Lawrence Williams’ first winter as the new owner of an electric vehicle went well. Unfortunately for the Beacon Hill resident, this winter isn’t looking as good.
Williams, who got his car in late 2018, used to simply charge his Tesla Model 3 using a power-equipped bollard in the parking lot outside his condo.
But his situation has since changed. He’s struggling with a problem many future electric vehicle (EV) owners — especially apartment or condo dwellers — may be likely to face as the vehicles become more popular: he doesn’t have access to a battery charger at home.
Williams’ case exemplifies an ongoing debate: Could ever-increasing demand for chargers from electric vehicle purchasers drive their installation at multi-residential buildings, or should charger installation and availability precede EV buying decisions by rental apartment tenants and condo owners?
With the federal government looking to have one-fifth of all passenger cars, SUVs and trucks sold in Canada running on electricity by 2026, under new regulations proposed by Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, last week, the need for chargers is likely to grow.
In Williams’ case, after someone noticed he was using the parking lot bollard a chain of restrictions followed on where he could juice up his car that left him “always frantically trying to find places to charge.
“I know other people have had similar problems, and condo charging solution discussions have come up from time to time at the monthly meetings at the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa (EVCO), but there hasn’t been a whole lot of movement on it,” says Williams, who is a member of the local EV advocacy group.
His condo’s board denied him permission to continue charging via the bollard even though he offered to pay more than the regular monthly parking fees to cover electricity costs.
Williams also learned that connecting the parking-lot bollard to the electrical meter on his condo building more than 40 metres away was prohibitively expensive. In addition, a petitioner eventually obtained enough signatures to result in a condo association vote against installing electric vehicle chargers at all.
For Williams, solutions could be found such as a commercial public charger in a building near Blair Station. If he was desperate, he’d drive to the downtown Rideau Centre — where he’d also pay a parking fee.
His situation has improved in the past couple of years with more public chargers in more spots. But those which Williams now uses most are still in a location a 10- to 15-minute walk from his condo — he’ll leave the vehicle there while it’s charging — or in his mother’s newer, charger-equipped apartment building.
Under the proposed regulations pitched by Guilbeault just before Christmas, the federal government wants zero-emission vehicles such as plug-in hybrids and EVs to constitute 100 per cent of new sales in Canada by 2035.
In the first six months of 2022, sales of fully-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles made up just 7.2 per cent of new car registrations, while for all of 2021, the share was 5.2 per cent. In 2021, there were 83,200 registrations overall, led by Quebec (42.8 per cent, or 35,600), British Columbia (27.7 per cent, or 23,000) and Ontario (22.9 per cent, or 19,000).
Raymond Leury, president of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa advocacy group, says Quebecers own about 150,000 EVs.
“The share in Outaouais is a bit lower,” Leury says. “That being said, per capita, there are many more electric cars on the Quebec side in the Outaouais than there is in Ottawa.
“We hear all the time from some owners or prospective owners that they would love to have an EV, but they can’t because they can’t charge at home,” he says.
During his successful 2022 election campaign, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe promised to transition Ottawa’s gas-powered vehicle fleet to fully electric or hybrid by 2030 and to “champion” EV adoption by police and other emergency services.
Sutcliffe’s climate platform also said he would allow Hydro Ottawa to install 200 EV charging stations on a cost-recovery basis, but, beyond the combined demand that additional EVs would place on electrical grids, public charging may not be an option for every owner, nor can everyone attach a charger to an exterior wall or inside the garage of their own home.
Natural Resources Canada, a federal government department, says more than one-third of Canadians live in multi-unit residential buildings, like condos and apartment complexes.
“Most of the time, it’s going to be the owner of the apartment building who’s going to be interested, or not interested, in installing chargers,” says Daniel Breton, president of Electric Mobility Canada, another EV promoter.
“For those apartment building owners, if they start installing chargers, this will become an incentive for people who want to buy an electric car to go live in that apartment building. To me, I see this not as a cost, but as an investment. But not everyone sees it like that.”
John Dickie, chair of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization, says there has been little movement in that direction so far.
“Most tenants as of yet do not have electric cars, and, of course, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg because you’re not going to have tenants with electric cars unless you offer electric chargers. But, if you don’t have tenants with electric cars, there’s no need for electric chargers,” says Dickie, whose association represents owners and managers of more than 40,000 rental suites in Ottawa, including all of the largest private rental housing providers and several small- and medium-sized providers.
Installing chargers isn’t cheap, Dickie notes, plus safety matters. “There are issues of the electrical loads on the buildings. The people who install them are all set to have us install them, but, to be frank, pick-up is not proceeding very quickly.”
Charging options for EVs go from Level 1 (regular 120-volt household current) to Level 2 (240-volt, like those for larger appliances such as dryers and stoves) to Level 3 (direct current fast charging, available only at some public charging stations).
The Ottawa Region Landlords Association’s fall 2022 newsletter included an opinion article arguing that upgrading electrical services in older buildings could cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for replacing transformers.
Dickie says Eastern Ontario Landlords’ Organization members are “absolutely” concerned about retrofitting costs.
“People have started to use more electrical appliances. Twenty years ago, tenants didn’t have computers, they didn’t have big-screen TVs. Now everybody has computers and big-screen TVs. So that means you need more power in the building,” Dickie says.
“On the other hand, the devices we use have tended to become more efficient. Each device alone needs less power. So, there is a question with older buildings: How is that balance played out? And, so, it’s much more economical to install an EV charging station if there is some excess power in the building rather than if you have to run in an additional power line. That’s expensive.”
Leury says Ontario’s electrical code allows for “charging management systems” so electric vehicles in each building wouldn’t charge all at once.
“There are cases that exist right now with charging systems that one circuit will support four chargers. So you don’t have to put so much load on the electrical system, and the reality is, when you look at the average Canadian’s commute, it’s only 30 to 50 kilometres a day. With a typical 240(-volt) charging system, that’s only about an hour or so of charging time.”
Natural Resources Canada has a $680-million Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program offering funds covering up to 50 per cent of total project costs to install chargers in eligible structures, specifically those with common entrances and at least three storeys or footprints greater than 600 metres squared.
As of early October, the program had funded more than 70 projects putting more than 4,500 chargers in multi-unit buildings, workplaces and for use by light-duty fleets. Another Request for Proposals focusing on public places, on-street, multi-unit buildings, workplaces and vehicle fleets closed Aug. 11, with funding decisions expected “by late 2022.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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