need to decide who will own and operate them. Level 2 charging stations can be owned and managed by the association, owned and managed by a third party for a fee, or owned by your association and managed by a third party. Regardless of which option your association chooses, you will either be charged a flat monthly fee or charged for actual electrical 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.Once all of the decisions have been made, and the proper documents have been updated, the next step is to share the exciting news with your residents. Communication should be frequent and via multiple channels so as to reach as many people as possible. This can include email messages, articles in your community newsletter, flyers, direct mail, notices in common areas, and so on. If your community, or property management company, has a virtual notification system, you may want to use that 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 the number of car buyers making the switch each year continues to climb. As a result, the demand for easily accessible charging stations is also on the rise. Communities that are taking a proactive approach to installing these charging units are not only staying ahead of the trend, they are also making significant a strides in enhancing residents’ lifestyles now and in the future. For more information on enhancing your community’s quality of life, contact FirstService Residential.