As electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and Tesla Model S become more popular with consumers, forward-thinking members of the building industry are starting to look at how they can accommodate this growing demographic.
“We see electric vehicles as one of the pillars of the next industrial revolution,” says Stephen Bieda, Ontario’s regional director at electric vehicle charging infrastructure startup, Sun Country Highway.
Bieda explains that vehicle owners do about 90 per cent of their recharging at home or work. Therefore, providing the right building infrastructure will become an increasingly important factor for selling/leasing multi-residential and commercial building units and retaining occupants.
“(Prospective owners and tenants are) much more attracted to a property that has that infrastructure already,” explains Bieda.
It also allows builders to promote a property as sustainable and green, he adds.
“It’s a business differentiator.”
The electricity costs are negligible, leading many property owners to offer electric vehicle chargers as a free amenity. Bieda explains the cost of fully recharging a car is comparable to a cup of coffee.
However, installing electric vehicle chargers isn’t exactly cheap.
“It’s always better to start with a building and plan for the infrastructure,” says Bieda.
He explains that when developers plan for electric vehicle chargers during construction, they can choose the location and run the cables for maximum cost-effectiveness and convenience. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) points are also available for installing chargers on-site.
Property owners looking to retrofit an existing building to add electric vehicle chargers have limited options. Some older buildings’ electric capacity can only handle one or two chargers, at most. Property owners who want the chargers to be front and centre (to make their “greenness” evident for everyone to see) will likely find the price prohibitively high due to the cost of running the cables a longer distance away from the building’s electricity sources. In fact, installation costs can be more than the charger itself.
“It’s not an inexpensive process,” concedes Stefan Dembinski, Brookfield Properties’ senior vice-president of asset management for Eastern Canada and chief sustainability officer, about the recent installation of chargers at Toronto’s Brookfield Place.
“Originally, the whole concept came up when we were doing a LEED analysis,” he says. “We thought it would benefit the tenancy.”
The property started with four chargers and has since added three more. Despite the initial costs, Dembinski says the chargers have been a success.
“What we were hoping to do is be a hot spot downtown (for electric vehicle owners),” he says. “We are actually getting a fair amount of usage.”
The chargers are available to both building tenants and the public. Users pay the standard parking rates (no extra charges for electricity), and with two cars parked at each charger, a parking attendant simply moves the plug when one vehicle is recharged.
Brookfield is now looking at adding electric vehicle chargers at the Bay-Adelaide Centre and First Canadian Place within the next 18 months. Dembinski predicts that chargers will likely become a standard building amenity in the future.
“With the population (of electric vehicle owners) increasing, the demand for charging stations will increase,” he says.
Government incentives for property owners and managers looking to install electric vehicle chargers would help meet this growing demand.
British Columbia has already taken steps to help businesses with the cost of purchasing and installing recharging stations.
According to Charlotte Argue, assistant manager of climate change and the air quality program at British Columbia’s Fraser Basin Council, the province launched the Plug in B.C. program to spur both builders and purchasers to embrace electric vehicles. Properties and business are eligible for funding for up to 75 per cent of the cost of installing electric chargers on-site, while consumers receive a point of sale rebate when they purchase electric vehicles. The program has led to the installation of 450 public chargers.
Argue explains the electric vehicle industry is still in the ‘chicken or the egg’ situation. Consumers do not want to buy electric cars if the infrastructure is not available, and properties and businesses do not want to install the infrastructure if no one will use it.
“If you live at a location where you don’t have charging infrastructure, the option (to own an electric car) is no longer there,” she says.
So far, she says forward-thinking companies and properties are the ones installing chargers on-site.
“Some of them had push from staff,” Argue says, adding the push has also come from advertising as many properties receive free exposure in the media.
Still, public demand for chargers has not reached the tipping point. Today, there is about one public charger for each electric vehicle sold in the province.
“The idea, though, is (these) stations will show the public that the infrastructure is there,” she says.
Sun Country Highway’s Bieda says electric vehicle infrastructure can boost consumer confidence in owning an electric vehicle and that it is a feasible alternative.
“We’ve connected Canada from coast to coast with electric chargers,” he boasts, stating the company has installed more than 300 publically accessible chargers to date.
Chargers are located every 100 to 200 kilometres along the Trans-Canada Highway – more than enough for electric vehicles that can travel up to 400 kilometres on a fully charged battery.
“We have the longest green highway in the world,” he says, adding it’s evident that “if you build it, they will come.”
Daniel Viola is the online editor of Canadian Property Management and Building Strategies & Sustainability magazines. He is also the editor of Property Management Report.