Get ready for the electric car revolution

Is your block ready for the electric car revolution? A few weeks ago, we discussed in Flat Chat what might be needed for the day that can’t be too far away when residents demand access to an electricity supply to charge the batteries in their electric vehicles.

More likely, to be honest, is the potential for owners to start “stealing” power from the common property sockets set up in car parks for cleaning equipment and the like – and then for someone to complain.

So what do you do? It just so happens that Sir Humphrey, one of our illustrious Stratagurus, has recently proposed an upgrade of electrical supplies for his scheme.

And in doing so, has put together what amounts to a guide for the rest of us. Sir Humphrey’s scheme includes a mixture of townhouses with attached garages and their own electricity supplies, remote parking in a common property garage with common property power supplies, and remote external parking which is not attached to any supply. So all options are covered.

Sir Humphrey also explores the various options, including three-phase fast chargers and overnight “trickle” charging on existing sockets, as well as whether owners corporations can legally “on-sell” electricity to residents

So here, for your edification and enlightenment, is our edit of the more generally applicable bits from a car charging proposal recently presented to Sir Humphrey’s strata scheme. For Flatchatters interested in joining the electric vehicle (EV) revolution, Sir H also highly recommends this strata-specific guide.

The charge of the EV brigade

Electric vehicles (EVs) are evolving rapidly. A new generation of vehicles has greater diversity, better performance and lower prices. Sales may well climb steeply in the next few years.

Various countries and major vehicle manufacturers have announced deadlines for the phasing out of new non-plug-in vehicles. The NRMA is rolling out a fast charging network along major routes through NSW and the ACT to enable longer distance travel but it expects that most charging will occur at domestic premises since that is generally most convenient and inexpensive.

Therefore it is likely that demand for EV charging in common property parking areas will increase, perhaps more quickly than anyone expects. It is likely that most residents will want to be able to plug in where they park.

For your scheme to remain a desirable place to live, it should find a way to provide battery-charging outlets to all residents as that need arises.

Near and not-so dear

The optimum option  would be to allow residents to charge a plug-in vehicle in their own parking space, if and when they buy an EV, using a charging outlet from their own units’ electricity meters.

This would give them greater choice and independence, and it would ensure that sufficient electrical supply capacity remained for other residents from common property electricity supply points.

Units with attached carports may already have power points in the carport and an electrician could advise whether any upgrade was necessary. In some cases it might be enough to simply swap the socket for a different outlet.

Some apartment or townhouses with close but not attached parking areas and garages might be able to cable their power supply across common property (with owner corp permission).  Like residents with attached garages, these units would be charged through their own electricity meters.

User-pays for shared power

Residents who didn’t have attached or adjacent parking could charge their EVs from outlets connected via relatively uncomplicated installations to existing common property electricity supply points.

In a nutshell, this would be a power supply running from common property electricity to a meter that would tell the owners corp how much of their electricity had been used, allowing them to charge accordingly.

A small meter at each parking area would enable the OC to bill each unit pro-rata for the cost added to the OC’s electricity accounts by the additional usage.

The EC would read the sub-meters and the data would be used to add an extra levy line to the accounts of the relevant units. Furthermore, any unit owners who wished to install an EV charging outlet in their allocated parking spaces would be responsible for all associated costs.

Hook me up

Parking spots that are close to neither a common property supply point nor the residents’ units, it’s possible that additional supply points could be installed by the electricity network operator, who may do so at little or no cost if they think they can recoup their costs through the increased sale of electricity.

Shared rapid charging docks

When people think of electric cars, they think about rapid charging stations where you can “fill up” with electricity like you would at a petrol pump.  But if they can be avoided, Sir Humphrey doesn’t recommend these for strata schemes, for a variety of reasons:

  • It would be inconvenient, as queuing is likely. It could even lead to conflict, especially if someone left their vehicle blocking the charging space and couldn’t be contacted.
  • Guaranteed access to one’s own charging outlet provides maximum convenience and adequate charge rates at a modest costs.
  • For routine charging, charging slowly may allow a longer battery life.
  • If fast charging is needed, residents can use public charging stations.
  • ‘Rapid’ DC charging stations, 50kW or more, are very expensive.
  • One out-of-service fault would affect multiple owners.
  • Charging at about 3kW for less than 4 hours is sufficient to replenish the battery of a car that travels 50km/day.
  • This rate of ‘slow’ AC charging can be achieved from an ordinary 15A power point (or equivalent) via an adaptor cable (an ‘EVSE’) that is generally supplied with a vehicle or can be bought separately.
  • It’s a simple change of habit to plug in and ‘top up’ routinely rather than ‘fill up’ infrequently.

Daily or overnight ‘slow’ charging is more than sufficient for nearly all usage patterns. Most residents leave their cars in their parking spots overnight – logically that’s where and when the charging should take place.

Individual or dedicated charging

Although this is impractical for owners of apartments that are a long way from their parking spaces, there are many benefits for owners who are able to run power from their own metered supplies to their charging dock.

This would be particularly practical for townhouses with connecting garages. The benefits include:

  • Connection to your own meter will give you flexibility and
  • The common property supply points will be able to support adequate charging for all your neighbours if you do not connect
  • There are various electricity tariff options that trade off times of higher electricity demand against convenience and price. The best tariff option for metering multiple users in your car park might not be the one you would choose if you go it
  • Billing will be simpler if your unit is tenanted.
  • Your unit’s electricity supply might support a faster charging rate than could be accommodated from a shared common property supply

What about tenants?

Offering EV charging could be attractive to prospective tenants. Where the outlet attaches to the unit’s meter, the cost of charging will be included in the unit’s general electricity account, which would usually be paid by the tenant.

Where an outlet depends on a common property supply point, it will be individually metered and the unit owner can decide whether to pass on the cost of EV charging to the tenant.

What about the future?

If you go down the simpler routes for a communal service to begin with –  allowing owners to install meters on common property electricity supplies –  a more substantial eventual upgrade is possible when more users come on board.

More complex set-ups are available in which ‘smart’ outlets negotiate with each other and the attached vehicles to decide how much current each outlet should supply. When some outlets are supplying low or no current, other outlets can permit their attached vehicles to draw more current for faster charging.

These smart charging systems can log the total energy delivered at each outlet for electronic billing and some might even be able to accommodate time-of-use billing rates.

Smart systems like this are still expensive but they could be fitted later in place of earlier ‘dumb’ outlets if there is demand for it. The main benefit would be the possibility of faster charging of some vehicles when other vehicles are not charging.

Isn’t re-selling electricity illegal?

The network distribution and retailing of electricity is regulated by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER). So does that cover the metering of common property powers supplies then charging owners for the electricity used?

The AER says, generally speaking, that EV charging does not constitute the sale of energy under the National Energy Retail Law, so no retail exemption is required. However, there might need to be exemptions from the relevant power supply networks, so independent advice should be sought on the type of exemption that may apply.

The AER’s published guidelines say that where electricity supply is incidental to the main purpose of a business, such as networks within apartments, that are generally motivated by considerations other than profit, selling or supplying electricity to electric vehicle charging stations may be exempt.

What do you do now?

The sale of EVs hasn’t been as big in Australia as, say, in Europe – but it can’t be long before the benefits of cheaper electrical power, the environmental benefits and the exponentially improving technologies see the uptake here increase rapidly.

A smart strata scheme will start planning now for that day when whether or not you have charging facilities for EVs is as much of a selling point as a view, swimming pool or gym.

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