Thirty-one percent of residences in the US are apartments, condos, or townhomes—basically, multi-unit dwellings, or MUDs. But there’s a disparity between EV ownership in MUDs and single-family housing, probably because charging an electric car if you live in a condo is such a hassle. Less than 5% of EV owners power up at home if they live in a MUD. The reason is because of difficulties with MUD EV charging station installation.
The constraints of adding MUD EV charging station options are not insurmountable, but they do require patience and a little creativity. It also requires the willingness to educate HOA managers and apartment owners who may not (probably don’t) know much about it. For example, they might not even know that they can get grants and rebates to install charging stations.
Barriers to MUD EV Charging Station Installation
The single biggest issue with EV installation is that it reduces an owners NOI (Net Operating Income). It costs money to install chargers and EV owners use more electricity. Lose lose. But how many residents choose to live elsewhere because of a properties lack of EV coverage? What if EV charging could increase NOI? Increasing NOI on a real estate property can increase borrowing capability because it can improve the property’s debt service coverage ratio (DSCR), which is a key factor that lenders consider when evaluating a property’s ability to service debt. This turns EV charging into a potential win.
I understand that landlords get overwhelmed at the idea of rewiring their parking lots and boosting capacity in older systems. After all, it’s expensive. Figuring out how to sell the property owners on the idea, and then researching how to actually implement the stations, can seem disheartening.
The reality is that the technology to retrofit electrical wiring, install chargers, and figure out a billing and management system is easier now than it was six months ago. It will be even easier six months from now.
So much of the current expertise in EV stations at MUDs is from on-the-job training. But companies that are too new to have a hidebound reluctance to try anything new are pretty agile with making adjustments.
Trends in MUD EV Charging Station Installation and Management
I see plenty of positive trends in overcoming the obstacles of adding stations to MUDs.
Charge Station and Power Usage Management
This is the big thing, apart from the logistics of the project. How do you manage time at the pump, so to speak?
- Implement a reservation system to book time at the port.
- Charge an idle fee based on time of day, energy, and whether the bandit is a resident or visitor.
- Anticipate demand and usage to determine the electrical capacity.
- Communicate with all parties to build and maintain support for the project. At the outset, you’ve got to educate other owners, tenants, and managers about how MUD EV charging station projects add value to the property.
I’m waiting for mobile charging to be cost-effective enough to be part of everyday conversation. As battery and charging technologies continue to improve and cost less, this will be a viable option before long. As far as MUDS are concerned, property managers can bring in these portable chargers if they don’t want to spring for the infrastructure. Also, project managers are figuring out ways to share power and load management so they can maximize the number of chargers they can install, especially as so many MUDs do not have that extra capacity.
Multi-Unit Case Studies
There are some pretty interesting case studies for installing charger stations in MUDs. I’ve cherry-picked three that cover many challenges that are part of the EV landscape.
1. Columbus, Ohio
Smart Columbus in Ohio is an initiative that the city started in 2016 with a commitment to put 90 Level 2 charging stations at MUDs in the Columbus area. All the applicants for the project were apartment owners or developers. This focus on MUDS was designed to grow charging stations in the metro area and prepare for greater EV use in the future.
The first thing Smart Columbus did was to assess the following:
- Types of MUDs
- Challenges to installing chargers
- Cost of deployment
- Payment options
Paul G. Allen Philanthropies partnered with the city to create Smart Columbus (SC). The SC team did seriously comprehensive research that dug into the challenges of and solutions to creating partnerships between owners, SC, and the charging companies.
They started out with four goals in mind:
- Leverage the philanthropy and SC funds.
- Improve the EV installation and ownership process.
- Make it easier for citizens and residents to use a MUD EV charging station.
- Study users’ charging behaviors.
The initial installations were 48 Level 2 ports at 11 locations throughout the city. It was such a raging success that the city continued Smart Columbus with two additional rounds of funding over an additional three-year period. One thing they found was that rebates were easier to manage than grants.
Additional research suggested that program review needed to be more thorough to eliminate a first-come, first-serve mentality.
2. San Diego
This San Diego case study focuses on a luxury condo complex, CityFront Terrace, in downtown San Diego. There are over 300 units in the development, with underground assigned resident parking and full-time valet service. I mention the valet part not because it’s a ritzy amenity but because attended parking can alleviate the problem of the charger hog.
There were a lot of technical difficulties to figure out before they built the stations in the 1993 garage. They decided to install several brands of 208V chargers, using wiring hubs to allow for the wiring to go to the individual parking spots.
Every homeowner who wanted a charging port paid an assessment for the upfront capital expenses for the joint part of the project and installation. But they were responsible for buying the charging device of their choice. Residents also were required to get liability insurance against potential liability in a common area (the garage).
What They Did Right
CityFront was smart. They made the decision to hook the new meters up in the garage, where there was already an existing underground meter room. With this approach, they bypassed the cost of running wires to residential meters on the upper floors. The decision to install chargers at the resident’s existing spot also eliminated the need for changing out parking spots.
The facilities manager recommended individual meters for each unit so that owners could be billed individually through San Diego Gas and Electric. The use of individual accounts lets SDG&E bill at lower rates if they charge during off-peak hours—and residents will see the difference if they actually read the power bill. This step also takes the property manager out of billing disputes.
The CityFront project did have a lot of up-front costs—about 80 grand. However, the condo owners were in agreement (for the first time ever, probably) that the investment—a $4,000 assessment—would pay off over time. The residents liked that they got to pick their own devices, get individual billing, and take advantage of off-peak billing to power up. They also liked that the building management was not part of the equation.
Canada is facing the same issues at MUDs in their metro areas. Murbly is a company that figures out ways to install EV chargers in all types of multi-family buildings, but here I want to focus on a small, older condo building in Montreal.
This condo complex, The Victoria, has several buildings with a range of units in each. The building in this Phase 2 case study building has 42 units. Murbly has already completed EV projects in other buildings in the complex.
From an access perspective, this one was relatively simple. Parking and electrical are on the same level, so wiring isn’t a huge challenge. They decided to install an EV energy management system. Then, they built a global infrastructure framework that would ensure a smooth rollout when chargers were installed.
The contractor put in five FLO G5 chargers and five DCC-9-40A controllers. The controllers allow a charger to connect to the main feed of the electrical panel without having an impact on the load calculation. The Quebec government offers rebates for MUD stations through their Roulez Vert (ride green) program, which pays back rebates up to 50%.
Why These Projects Matter—And What They Mean for Future Installations
I like these case studies because they are all examples of finding a workable solution to a challenge. Also, they have varying degrees of learning curves.
In Columbus, they started from scratch with research and surveys to figure out the best way forward in a large metro area with a diverse socioeconomic population. San Diego represents the possibilities in owner-occupied MUDs where money is not a huge consideration; these residents have the EV advantages of a single-family home.
The Montreal scenario is interesting. This was the continuation of a project that had already been completed in other buildings in the same development. The project managers already had a template of what to do, where to do it, and the equipment they would need to finish the job quickly. They also had a public partnership, even though The Victoria is a condo.
Benefits of MUD EV Charging Station Installations
Here are my takeaways after focusing on MUD EV charging station projects.
First, it’s a big deal for a property to advertise itself as some shade of green. Owners and tenants who appreciate the effort, even if they don’t drive an EV, are probably okay with a higher rent or purchase price to think they’re doing their part.
These projects are also scalable. If you own a large complex, implement the stations incrementally. Just make sure all residents have access until their section is complete. Condo owners also have a greater sense of community when they all manage to agree on the project, especially if they get to choose their own devices. (Keep in mind that these are people who will go to war over how long the trash bins stay out after the bin is empty.)
It’s not entirely feasible for apartments to bill users directly. But it’s easy for condos to hook up the charger to the unit so there’s no middleman.