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How hard is it to get EV charging stations into residential buildings?

Some electric vehicle owners are called "garage orphans," because they don't have driveways, designated parking spots or easy access to private charging options. But experts say there are ways to address this issue.

More landlords, condominium boards should take advantage of government incentives, say experts

Man standing in front of his EV

When Mathieu Gosbee moved from his detached home in midtown Toronto to a condominium downtown, he was able to bring all his belongings but one: the device that charges his electric car.

The 38-year-old software developer purchased his Hyundai Kona electric vehicle (EV) two years ago, and personally installed a Level 2 charger in the garage of his house for about $400.

The condo board said a single charger would cost $5,000 to $10,000 to install, which seems quite expensive to Gosbee — but he and other EV owners in his building are desperate.

"I want to have the convenience of charging at home — it's part of the reason I bought my car in the first place," he said.

If approved, it's still going to take another year for the charger to be installed at the condo. In the meantime, Gosbee has to rely on public charging stations so he can pick up his daughter from school and get around the city.

But there aren't that many public stations around his condo — and when he does find one, it's often occupied by another EV owner, if it isn't broken.

"I'm just really feeling the pressure of charging now," he said.

The sentiment was echoed in a recent CBC News First Person column, in which Akiko Hara wrote about her struggles charging her EV in Vancouver.

EV owners like Gosbee and Hara are sometimes called "garage orphans," because they don't have driveways, designated parking spots or easy access to private charging options.

But experts say there are ways to address this issue.

"It's absolutely possible to get charging infrastructure caught up, but it requires some effort," said Ian Klesmer, a spokesperson for the Atmospheric Fund, which finances initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and other pollution.

A variety of options

The popularity of EVs is growing in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, 86,032 electric vehicles are currently on the road, and new zero-emission vehicle registrations increased by 43.2 per cent year over year in the third quarter of 2022.

But charging infrastructure lags behind and tends to be concentrated in newer buildings and wealthier areas.

In general, countries "need to build the infrastructure, like more charging stations … before people start gaining more access to those cars," said Avipsa Roy, an assistant professor at University of California, Irvine, who analyzes the accessibility of EV chargers.

Level 1 chargers, the slowest type, use a common residential 120-volt AC outlet — what you use to charge your phone. It takes about 30 hours to fully charge a vehicle at Level 1. Klesmer said many owners who don't use their EVs as often are content to rely on this type of charger.

Public chargers are typically found outside shopping malls, theatres and other public areas, and are usually installed and managed by private companies and sometimes funded by the government.

Most public and private chargers tend to be Level 2 chargers, which can take six to seven hours to charge a regular EV; they typically cost about a dollar to $2.50 an hour (although some are also free).

Level 3 chargers, also known as DC fast chargers, are the fastest and can charge an EV from empty to 80 per cent in 30 to 45 minutes. These typically cost about $20 per hour.

While it would be cheapest to install Level 1 chargers in parking garages, Klesmer said it would be the least practical and efficient option.

Incentive programs driving the transition

There are a few ways to solve the larger problem of residential charging, he said, starting with landlords and condo boards taking advantage of government incentive programs.

Residential charging "can certainly be done in a more cost-effective way, because there are incentives to help make it less expensive," said Klesmer.

In Hara's column, she noted that fellow condo-dwellers who didn't own EVs resisted the idea of contributing to the installation of chargers. Gosbee's building has an opt-in policy for chargers, where only those who want EV chargers in the building would pay to install a charger in their spot.

Klesmer noted that multi-family buildings like Gosbee's can tap federal government funding — like the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program — to cover up to half of the cost of installation for up to 20 chargers.

This program only covers the installation costs for charging stations, but there are similar provincially funded programs that are more "holistic," said Klesmer. For example, B.C's "three- pronged" incentive program includes funding for an initial assessment, the actual charger and the installation.

"We believe it's something that other governments, and in particular the federal government, will be well placed to replicate," said Klesmer.

WATCH | Why Canada and the U.S. are betting big on EVs:

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2 months ago

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Canada and the U.S. are investing billions of dollars to make our vehicles zero-emission in the next decade. It'll mean more jobs and less pollution … but supply is already a big problem.

Part of the broader transition to electric vehicles is taking a different approach to "filling up," says Rachel Doran, director of policy and strategy at Clean Energy Canada.

Instead of doing it in one go, like at a conventional gas station, she encourages EV owners to educate themselves about the various charging options nearby and thinking about charging according to what they need in the short term, which might be half a tank or less.

"There are already people who are using various different kinds of charging patterns and solutions to make their EV work best for them. It might not always be private [charging] — just whatever resonates with them."

EVs outnumber outlets

Even so, there are challenges. As of 2023, Canada had about 19 EVs for every publicly available charger, according to the International Energy Agency.

Compare that to South Korea, where there were around two EVs per public charger.

"Insufficient" charging infrastructure, along with low demand, was one of the reasons Canada ranked eighth among the 10 leading auto markets in a 2021 EV readiness analysis.

"While [an EV] definitely has its advantages, it makes sense to question why a consumer would want to buy a vehicle that takes so much effort to even get started," Klesmer said.

While he hopes the infrastructure keeps pace with the rising uptake of EVs, Klesmer also noted that if more buildings get their act together when it comes to charging stations, there will be less need for public ones.

"If we could figure out how to get charging to [building-dwellers] at home, then it would be much more affordable for the homeowners, much more convenient to be able to charge at home, and would require much less public investment in building out a public charging infrastructure."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Prapti Bamaniya

Journalist

Prapti Bamaniya is a CBC Joan Donaldson Scholar. She's previously worked at CBC New Brunswick and has recently graduated with a bachelor's of journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. You can reach her at prapti.bamaniya@cbc.ca

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