Electric Cars Part Two: Getting Started in Your Community

Electric cars have arrived.  In fact, as we discussed in our previous article, there has been a surge of plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) purchases in Texas within the last five years. This means the need for conveniently located charging stations is also growing. And subsequently, many community association boards are starting to ask the ultimate question: “How do I determine if installing PEV charging stations is right for my community?”

Finding the right answer may require a bit of homework. It’s a good idea to talk to other board members and area community leaders to see if, and how, the demand is being addressed on a local level. Survey your residents to see if there is any interest, 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.

Here are a few simple guidelines to help you decide if PEV chargers are right for your community: 

Gauge homeowner interest
Surveying homeowners is a quick way to discover if there is demand for a charging station within your community. Be sure to ask for information like how many electric vehicles are in the household, or if they intend on buying a plug-in electric vehicle in the near future. Once you determine the level of homeowner interest, you can decide if there’s reason to move forward.

Form a committee
Committees make lighter work for the board.  Consider encouraging homeowners interested in the topic, including those residents who already own PEVs to participate.  Committee tasks can include researching possible charging options, as well as identifying vendors who can install and manage the equipment. For additional insight and guidance, be sure to consult with your association management team. A quality management company should be able to help guide you through the process and work with your association’s attorney to discuss any possible legal issues that should be considered and addressed.

Consider the charging options
There are several charging levels to choose from, but the ones most commonly installed in communities are Level 1 and 2. The DC Fast Charging station, which is best suited for commercial locations due to its higher power requirements, comes with a higher price-tag and may not be the most practical solution for your community.  Here are a few points for comparison regarding Level 1 and 2 charging stations.

  • Level 1 charging is the simplest and most cost-effective option because all that is required is a three-pronged, 120-volt AC wall outlet. Typically communities already have electrical outlets installed in common areas and every electric vehicle comes equipped with a charging cord, which can make this a no-cost option. However, should you need to install outlets, the cost will likely only run a few hundred dollars. On the flip side, be advised that 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 Nissan Leaf can be only charged to half capacity in 8-10 hours using this option.
  • Level 2 charging is much faster than Level 1, and requires a professionally-installed unit and dedicated circuit.  The installation cost will depend on several variables, such as your community’s on-site transformer and electrical service capacity, proximity of electric service to parking spaces and other things. While the expense of this option is greater, so are the benefits.  Level 2 delivers additional perks such as taking only 3-6 hours to fully charge a battery and adding up to 20 miles of range for each hour of charge. This makes it a good choice for electric cars that can provide ranges of 100 miles or more.

Check with the electrical experts
Understanding your community’s existing electrical infrastructure is a vital step that will help you decide what charging station works best for your community. As a start, 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 you’re unsure where to begin, check with your property manager.  A good management company will likely have relationships with quality service providers and vendors and can get you moving in the right direction.  It’s also 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.

Determine management of charging stations operations.
If you choose to install Level 2 charging stations, your board will need to decide who will own and operate them. Level 2 charging stations can be owned and/or managed by the association, or you can involve a third party to either own or manage these for a fee. Regardless of which option your association chooses, there will either be a flat monthly fee or cost for actual electrical usage. You will also want to work with your management company to determine billing processes, as well as consult with your association’s attorney on any amendments needed on the community governing documents.

Get the community charged up and spread the word
The best part is sharing the exciting news with your residents. Communicate the benefits and guidelines for using the charging stations frequently and through multiple channels to reach as many people as possible. This can include email messages, articles in your community newsletter or on your website, and notices in common areas. If your community or property management company has an automated 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 ResidentAlert system. 

As the number of electric cars on the road continues to climb, so does the demand for easily accessible charging stations. Communities taking a proactive approach to installing charging units are not only staying ahead of the trend, they are also making significant strides in enhancing residents’ lifestyles now and in the future. Charging stations can also help to promote a community’s “green” image, which can increase property values and attract new residents. For more information on how your community can improve quality of life, contact FirstService Residential.

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