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The Changing Canadian Vehicle Market

Is your building EV-ready?

by Leon Wasser, MBA, P.Eng.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming increasingly common on Canadian roads.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming increasingly common on Canadian roads.

The Canadian vehicle market is changing at a rapid pace. While most cars on the road are still gasoline-powered, projected sales for electric vehicles (EVs) are forecast to rise dramatically to align with Canada’s goal of reaching 60 per cent zero emission light-duty vehicle sales by 2030. Currently, 8.2 per cent of new vehicles sold in Canada are plug-in electric vehicles, with British Columbia leading the way. To prepare for the anticipated growth in sales, multi-residential property owners are advised to take steps now to ensure their buildings are EV-ready.

Understanding EV infrastructure

A typical EV requires around 80kWh of power to charge up depending on the vehicle. Charging stations come in three standard types categorized by the power level they supply. Level 3 chargers deliver power at 480 volts, providing the fastest vehicle charging available today. These chargers can take a battery from nearly empty to 80 per cent capacity sometimes in under 10 minutes. Meanwhile, level 2 chargers deliver power at 208/240 volts for a charge time in the range of 7 hours, and Level 1 chargers supply power at j120 volts using the rated capacity of a typical wall outlet.

In some Canadian jurisdictions, the requirements for EV infrastructure in apartment buildings are starting to change. For instance, under the City of Toronto’s Toronto Green Standard Version 4, developers of new mid- to high-rise multi-unit residential buildings (four storeys or higher) are directed to provide an energized outlet capable of providing Level 2 charging or higher EVCS for at least 25 per cent of the parking spaces. While there appears to be no mandated requirement for retrofitting existing apartments with EV chargers in parking stalls yet, this is likely to change as more tenants begin to demand it.

Engineering challenges

Installing a single or small number of EV charging stations in a typical apartment garage can be accomplished easily given the power required is a tiny fraction of the power used in the building. Installing several EV charging stations is another story. Unless mandated by government, the building owner must determine how many stations and which types of chargers to install, preferably with guidance from a qualified consulting engineer.

The next challenge is to determine where to put the stations and who gets access to this vital service. Since each charging station needs to be individually wired back for its power supply, and in some cases for EV system control communication, there is a need for an experienced designer to map out and coordinate the installation of both the charging stations and the EV infrastructure. This infrastructure will include dedicated panels, transformers, and the distribution network to serve the new EVCS.

The last challenge involves overcoming the electrical capacity restriction for buildings. Apartment buildings are supplied by their utility with a transformer designed for specified amount of power demand. Exceeding that number to accommodate many charging stations will likely require a system upgrade. The amount of power required for the EVCS can be mitigated using sophisticated EVCS management systems that can schedule the network of charging stations so that the power demand is distributed in a more balanced way over the course of a day or night.

Changes in power demand

Over the past decade, apartment owners have been investing heavily in conservation measures to help reduce power consumption at their buildings. From swapping inefficient incandescent lights for compact fluorescent and LEDs, to deeper energy retrofits and HVAC system optimization, all these measures have been beneficial in terms of lowering utility costs and conserving energy. Today, building owners can also have a hand in increasing their building’s power capacity to accommodate tenants’ needs for electric vehicle infrastructure.

On the other side of the power ledger, some additional demands have been imposed on the power supply of apartments thanks to today’s larger television screens, air purifiers, and power-hungry air conditioning units. Because of this complex web of changes in power demand, it is essential to begin any EVCS project with a hard-nosed assessment of the building’s power consumption and demand trends.

Designing a successful EVCS requires using a systematic, engineered approach to anticipate and address all the issues that are likely to arise during a project. Part of this process will involve a regulatory review to determine the EV requirements that apply to an apartment if any. Following this, a phased structured approach is required to determine the building’s projected EV charging demand. The power required to meet this demand must be metered to monitor this major new use of electricity in the building. Finally, if necessary, the power supply to the building may even have to be expanded either through microgrid onsite generation, or through a costly transformer service upgrade from the utility.

Cost implications

Like any major building retrofit, initiating an EVCS project will involve capital costs beginning with the need to assess and engineer the specific system requirements. Building owners should also anticipate costs associated with modifications to the core building’s electrical system. Following this, there is the cost to install supporting EVCS infrastructure, as well as the cost of supplying and installing the EV charging stations themselves. It is important to budget for all the elements of a project to avoid an unwelcome surprise and project deferment.

Other key issues

For apartment owners, the path forward may seem complex, particularly as it relates to the power for EVCS and who specifically pays for it. While some systems allow the user to be billed directly—helping building owners recover some of the capital, energy, and operation costs, and potentially generating profit—others may require more effort from system operators. Once again, different jurisdictions across Canada have different rules about chargebacks, and as the Canadian vehicle market continues to change, these rules can be expected to change too. The chargeback issue becomes even more complex in areas with differential time-of-day utility rates, whereby daytime power is more expensive than overnight rates. Some jurisdictions may even have differential rates over the course of the year, with higher rates during the summer air conditioning season and lower rates in the winter. As jurisdictions shift more energy consumption to power-based systems from alternatives like natural gas, electricity pricing can be expected to get more complex, and likely more expensive.

Talk to an expert

The key takeaway is that apartment EVCS projects need the steady eye of a professional engineer to ensure all factors are considered to minimize project risk. It is best to contact a consulting engineering company that specializes in EVCS, as they will conduct a comprehensive system feasibility study and identify all technical challenges for the proposed project, and even explore sources of off-setting utility and government funding before generating a realistic budget and schedule. In due time, EV demand and/or regulation will compel apartment owners to supply EVCS in their buildings; therefore, don’t get left behind! Now is the time to plan your path forward.

Leon Wasser, MBA, P.Eng. is a strategic advisor to DashCharger Technologies – Engineered EV Charging Solutions, and Mann Energy Solutions. He is also the Director of the School of Energy of the Resilient World Institute and Vice-Chair of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association.


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