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The Argument for Increasing Access to EV Charging for Residents of Multi-Unit Dwellings

The Argument for Increasing Access to EV Charging for Residents of Multi-Unit Dwellings

The cost of EV charging equipment varies depending on the quantity and type of chargers installed.

Between 2011 and 2022, the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in the United States leapt from 22,000 to over 2 million. EV uptake is projected to continue at a fast pace as federal rebates from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (P.L. 117-169) and technological advancements make EVs increasingly affordable. 

For EVs to reach their full potential, however, the charging infrastructure for the 12 percent of Americans who live in apartment buildings must improve.

A 2022 survey found that the most significant economic factor for consumers when deciding whether to purchase an EV is access to inexpensive at-home charging. The average EV owner does 80 percent of their charging at home as it tends to be the most cost-effective and convenient option. EV owners living in single-family homes can have chargers easily installed in private driveways and garages. In contrast, multi-unit dwellings come in many different shapes and sizes with varying parking set-ups and electrical capacities, making charging installations much more complicated.

Charger Installation Logistics at Multi-Unit Dwellings

Residents in multi-unit dwellings who wish to install an EV charger must coordinate with a landlord, condo board, or fellow tenants. Currently, nine states have “right-to-charge” laws which require property managers to allow charger installations by residents. Right-to-charge laws are not always necessary since some property managers choose to install chargers even without pressure from residents. They may view them as an investment to attract and retain residents given the rise in EV demand.

Once the property manager of a multi-unit dwelling decides to install EV chargers, they must determine who will have access to the charging equipment and how each user will pay for the electricity they consume. Assuming the building already has private parking, EV chargers are typically placed either in parking spaces that are assigned for individual use or in shared parking areas where any resident can charge their vehicle.

Property managers can oversee charger use by establishing a scheduling system for chargers in shared spaces or using lockable equipment to prevent access from non-residents. Fee structures can also be put into effect to incentivize drivers to unplug their cars as soon as they reach a full charge. Equipment that separately meters electricity consumption helps to ensure that each user’s payment reflects when and how often they charge their vehicle. Although more advanced equipment can help manage charger usage and fee structures, it comes at a higher cost. Meanwhile, chargers located in assigned spots for individual use are simpler to administer but sit idle more frequently.

Minimizing Costs and Complications

The cost of EV charging equipment varies depending on the quantity and type of chargers installed. Preparing a multi-unit dwelling for charger installation can cost thousands of dollars as well, especially if the property does not have parking spaces in close proximity to an electric service access point or is in need of an electrical panel upgrade. Technological innovations can help reduce the strain that chargers put on the electrical system and increase the number of chargers supported by each building. SWTCH Energy’s load management system, designed specifically for multi-unit dwellings, tracks electrical capacity in the building and controls EV chargers so they consume energy at the most efficient times.

Some utility companies offer rebates and programs to reduce the cost of EV charger installations in multi-unit dwellings. The California utility company PG&E installs chargers at no cost for multi-unit dwellings located in priority communities and covers the first two years of networking and software fees. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities offers grants of up to $4,000 for multi-unit dwellings to buy and install chargers, with even larger grants available for properties in overburdened communities.

“[Utilities] are encouraging folks to install charging because it helps them manage demand, which actually makes them a more efficient utility,” said Genevieve Cullen, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, “They know how to communicate with and educate not only all the electricity users, but also the building owners.”

Additionally, many states offer grants or rebates for EV chargers that are available for multi-unit dwellings.Third-party companies can facilitate charge r installation by simplifying the process for property managers. Amperage Capital, a company specializing in apartment electrification, installs and maintains chargers in parking spaces leased from apartment garages. To recoup costs, the company rents the charger-equipped spaces back to residents for a monthly fee.

Alternatives to At-Home Charging

If a property cannot install at-home chargers because of prohibitive costs or a lack of residential parking, residents must turn to alternative options. Workplace charging is a good substitute for overnight at-home charging because cars are similarly parked for hours at a time and drivers do not have to go out of their way to plug them in.

When both workplace and at-home charging are unavailable, EV drivers can use publicly accessible stations found in places such as grocery stores and malls. These options are a crucial part of the charging ecosystem, but public stations are often more expensive and less conveniently located for drivers. Currently, public chargers are more widely available in wealthier and whiter neighborhoods, meaning residents of multi-unit dwellings in lower-income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities face a shortage of both at-home and public charging opportunities. These communities shoulder the greatest burdens from climate change while having the least access to clean vehicle infrastructure.

In an effort to improve public access to charging, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act(P.L. 117-58) (IIJA) allocated $7.5 billion for EV charging infrastructure across the country. While the funding focuses primarily on highway corridors, it includes a $2.5 billion grant program for increasing infrastructure in communities.

If reliable charging is not attainable for some residents of multi-unit buildings and EV ownership is not feasible, carshare programs provide another opportunity to access EVs. For example, the Evie Carshare program in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, initiated in 2022, operates a fleet of 170 free-floating EVs that drivers use for short trips around the cities. The program plans to install 70 charging stations throughout the cities, concentrated in lower-income and BIPOC communities.

“Because drivers’ needs are so diverse, you have to address all of them,” said Cullen, “You can’t leave any segment behind if we’re saying we’re electrifying the transportation sector. We need to have the ecosystem built up to serve all of those communities.”

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