A few months ago, I wrote a column about electric car charging in apartment blocks, and what we should do if the currently minimal demand suddenly takes off, with more strata owners agitating for some way of being able to charge their cars at their homes.
Reading the informed discussion that followed on the Flat Chat Forum, I realised that I – like many in strata – had this completely the wrong way around.
We have become brainwashed by years of using petrol pumps into thinking that the only way to fuel our cars is to drive up to an outlet, plug our cars in, and be ready to drive on in a matter of minutes.
The fact that very few of such outlets exists, is a major deterrent to buying an electric vehicle for most people in Australia.
But, hang on! Is that what we really need? Do we need to “fill up” while we are out on the road, or before we set off? Maybe en route in long journeys, but for inner-city runabouts, definitely not.
Here’s the thing – most electric cars come with an adaptor (for want of a better word) that allows you to charge up overnight from a normal three-pin electric socket (and I am indebted to Flat Chat strataguru Sir Humphrey for this enlightening perspective).
So, rather than pulling up to an electric “pump”, you just plug into the mains when you come home and the car is charged up and ready to go next morning. Not only that, you are using off-peak electricity, so it’s a lot cheaper.
And if your building isn’t run by climate change denialists, you might even have solar power in the block to make it cheaper to charge up during the day.
The downside is that, unless you can get direct access to your flat or townhouse’s electricity supply, you’d probably have to install a meter so that the owners corp could charge you for using its electricity.
So what you you do? Here are our pros and cons for electric car charging in your block.
BEST OPTION – Overnight off-peak charging
PROS: It’s convenient and a lot cheaper. Your car is quietly charging up while you are sleeping. Also, the installation is truly user-pays – the majority of owners don’t have to pay a cent or give up a square centimetre of common property.
CONS: You have to remember to plug in after you have driven the vehicle. Also, unless you are in a townhouse with an adjoining garage, you have to find a way of paying for common property electricity supplied via utility sockets in the car park, probably through a locked meter.
The cost for that is far from prohibitive – about $100 for a basic meter, plus installation – but it’s a consideration.
NEXT BEST OPTION – Individual fast charging
PROS: If you can’t be bothered with charging on off-peak power overnight, you can always install a fast charging unit in your own car space.
CONS: You have to install three-phase power, with all the cabling that requires, plus a meter so you can be charged for it, not to mention all the strata by-laws that would have to be written and approved. The cost for that could run to several thousand dollars.
NEXT WORST OPTION – Communal fast charging
PROS: Installation is at the owners’ corps expense and it’s as easy as driving up to a gas pump.
CONS: What happens when you need to charge up and get going and someone else is there before you? Or the equipment breaks down? Or the person already in the charging bay has gone off to have breakfast? Or, more to the point, no one else in the block wants it, so it never happens?
Dump the pump
When you think about it, the combination of easy access, cheaper electricity and minimal infrastructure makes the overnight “trickle” charge the obvious option.
I wouldn’t even look at the other possibilities until I had explored this thoroughly. Most modern blocks have electrical sockets in their car parks for basic domestic needs.
Encourage your owners corporation to add a catch-all by-law to allow for and regulate the installation of individual supply meters.
Then add a lockable socket and a meter, or, even better a meter that can only be used with an access code or swipe card, and you have access to greener and much cheaper power now and for the future.