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Alliance contractors crucial to helping stratas understand EV charging

Image of an EV charging in a parking garage
Get up to speed on three strata members' experiences getting EV charging installed at their buildings.

Strata councils cite hurdles in finding resources and getting expert help

As strata councils across B.C. are increasingly pressured to add Level 2 electric vehicle chargers to their parking areas, Alliance members are playing critical roles beyond the electrical work required. They perform an educational role as well.

We recently interviewed three strata council members who had a small number of charging stations installed in parking stalls at their apartment buildings. All were grateful for the help they eventually found from Alliance contractors, but said it can take time to contact the right contractor.

One Vancouver strata member said he found it difficult to get in touch with contractors, and guesses that the rush to take advantage of B.C.'s EV charger rebates was a factor. Another struggled to find someone who could deliver "a complete package" that included installation and a no-nonsense payment scheme for users of the chargers.

And a third said he had to deal with some misinformation before finding a contractor, and solution, that worked for his building.

"At one point, I was being told I had only one real charging option, but ended up with something that was completely customized for our specific use," says Robert Gutierrez, a Tesla owner who spearheaded the addition of Level 2 chargers to his building. "To find something that's scalable for your needs, and to get to a 'yes' state with your strata members, is not an insurmountable issue."

Guiterrez said the advice of an Alliance member not only helped him understand all the options. The contractor's ability to help sell a customized strategy at a condo owners' meeting proved vital. He recalls how one of his neighbours in particular, a vocal critic of the whole idea of electric cars, came aboard after that meeting.

"When my neighbour came to the meeting, I expected him to try to tear a hole in this whole thing," says Gutierrez. "At the end of the meeting, he walked up to shake my hand – back when we were allowed to shake hands – and said 'I might not believe in electric cars, but I believe that what you're doing is right.'"

Here are a few suggestions on how Alliance members can better respond to stratas' needs:

  • Be patient, as some stratas can take months (or years) to get support from residents.
  • Make yourself available to present options to strata councils and to meetings with residents.
  • Stay up to date on rebate offers and contact alliance@bchydro.com with any questions.
  • Be ready to explore a variety of options, from a few shared chargers in visitor parking areas to dedicated charging in individual stalls.
  • Explore a building's energy efficiency options, which can help free up capacity for charging.

Patience required as stratas struggle to find funding and support

There are online resources, such as evcondo.ca, to help stratas understand the basic challenges and issues around adding Level 2 charging. And BC Hydro's electric vehicles website will soon be adding more information specifically for multi-unit residential complexes.

But stratas need specific expertise on planning strategy and costing of work. This can be a big challenge for contractors, who often find the process can be slow as stratas deal with tight budgets and reluctance from residents.

Below is a look at how the three stratas arrived at different solutions to their charging needs.

No EV owners, no problem: a 19-storey Vancouver strata moves ahead

Steven Rudy admits to being reluctant to get the ball rolling when residents at his 120-unit downtown Vancouver building began asking about adding Level 2 EV charging to the building's parking garage about five years ago.

"At the time I remember saying, 'Well, we're not opposed to it, but it's not easy, and it would be a complicated thing," says the strata council member. "We explained that you have to run wiring right from the electrical room, and that it would be a big job. And they said, 'Oh, yeah, you're right. Okay, forget it.'"

A couple years later, Rudy found himself intrigued – but still not sold – by a presentation about charging at the Vancouver International Auto Show. The strata eventually paid $700 to get a report on the building's electrical capacity, and the news was good. There was room for EV charging without adding a costly transformer. Then they found an Alliance contractor that helped them develop a strategy that included installation, system design, a cost recovery plan, and energy management.

"The bundled package they offered incorporated the rebate, and the idea was that if we could just get seven people who could pay for individual hardware in their parking spots, we could get it done for $2,500 each," says Rudy. "The only amount billed directly to the strata was the amount covered by the rebate."

They wound up getting 10 people aboard, and even two months after the chargers were installed, no one in the building owns a plug-in electric vehicle.

"We got 10 people who were sort of forward thinking enough to just say 'Yeah, if I do it now, it will be installed for me whenever I get an electric car," says Rudy, who's among the original 10, and now on the hunt for the right EV. "So the race is on to see who gets the first car in the building."

One by one, the chargers will be activated, with each owner paying a $20-per-month administrative fee to the third-party charger provider Unico, plus electricity usage fees based on time and consumption. The smart chargers will decrease charging speeds at times when the building is using more power.

Rudy says installation was done without requiring the cost of an additional transformer, and that the estimated capacity should allow for up to 30 Level 2 chargers installed before a transformer is added. The contractor also included wiring to all levels of the parking garage, even to one level where no chargers have been installed yet.

At False Creek, a scalable solution with no burden on those without chargers

Not every strata is fortunate to have someone as determined and organized as Robert Gutierrez.

A Tesla owner who liked to go to Whistler and back on a single charge, but couldn't without overnight charging at home, Gutierrez got busy with his push to win over fellow owners in his strata complex near False Creek in Vancouver. Initial pushback just drove him to talk to more contractors who needed to deliver on three non-negotiable demands:

  • The solution couldn't use any of the strata's precious visitor parking spots.
  • The plan had to be scalable, starting with a few stations but set up so that the infrastructure could handle demand as it grew.
  • Costs needed to be a net zero for any residents who didn't want a charger installed in their parking spot.

With a background in procurement for the government, Gutierrez made a point of getting at least three quotes for the work. And his strata settled on the solution in which the vendor covered all up-front costs and charged a flat rate to subscribers. That made it an easier sell.

"Instead of having to figure out how to raise the funds to install the infrastructure – the conduit, the new panels, everything that controls the system – all I had to do was find seven subscribers," he said. "And five of the seven don't even have electric cars. They bought it because they wanted to get it done. And that was only possible because the [contractor] who made the presentation to the strata did an amazing job."

The other strata in the complex never got on board but wound up contributing in a roundabout way. They were charging a few EV drivers a monthly fee to plug into regular 110-volt outlets to trickle charge their vehicles, and two vehicles were connected to the meter in Gutierrez's strata. He asked for payment of the electricity used, and got it.

Each of the seven "subscribers" paid $3,850 each to cover the wiring and the hardware for a charger in their parking spot. The vendor applied the rebate – at $14,000, the maximum allowed per strata – to the costs of their work, and are set up to handle all the strata's future charging.

Gutierrez says that the vendor's energy management system "shares the juice" allotted to electric vehicle charging – about 350 amps – and that it could allow for expansion to 75 or 85 chargers.

"If we had that many, it would get us into the BC Government's guidelines of having 20% of vehicles electrified by 2030," he says.

Gutierrez says the vendor's energy management, combined with energy efficiency upgrades in the buildings, should allow for the strata to get the green light from BC Hydro to increase the amount of power used for charging vehicles. "If we had gone to a 30-amp circuit to each parking spot, under the 2012 electrical code, I think we only would have supported 12 or 13 cars. But under the 2018 electrical code, we can get to 85 cars. We can attach multiple [chargers] to a single circuit."

And if all goes according to plan, that could happen without the addition of a transformer. To free up more power for charging, the strata is looking for efficiencies in the building's elevators, pumps, and other systems, and by upgrading from fluorescent to far more efficient LED lighting.

"Earlier, I was looking at adding a 110-volt plug to my parking spot, and in our building, that was going to be a five or six thousand dollar option," he says. "Today, I'm getting 7 kW [per hour] from my [Level 2] charger that I paid $3,850 for, from a 40-amp, 220-volt circuit. That's not bad at all."

At a 7 kW-per-hour clip, a Tesla Model 3 will take less than seven hours to charge to 80%, while many electrics with less range and smaller battery packs can be charged to 80% in three to five hours at that rate. Most EV owners rely on at-home, overnight charging for the bulk of their charging.

A huge complex decides to start with two shared dual-port chargers

Two stratas, four buildings, around 600 units, and growing interest in electric vehicle charging. The strata council waited, then decided that it couldn't pass on rebates available.

"We decided to install shared chargers in our visitor area," says Tim Lau. "Because we have four towers, we decided to put one on the east side of the complex and one on the west side. Each charger has two stalls dedicated to that. And for now, we'll restrict it to resident charging only."

Overall installation costs for the two dual chargers was around $27,000 after $8,000 in rebates. That includes the cost of adding cell boosters in the parking area, required for the chargers' communications, but also a plus for the convenience and security [911 calls] of all who use the parkade.

Not included, and a bit of a surprise for the strata, is an estimated more than $3,500 for the green paint, signage, and protective bollards required for the four shared stalls.

"That's a lot of money for little things that you don't really think about when you're focussing on installation and charger costs," says Lau, as part of his advice to other stratas looking at adding shared charging spots.

Each resident will be charged per use, at a rate of $2 per hour for the first three hours, and $5 per hour after that. "Hopefully that will encourage residents to leave the area for use by other owners who need a charge,' says Lau, who guesses that 15 to 20 residents in his strata own electric vehicles.

Lau stresses the importance of jumping on research and selling the idea of adding charging as early as possible to give residents time to adjust to the idea. He says the consensus in his strata was that adding charging was part of improving the building and making it more marketable. And while the strata needed to dip into its contingency fund to pay for the work, the visibility of rebates was a key factor in swaying opinion.

"We waited until there were rebates available," he says. "Maybe because of that, vendors were busy. Expect there may be some delays and that you might have patient to get what you need."