The EV Evolution
From the Volume 15, Spring 2023 issue of the CCI GHC Condo News Magazine
Improvement is borne out of need to solve problems and a constant, seemingly instinctual drive for mankind, to evolve. We are seemingly never satisfied with the status quo.
Present day problems are many, one that includes a goal of “greening” our world. While there are innumerable factors driving this transformation that are well documented elsewhere, the specific focus of this piece is on the evolution of the Electric Vehicle (EV).
Specifically we explore the impact on Condominiums in light of increasing conversations surrounding EVs as they strive to adapt to this evolution, and to the ever-changing needs and wants of their communities.
The Drive for Change
Regardless of varied positions on what is driving the shift towards electric vehicles, they are seemingly here to stay. Governments around the world are increasingly incentivizing them. Consumers are demanding them. Automakers old and new are continually entering the fray; developing and improving upon battery technology, with some planning to discontinue manufacturing internal combustion models altogether in the not too distance future. Infrastructures are adapting. Electric vehicles are no longer a niche rather having become part of the mainstream.
Condominium Community Challenges
In Condominiums, the challenges are numerous but typically stem from how to best adapt their existing infrastructures in a fair, equitable, and cost-effective manner to the changing needs and wants of their communities. Increasingly, installation of electric vehicle charging stations (EVCs) is a hot topic. There is no one approach. One-size definitely does not fit all.
In some communities, a small group or even individual owners are seeking permission to install EVCs for their personal use, while at others the approach is to provide availability to all (whether or not there is current demand). The latter approach is somewhat of a “future proofing”, and proactive one. While the former is more reactive, catering to individuals on an as-needed basis, there are of course innumerable iterations between these extremes. In all cases, early questions arise surrounding existing electrical capacity and whether it is sufficient to service EVCs. If not sufficient, what needs to be done to make it so.
Solutions are as varied as the communities themselves. In conventional “townhome” settings, individual unit owners can typically arrange EVC installations themselves within their unit boundaries, connected to their in-unit, sole servicing, electrical systems that do not have consequence on the community at large. While most Corporations may still have requirement for unit owner EVC installations to adhere to some sort of community standard, including advising, and receiving permission from, Boards of Directors (BODs); in our experience, such authorizations are typically formalities.
In multi-unit residential building (MURB) communities, the parameters can look significantly different as there is typically some sort of “shared” service that declarations commonly define as “service provided to more than one unit”. In these scenarios, BODs and their Property Managers, will typically be required to consider the overall direction of their communities, which unfortunately can often take a frustratingly, albeit necessarily, lengthy process (at least from the perspective of unit owners who want it now).
The Conventional Approach
The conventional approach in MURBs is to determine the available capacity of the common electrical system to service EVCs. This typically involves having a suitably qualified professional evaluate the existing electrical system for available, spare electrical capacity. In turn, a related report will often advise that the building can support a certain number of EVCs.
While some communities may find that they have sufficient capacity to support a reasonably high percentage of EVCs relative to the number of units, far too often this number is not as large as everyone might like. In nearly all cases, buildings would not have available capacity to provide service to all units, should that eventually become a requirement (let alone for other non-EVC future requirements).
BODs are then faced with deciding whether unit owners can install individually owned EVCs on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis, which invariably raises questions of fairness, equity, and cost effectiveness. Furthermore, early EVC installations typically require at least some minimal “upgrade” of infrastructure that later EVC installations can “piggy-back” off of, meaning that earlier installations bear higher costs than later ones. Again, more questions of cost fairness and equity to these earlier unit owners in particular, but also regarding who owns the infrastructure between the common electrical systems and unit owner EVCs.
Another approach involves “common element owned” EVCs, that are fully installed, expensed, and owned by the Condominium Corporations, with use available ‘first come, first serve’ (such as you might encounter in public parking lots) although without specific right of ownership to any individual unit. It is relatively simple nowadays for payment for electricity (and service ‘rental’) to be on-demand by credit card, smartphone, or other suitable method. While less individually convenient perhaps, as courtesy would suggest that vehicles be removed from EVCs once charged, this configuration is perceived as more equitable given they are available to all. In time however, as the number of EVs in a community increase, EVC demand may ultimately exceed availability.
Increasing overall electrical capacity would be a further potential solution. The expense and logistics of adding capacity in this fashion would require coordination with related electrical utilities, building authorities, and others having jurisdiction. If even possible, it is likely to be a less desirable approach. It is nonetheless an option that could be pursued.
As various technologies and ideas continue to rapidly evolve, existing capacities and creative solutions may further extend the service available based on existing infrastructure.
The “Smart” Approach
Changing building needs have led to ingenuity. Companies have developed technologies to work within existing building electrical capacities while being able to provide service to a progressively larger group of EV owners. Increasingly, “smart” chargers have come onto market and are being used in an increasing number of community systems. In general, these systems work by sharing available capacity amongst all EVs connected to the system at a given time. The chargers automatically adjust to provide more or less individual charging capacity, commonly as a proportion of total system capacity.
Imagine an electrical system that has capability to provide “full” charging capacity to 20 EVs at once. Now imagine that 40 “smart” chargers are connected to that system. In simple terms, that means that if 20 EVs or less are connected at once, they will each charge to their full capacity, i.e. their fastest rate. As soon as the 21st EV connects, the smart chargers will automatically distribute charging capacity proportionally amongst the 21 EVs by dialing down each one slightly, in this instance to about 95% on each EV. 30 vehicles would be at about 67%. While a full 40 vehicles connected at once would each receive 50% charging capacity proportionally in this example.
This smart approach works equally well going the other way. As vehicles become charged, the electrical capacity they were using is given back to the system and each charger automatically dials up slightly based on the returned capacity, until once again there are 20 vehicles or less requiring charging at which time those remaining could again charge at their full rate.
In practical terms, this approach harnesses the idea that full and fastest charging is not needed at all times (or even most of the time), or necessarily all at once by all vehicles. Therefore, why would we need full, individual, on-demand charging at all times when such system would not be in use for the majority of its existence? Thinking further about when the majority of vehicles are not in use — such as for long, overnight periods — leads to further question as to what reason could possibly be needed for full capacity, fast, on-demand charging at all? When we start contextualizing ordinary, day-to-day use, and challenging conventional thinking, many more options come to light.
For completeness of discussion, some more dynamic systems can be configured in a “priority” capacity, meaning that new EVs connecting to a system initially having available to them a larger than proportionate share of charging capacity; the intent being to get some quick range restoration while others that have been connected for longer would already have a larger portion of their range restored.
Smart chargers combine with any conventional approach, simply extending the service to a greater number of units. The possible configurations are virtually endless, and customizable to the needs of any community. This smart approach would also be suited to townhomes, should there not exist sufficient electrical panel capacity in a conventional approach.
The Even “Smarter” Approach
While still somewhat theoretical, taking the “smart” approach a step further – by using smart chargers that communicate with individual suite electrical panels, available charging capacity at a given time is limited to the remaining capacity of the in-suite panels regardless of total system availability. In this way, unit owners are in full control of their EVC capacity without exceeding their equitable share of electricity while the building overall remains within the existing electrical system capacity.
This methodology does not mean making direct connections between parking stalls and individual unit electrical panels. Rather, connections would be made to nearby garage common electrical rooms, with communication devices installed at individual EVCs and the unit electrical panels receiving the service to determine available community electrical capacity at a given time. Individual owners are still using “their” electricity, but simply making use of the “common area” infrastructure to deliver it to their charging station in a creative and convenient way.
Technologies are emerging to take just this kind of approach, and in doing so, almost every building is already “future proofed” in this way and available to everyone.
Regardless of the approach taken, there would of course still be some leadership required from BODs and Property Managers, as well as related logistics, including potentially some new infrastructure installations, the degree to which depends on the desired type of service to the community. Overall cost, and philosophical considerations not discussed here also need to be taken into account.
In addition to obvious expert technical guidance that should be sought, not only in relation to the EV system itself but also to potential building alterations that may be required, some sort of EV policy should be developed for every community, with corresponding legal advice, and by-laws passed as needed. In some older, bulk metered communities there are additional administrative and equity challenges to be resolved (requiring further legal guidance, as it can easily be seen as unfair when an individual is able to use common element electricity to charge their private EV). Overall community desires should be considered, along with a long-term vision, while understanding that technologies and solutions continue to evolve rapidly; meaning that there may be more solutions tomorrow than today but that also challenges current conversations around system “future proofing”.
There may also be marketing considerations in relation to salability and/or rental of individual units, as well as any number of other community specific factors.
Whatever the current course of any community, and thoughts on the current evolution; EVs are here to stay!
Brown & Beattie Ltd., a building science engineering firm dedicated to providing clear and sensible building improvement, maintenance, and repair planning advice by listening to clients’ objectives. Mr. Nixon is licensed with Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) and holds a Building Science Specialist (BSS) designation.
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