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Bringing Car Charging to Apartments Is Not Without Challenges

Even in California — the largest electric vehicle market in the country — getting chargers installed in multi-unit housing is met with significant obstacles that range from ownership inertia to power supplies.

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To make electric vehicles more accessible to all Californians, at-home charging needs to extend beyond newer, single-family developments into an overlooked area — apartment buildings.

This, of course, will require significant changes to building codes, public incentives and commitments from building owners.

“There’s no silver bullet, and there are multiple problems at each facility we need to address,” said Mark Wenzel, manager of the Office of Light-Duty Clectric Vehicle Infrastructure and Analysis at the California Energy Commission, speaking on a panel discussion Wednesday about the challenges surrounding charging access in multi-unit housing arrangements. The panel was part of a one-day virtual summit by Veloz, a California electric vehicle advocacy group, to focus on EV charging barriers.

“The challenge is that there are so many challenges,” Wenzel added, as speakers ticked off a litany of obstacles ranging from cost, electric power limitations in existing buildings, to site-specific problems related to assigned parking spaces, garages verses surface lots or how to wire a charger to an apartment’s electric meter.

Those are the problems generally found when considering adding EV chargers to apartments already built. Another challenge is simply code inertia, said Sven Thesen, founder and co-director of the EV Charging Access for All Coalition.

California building codes require new single-family homes be made “EV-capable,” said Thesen. However, only 40 percent of multi-family homes must meet the same level of charging access, he added.

“We need to move that to 100 percent. And that’s code inertia as influenced by outside political entities,” said Thesen, who added that as a minimum, each parking space should be wired for low-power, Level 1 charging, so that residents could reasonably get about eight hours or more of charging throughout the night, setting them up for a morning commute.

“Home charging is almost always the cheapest, most convenient, most reliable, and grid-friendliest option. So we need to make that available as widely as we can,” said Wenzel.

Also, if California is serious about expanding EV adoption across all demographics, public charging will have to be more available, said officials.

“If home charging is reserved only for those who live in single-family homes and have the capital to put in their own infrastructure, then we’re not going to be meeting our equity goals,” said Wenzel.

The state’s own modeling shows California needs 1.2 million chargers to support 8 million light-duty EV cars and trucks, with 157,000 chargers needed to support 180,000 medium- and heavy-duty EVs by 2030, said Patricia Monahan, commissioner at the California Energy Commission, during the summit.

Today, California has just more than 76,000 public and private shared chargers in operation. Roughly a million electric cars have been sold in California since 2011, making the Golden State the largest market for EVs in the nation.

“Our analysis shows that we have a large gap in ZEV infrastructure. And we need to really ramp up in order to meet our state goals,” said Monahan.

Charging access needs to be expanded across all sectors — home, workplace and public shared high-speed charging, said Analisa Bevan, zero-emissions infrastructure specialist at the California Air Resources Board.

“I think we can’t lose sight of the need of public charging as well, especially in those locations where we can service residents who just don’t have an at-home solution, and to provide range security for longer trips,” she said. “There needs to be a balance, where we’re making sure there’s confidence that you can take that long trip across the state, or up and down the state.”

This year, California approved a $3.9 billion package to expand EV use across the next three years. The package includes $900 million to develop charging infrastructure, along with $250 million to boost in-state ZEV manufacturing. California is also set to receive about $360 million from the recently passed federal infrastructure package to expand EV charging.

“This is the single largest amount of funding for zero-emission vehicle infrastructure by any state. So this truly is a historic investment,” said Monahan.

The funding will help the state meet its 2025 EV infrastructure goals, which aim to have 250,000 public and private shared chargers and 200 hydrogen refueling stations installed in the state in the next few years.

Similarly, the California Air Resources Board has $525 million for clean car rebates for the next three years. There’s also $150 million available as part of the Clean Cars 4 All program, which provides up to $9,500 to help “income qualified Californians” purchase a new or used zero-emission vehicle.

“We don’t have all the answers,” said Monahan. “We need to be innovative and entrepreneurial, as we ensure that this is a transition that works for all Californians.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.


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