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Shock of the new – is your block ready for electric cars?
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JimmyT
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07/07/2018 - 12:52 pm
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You’ve probably seen them in your car park; power points on the odd pillar or wall and a cable snaking off towards the bonnet of a car, where it’s attached to a trickle charger for the vehicle’s battery.

Strictly speaking, these residents are stealing owners corporation electricity but the costs are negligible – barely worth raising an eyebrow, let alone a motion at a committee meeting.

But hang on a minute – what if that’s not a standard battery charger it’s hooked up to?  What if it’s an electric car?

Now it depends on the car, how much it’s used and what time of day the charging is taking place, but a house resident can sign up for a package from power companies like Ergon and AGL that would allow them to charge their electric cars overnight for $1 a day – maybe less.

OK, what about apartment residents?  The owners corporation electricity probably isn’t on a pre-paid, off-peak plan and once two or three owners realise that, overnight, they can charge little electric runabouts they use around the city during the day, the costs start to mount.

Your committee curmudgeons are already bellowing “lock the power points and ban the blighters”.  But that’s not going to wash in this day and age.

As long ago as 2013, Brisbane City Council was anticipating a time when electric charging stations would be a compulsory component of apartment block and housing development approvals.

Only last year, announcing that it was setting up 40 fast charge stations around NSW,  the NRMA said that the spread of electric cars in Australia was being stymied partly by the lack of accessible power points.

Domestically speaking, it’s not just cars that are an issue. With an ageing population, the demand for charging stations for mobility scooters can only rise. Will they be any less essential than ramps and level access in a planning application?

Getting back to those communal power points, how can a strata committee prepare their building for the new wave of electric transport?

The technology already exists for locked-off power points that can only be activated by a card or code, allowing individual owners to be charged for the electricity they use. But the cost of putting one between every two car spaces is probably prohibitive.

And what about individual fast charging points just for your car, which can fully ‘fuel’ a car in 30 minutes?

That would require three-phase electrical supply to a dedicated point, which means you are going to need permission from your owners corp – probably a special by-law – for all the electrical work and cabling.

Even if money is no object, internal politics could stymie your plans.  A special resolution by-law requires a 75 per cent vote at a general meeting in most states.  All you need is a dedicated cohort of climate change deniers to turn up and your plans could be in trouble.

The sensible answer might be to ask your committee to start thinking about converting a visitor parking space to a user-pays communal charging station (no local council in its right mind would object to the implied change of use from the development approval’s terms).

And there must be a few nooks and crannies where scooter charging points could be placed.

There’s lots of information about electric vehicle charging available on the internet, starting with the electriccarsguide.com.au website.

So start planning now so that when a need turns into a demand, it doesn’t come as too much of a shock.

This column originally appeared in the Australian Financial Review.

 

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Sir Humphrey
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08/07/2018 - 9:55 am
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I write as one who has driven an electric car since 2009. Our household now has two cars, both plug-ins. 

First up, I would like to caution against having one or a few relatively fast charging outlets unless that really is the only possibility. A level 3 ‘rapid’ charger that is almost fast enough to approach being used like a petrol pump, say 50kW or more, is really expensive. A slower but still fast-ish shared level 2 option could be a recipe for conflict. What do you do when you need to charge but somebody has parked in the charging spot and can’t be found, perhaps for days? Do you really want to arrange car shuffles with your neighbour at midnight so you can both get a charge? 

What you really want as an EV driver is assured access to a charging spot in your own allocated parking space. It does not matter if this slow charging. Even an ordinary 10A power point is sufficient, though often the slow charging cord supplied with vehicles has a 15A plug. My vehicles routinely charge at 6 to 10A and this has been just fine for nearly a decade. Let’s say you can plug in to a 15A powerpoint and charge at 3kW. Four hours is enough top up to add 50km of range. An ordinary power point is enough to support virtually all local driving patterns using overnight or daily charging where one routinely parks. ‘Rapid’ ‘level 3 DC’ charging (such as the NRMA is installing) is for extended trips out of town. Assured access to slow level 2 charging where you routinely park is much more useful than uncertain access to a faster outlet. It is a simple change of habit to plug in and ‘top up’ routinely rather than ‘fill up’ intermittently. 

As it happens, I am proposing a motion to our AGM in a few weeks time on EV charging. The motion seeks to put in place all the various permissions and so on to enable EV charging to be gradually added as required at the expense of individual unit owners. Our situation is particularly complex.

Some could charge from their own units in their own attached carports. They are ready to go with the simple addition of a power point wired back to their own meter. Plenty will have a power point in their carports already. If they think they need faster charging, they can have the required hardware installed, though I am sure they will come to realise it was a waste of money. 

A further set of units could charge in their allocated spaces on common property from an outlet wired back to their own meter because their allocated parking space is sufficiently close to the unit. For this they need permission (part of my motion) to have a cable installed to traverse a few meters of common property.

Most of the remaining units have allocated spaces in shared carports on common property where the carport has an owners corporation meter cabinet adjacent with 3-phase wiring in place but only a light load actually used. The spare capacity is sufficient to allow several 15A or 20A outlets on each of the phases, enough to supply each of the 5 to 12 units that use the adjacent parking area but it is too far to run cable back to their units. For these we will need sub-metering so the OC can bill the relevant units. Another part of the motion is the OC agreeing to provide a utility service to these units. 

A handful of units have allocated parking that is neither close to their unit’s meter nor an OC meter cabinet. For those we will have to work with the local network operator to find a solution. They have a service obligation to provide what is needed. They are also entitled to recoup their installation costs. They tell me that if they can reasonably expect to recoup those costs through the network component of the electricity retail sales, then the upfront cost to those unit owners could be low or nil. The motion states that the OC will co-operate with the unit owners and the network operator to find a satisfactory outcome for these few units. 

A further wrinkle is that the Australian Energy Regulator regards what we are proposing for behind OC meters to be an ’embedded network’ requiring a ‘network exemption’. The network distribution and retailing of electricity is regulated by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER). The AER has responded to a query and is of the view that “EV charging does not constitute the sale of energy under the National Energy Retail Law”, which “implies that no retail exemption is required …” They do not regard sales of electricity to vehicles to be retailing since the supply is to a vehicle, not premises.  “… However, there would be a requirement to obtain relevant network exemptions …Independent advice should be sought on the interpretation of the Guideline to which type of exemption and exemption category may apply …” From the AER’s published guidelines, categories of network exemptions “include situations where electricity supply is incidental to the main purpose of a business, such as networks within … apartments … They are generally motivated by considerations other than profit… Situations that deemed exemptions apply to include selling or supplying electricity to … electric vehicle charging stations”. To cover what might be required, the motion includes “The OC will take advice on the category of network exemption required.

A difficulty with retro-fitting is the chicken and egg problem. Will people want to spend money on an EV charging solution when no-one has an EV, but who will get an EV if they can’t charge it where they park? 

It is worth understanding something of how an Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) outlet works. It negotiates with a vehicle to say how much current the on-board charge can take from an outlet. While ordinary ‘dumb’ power points are sufficient for now (used with a portable EVSE charge cord), an upgrade is to install ‘smart’ hard-wired EVSE outlets that communicate with each other and the vehicles. These can initially tell the attached vehicles to only charge at a low rate (as low as 6A) when many vehicles are attached and charging at the different outlets. As some vehicles finish charging or unplug, the EVSEs can tell the remaining vehicles that they may now charge at higher rates. By the time there are only a few vehicles left charging, the last will be told they can charge at some maximum rate (say 32A). Such networked EVSEs can also record what they have supplied at each outlet for electronic billing. 

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JimmyT
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09/07/2018 - 2:57 pm
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I knew that post would spark a comprehensive response from Sir H. I am sorely tempted to turn the above information into a handy guide for the electrically inclined.

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JimmyT
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09/07/2018 - 3:03 pm
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Sir Humphrey said

What you really want as an EV driver is assured access to a charging spot in your own allocated parking space. It does not matter if this slow charging. Even an ordinary 10A power point is sufficient, though often the slow charging cord supplied with vehicles has a 15A plug.   

Perhaps the smart move would be to establish protocols and by-law templates that would allow owners to install the necessary meters and cabling at their own expense.  Most cars aren’t used between 10pm and 7am – plenty of time for a top-up.

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Sir Humphrey
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09/07/2018 - 10:45 pm
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JimmyT said
…I am sorely tempted to turn the above information into a handy guide for the electrically inclined.  

Feel free to write the first draft and I’ll give you comments. 

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Sir Humphrey
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09/07/2018 - 10:50 pm
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JimmyT said

Perhaps the smart move would be to establish protocols and by-law templates that would allow owners to install the necessary meters and cabling at their own expense.  

This is one of the things my motion for our upcoming AGM seeks to do. In the ACT we have some different mechanisms so it is not exactly NSW-style by-laws required. On top of that, our particular ‘Units Plan’ has an unusual parking set-up that interacts. 

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Ray
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12/07/2018 - 6:16 pm
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this is what has been forgotten in the bold new world of car ownership, in Sydney most units are old, in the block I live everybody has been limited to about 25 watts, turn on 2 heaters and the kettle and it is another run to switchboard, not fun on a rainy winter night, and are they doing anything about this in those monstrosities being built to warehouse the population, the size of 2 suburbs in the 80s now covers one block, and there are many being built with no interest in the future, just what can be squeezed out of the dollar now!!

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Sir Humphrey
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18/07/2018 - 9:28 am
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Ray,

I am in the ACT but one of the questions I had for the electricity network operator here was about how to cater for the small set of units that could not be accommodated for EV charging in the manner proposed for 95% of our owners. We would need a new connection to the mains in a location away from all the others. It would require trenches, heavy duty cables and so on. 

The response was that the network operator has a service obligation to supply whatever we felt we needed. That could get expensive and they are also entitled to recoup their costs. However, if a case can be made that they can reasonably anticipate that their costs will be eventually recouped through the network component of the additional retail electricity sales, then the up-front cost to us could be low or nil. 

So, if your units are chronically undersupplied, even before considering EVs, then you might not necessarily be up for a large expense to get it fixed. It might take some ringing around, effort, writing and co-ordinating, but perhaps not impossible. 

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oscholin
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06/10/2018 - 3:31 pm
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This is an important topic and it will become more and more so as the uptake of EVs will take off. My own situation is that we currently live in a house and to charge our Nissan Leaf is very straightforward in the garage. As Sir Humphrey states, you really only need a 10A power point to do a slow charge overnight, although a 15A power point would be better.

We are now looking at downsizing to a unit and it will be an “off the plan” purchase. The contract for the unit will be available in a week or so. I have written a letter to the developer and asked them to make the building electric car ready. The development will be around 90 units with underground parking. What I specifically asked for is an outlet at our parking space, connected to our electricity meter. As I see it, to prepare and do such an installation at the same time as the building is being constructed should be fairly easy and straightforward.

The agent has now hinted that the developer probably is going to ignore our wish for a power outlet at our parking space. My question is, is there any workable solution to this situation? As the contract hasn’t been signed, can we add a condition to say that the purchase won’t go ahead unless the power point is installed? Would the developer care? For us, this issue is probably a deal breaker, no power point, no purchase. We are happy to pay for the work to run the cable, which shouldn’t be that difficult if it is done when the building is constructed.

And in the future, I think the building code should be changed so in all new buildings there should be access to a metered power point at every parking space.

Any view on this would be appreciated

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Boronia
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07/10/2018 - 4:02 pm
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JimmyT said

Perhaps the smart move would be to establish protocols and by-law templates that would allow owners to install the necessary meters and cabling at their own expense.  Most cars aren’t used between 10pm and 7am – plenty of time for a top-up.  

A lot would depend on the location and layout of the parking areas, but it may be more efficient (financially and operationally) for the OC to have a basic single “bulk distribution” system installed capable of servicing all lots, rather than have individual owners running their own individual supplies?

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