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Manulife has gone from a handful of electric vehicle charging stations, like this one, to 145 across 26,000 parking spots in its North American real estate portfolio. (Manulife)
Manulife has gone from a handful of electric vehicle charging stations, like this one, to 145 across 26,000 parking spots in its North American real estate portfolio. (Manulife)


Landlords get charged up for electric cars Add to ...

They’re mostly unmarked, for now, on the eighth level of Manulife Financial’s Bloor Street campus parkade: two electric-vehicle charging stalls, ready to fuel up a growing number of green vehicles.

In a few weeks, they’ll be surrounded by green vinyl signage, highlighting the two-plug ChargePoint charging unit hidden on the backside of a support beam.

At the global real estate arm of Manulife, the proliferation of charging stalls indicates more than green perks for office tenants – it’s a statement of corporate sustainability.

In the past three years, on the strength of cars like the Toyota Prius and the lingering promise of affordable Teslas – the financial services company has gone from just a handful of such stalls to 145 across the 26,000 parking spots in their 40-million-square-foot North American real estate portfolio.

“We started to see more Priuses in our parking lots, and demand coming from the tenants,” says Ted Willcocks, Manulife’s global head of real estate asset management. “We complied with that, and started seeing it as a package for tenants. ... We see charging stations as a strong amenity for tenants and a path to our goals for corporate sustainability.”

There are more than 11,500 pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on Canadian roads right now, according to Plug’n Drive Canada, which encourages their adoption. That number is only going to grow as the barriers to owning the vehicles dissolve.

Landlords are eyeing this figure, and adding charging stations to their properties to keep up with tenant demand and to lower their own carbon footprints. Some organizations are moving their fleets, partially or completely, to electric or gas-electric hybrid vehicles. In building up this charging infrastructure, expanding the still-meagre network of private and commercial charging opportunities, landlords may actually help to accelerate the rate of adoption of greener cars.

There are three common classes of charging stations. Level One stations are standard 110- or 120-volt wall-socket plug-ins, capable of charging cars overnight; Level Three are “fast chargers,” usually 480 volts, able to charge a vehicle in as little as half an hour. For businesses, Level Two charging stations are the sweet spot: 220 or 240-volt machines that charge cars over a few hours.

In the past few years, provinces such as Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia have rolled out different incentive plans for landlords and businesses to install industry-standard charging stations. Coupled with tenant demand, commercial real estate owners and managers have plenty of reasons to invest in these chargers – which, in turn, should increase demand for vehicles themselves.

“There’s no secret formula, but we know there are major ingredients to accelerate deployment,” says Chantal Guimond, chief executive of Electric Mobility Canada, a national not-for-profit organization that promotes the use of electric transportation. On top of government incentives, she says, public and private charging assistance is crucial: “You have to have infrastructure outside of your home, to be able to recharge your car at work, and in the public arena.”

Oxford Properties Group Inc., a major landlord across the country, has about 40 stations among its Canadian properties. At the TD Canada Trust Tower in Toronto, its parkade, shared with neighbouring landlord Brookfield Properties, has seven Level Two chargers and 14 stalls. On average, says building general manager Christopher Lieb, the parking spots are about 70 per cent occupied. Valet staff monitor the charging stations and alternate vehicles getting charged, making sure each gets a top-up during the day. They also have infrastructure for numerous Level One chargers.

Mr. Lieb says demands for such services are rising. “We’re seeing a trend with some of our tenants, where it’s written into the lease – they want a Level Two charger in the parking lot dedicated just for them,” he says.

Seeing the prevalence of charging stations in tech hubs like California and Boston, Manulife began adding its own chargers, mostly Level Two, as a way to entice tenants who hire the brightest young employees. “Tenants are looking for amenity spaces in all the buildings. WiFi lounges, open networks, bike rooms, places where people socialize and congregate,” Mr. Willcocks says. “It’s providing services within the building to keep them within that building.”

Most people charge their vehicles at home, giving them a full charge overnight, but increasing the number of charging stations available at workplace parking lots will give electric car owners – and, importantly, potential buyers – the reassurance that they don’t need to worry about running out of fuel, says Ron Groves, head of education and outreach for Plug’n Drive Canada.

“What if, after driving 30 or 40 kilometres to work I get called on a mission – a business meeting, or dealing with a sick child?” he asks. “If I have a full battery because I plugged in at work, I have much more security knowing I can do that.”

Over the past four years of its existence, Plug’n Drive has worked with property managers to install charging infrastructure, helping them with supply sourcing and guiding them through the process. “We cut their learning curve really short,” Mr. Groves says.

While some commercial building lots are private, mucking up the numbers, Plug’n Drive keeps track of the number of publicly available charging stations in Canada. At the time of publication, there are more than 2,100, most of which are mapped on the company’s website. Many, but not all, are free, or cost as little as a few dollars a charge.

And it’s not just within cities: some major corridors, like Highway 40 between Quebec City and Montreal, are loaded with Level-Three “quick chargers” as part of the province’s Electric Circuit network, which aims to ease the minds of heavy-commuting companies looking to electrify their employees or fleet.

One Quebec company is hoping to ease property managers’ minds on another rising issue: the rising power bills that can come with more chargers. AddÉnergie, Canada’s largest domestic charging station maker, not only runs a series of interconnected networks to make finding stations easier for drivers, but also designs software to make stations easier for owners to manage.

In jurisdictions with peak load pricing, AddÉnergie’s software helps to lower the amount of charging during peak hours, instead spreading the charge over the eight-hour workday. It also helps with power sharing, daisy-chaining the charging stations to reduce loads on electrical panels.

The company has installed 1,100 stations so far in both the public and private sphere. “It scales up really fast,” says Louis Tremblay, the company’s chief executive. As a result, he says, property managers want a turnkey solution. “Big building managers. ... want to make sure, when they select a solution, there won’t be surprises after surprises.”

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