Goldview Blog

Quiet Riot: Condo developers catch on to electric vehicle

It may be the quietest revolution ever — the newly launched electric vehicles that silently whiz past are expected to take over half the road by 2030.

In the not-too-distant future, says Lewis Poplak, vice-president of development and construction at Triangle West Developments, electric vehicles may even “eclipse combustion vehicles once the technology improves and becomes more affordable.”
Not only are EVs quiet and cheaper to run — half a cent per kilometre, as opposed to 6¢/km for gas — they are incredibly green, says Fraser Stark, who recently launched a green transportation company. He says an internal combustion engine vehicle turns only 15% to 20% of the gasoline’s energy into torque, and the rest is “uncombusted hydrocarbons and heat.” An electric motor, however, transfers up to 95% of its chemical energy into torque. Even factoring in the emissions required to create electricity, the EV carbon footprint is low.
Because EVs have a high acceleration rate, luxury buyers are also purchasing — BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Audi are among the several carmakers introducing EV models.

Anticipating a surge in EVs on the road, the City of Toronto recently issued a directive to new-build condos, that if they are “providing more than the minimum parking required under the zoning bylaw, any additional spaces must provide roughed-in conduits to allow for future electrical outlets for plug-in electrical vehicles.”

Condo developers, especially downtown, have been quick to pick up the idea. Developer Gary Silverberg, for example, said it took him “all of five minutes to say yes when the idea of roughing in up to 15% of ART Condo’s parking was on the table.”
When Triangle West first launched Art in 2010, Mr. Poplak knew “it was just a matter of time before electric cars would be commercially available, so we instructed the electrical engineer to provide enough parking spots serviced with appropriate outlets and meters, and that the overall electrical capacity was sufficient to meet future needs.”

For condos, however, electric cars pose a problem. They’re easy to charge with a nearby outlet — a no-brainer when you have a house, but trickier at a condo.

As Tridel’s sustainability advisor Jamie James points out, “the technology is so new, we’re still in the middle of figuring things out. For example, how do you know what percentage of parking spots is right? And since you don’t know who will buy [an EV], it’s hard to know where to place the outlets.”

Context’s director of design and marketing Craig Taylor agrees. At Market Wharf’s two phases, 20% of overall parking space has been committed to EV outlets. But since nobody has a crystal ball foretelling who will have an EV, Context is “holding back the EV outlet roughed-in spaces until the end of the assignment process. If there are only EV roughed-in spots left, we will assign them as needed, regardless of whether the purchasers have electric cars.”

If a buyer already has an EV, he can upgrade the parking spot to include the rough-in. That is attached to his property and goes with resale. It’s not hard to accommodate EVs in condos, Mr. Taylor says, “if you plan up-front and provide separate meters.”
The bigger challenge comes with retrofitting condos — the issue is not only how to pay the initial costs, but also how to handle the maintenance fee structure for a condo without individual hydro metering.

It’s something that property manager Michael Goldrich has looked into, since fielding inquiries from condo managers who introduced the EV idea to the condo board. But after asking if owners are thinking about purchasing an EV, the boards “aren’t seeing a great demand for it.”
But Mr. Goldrich admits these are early days, and he has been researching possible solutions on his own. One possibility, currently used in California, is designating a visitor parking spot for the outlet and meter, so that EV owners can charge up — like filling up at a gas station.
The problem is that the cars still take several hours to charge, even with a 220-volt outlet. So a better option would be individual outlets with sub-meters; more condo buildings are already switching to sub-meters for unit hydro billing. (Studies show sub-metering reduces overall energy use by 50%.)

Who will pay for rewiring a parking spot isn’t all that clear. Common fund expenses require the approval of two-thirds of owners, and reserve funds are for emergencies or unusual repairs. In theory, condo owners could install outlets themselves, Mr. Stark says, but maintenance and insurance must be considered, so having a reliable source of information would help.

As for anticipating who might purchase an EV and need an outlet, nodes or junction boxes throughout the parking garage would make it easier to run a length of wire to the specific parking spot as needed. And if the building’s overall power capacity isn’t enough, Mr. Stark thinks that, rather than adding another transformer, it would be better to install a load-shedding device with a programmable logic controller to measure the building’s power use.

In the evenings, especially, power gets tapped out or close to the limit, leaving only what’s left for charging EVs. Since most charging occurs overnight, power is in greater supply. It’s also greenest — powered by wind farms, nuclear or hydroelectric generation, rather than natural gas or coal, as at peak times.

Outlets could be programmed to start charging at midnight, with an override function if the driver needs to have the car fully charged later that evening.

Like everything new, there are lots of questions. But as Mr. Goldrich says, “you can always find an answer if you’re looking for one.”