Even with sales of fully electric and plug-in hybrid cars on the rise in Canada (jumping to 8.7 per cent market share in the third quarter of 2022), there are still myriad hurdles for drivers going electric, especially when it comes to charging.
For the half of Canadians who don’t live in a house, charging an EV comes with challenges. For those who live in a condo building, where the unit and parking spot is owned, but the building is run by a corporation and governed by a board, the technical requirements for setting up a charger can be daunting.
Tony Cesta, 67, experienced that first hand. He bought a 2023 BMW X5 plug-in-hybrid last September and took delivery on Oct. 31, 2022 – but it wasn’t until January 2023 that he was finally ready to charge at home. He agreed to walk us through the process of getting a Level 2 charger installed.
Where did you start?
I was lucky. About three years ago, one condo board member wanted to buy a Tesla and he was trying to figure out how to get a Level 2 charger in his parking spot. The condo board looked at facilitating some electric-car charging. They started investigating the infrastructure to see if it could handle that.
What happens if the condo doesn’t have the electrical capacity?
Infrastructure is one thing you can throw money at, but if it’s an older condo building, they could say we’re right up to the limit with our connection with Toronto Hydro – sorry, that’s it. You might as well go to gas.
The electric supply to my building was okay, but the distribution infrastructure was not in place. The condo board hired an electrical engineering company to do a study and they came up with a scope of $300,000 to put this infrastructure in place. They got the green light to spend this money and used the reserve fund to fund it.
What happened next?
In my condo, you have to review the electric-vehicle charging policy. Then you apply. The application document has to go to the condo board. It’s a formality, but I still had to go through it because I couldn’t have electricians running around installing wires until that was approved. That took about a month. Then, I had to get two or three quotes from electricians. When you finally get the green light, they say, ‘We have all these jobs lined up. Maybe in about three or four weeks we can come out.’ There’s a long lead time.
Was there a big difference in quotes?
I got two quotes and there was a big discrepancy. Every electrician has a different idea of how to do it and that has a huge impact on cost. One contractor wanted to use solid conduit [rigid metal tubes] and then put wires through the conduit. My background is engineering and I tried to talk him into using armoured [electrical] cable because everyone else had used armoured cable. But that’s what he wanted and his quote was almost $10,000 – almost double the other one. The other one [who did the installation for the Tesla owner and some other EVs] was reliable so I went with him. It was around $5,000. Once they started, it was pretty quick – it took about four hours. They had about three or four electricians towing wires and running around.
Wow – that’s expensive.
Yeah. And that adds to the cost of your purchase. If you’re someone that wants to look at a payback – how much gas am I saving based on the incremental cost to buy an electric vehicle – that needs to go into the equation. Five-thousand dollars buys a lot of gasoline. Unless you’re driving a lot of miles, it’s not a payback really.
What other costs did you incur?
The condo board spent $300,000 [to upgrade infrastructure for the entire building] and, of course, they want to recuperate that, so my share was $450. Then you need to register the charger with a lawyer. It’s part of the ownership of the parking spot so there are legal fees; that was about $350. In addition, you need to be metered for this new power. A utility company manages that in condo buildings, so they hook up a meter on that new line and charge you $10 a month service charge, plus your consumption. By the end of the day, all of these fees [including the electrician’s $5,000 bill] were around $6,000.
What are you paying in consumption for your BMW’s 50 kilometres of electric range?
I haven’t received a utility bill yet. I’m still waiting for the condo utility company to install metering. But they charge about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) – that’s about three or four bucks per charge for my vehicle.
Was it worth the extra hassle and expense to install a charger?
Yes. Because of my age, this might be my last car and I wanted to experience electric before it’s too late. I find for my needs in the city, it’s perfect. I’m retired now and I don’t have range anxiety.
If you’re driving 30,000 kilometres a year, there’s a big incentive to reduce fuel costs, so to spend $5,000-$10,000 on the electrical infrastructure will be worth your while. If you’re doing short trips around the city, it would be very hard to justify financially. But some people like the idea of driving an electric car.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned along the way?
There are supply chain issues and there are long lead times. Initially, when I bought my BMW, I thought it was coming with a Level 2 charger, but they just give you a Level 1 charger. I paid extra, about $1,200, for a Level 2, and then I waited and waited. Then, I gave up, [got my money back from BMW], and got my own – a ChargePoint on Amazon for about the same price. To do the electrical installation [in the condo], I had to wait a month to get it installed. I was lucky because I [bought a plug-in] hybrid with the gas backup. But if it was fully electric, I would have been stuck running around trying to find free charging somewhere.”
Any issues with the ChargePoint?
The ChargePoint is a really neat gadget. You can buy either direct wiring or plugging in. I got a plug-in model and it has to be fastened to the wall. You initiate [vehicle charging] through Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi? But you’re in an underground parking garage.
I’m on Level 2 [of the parking garage], so I get cellular [service]. I’m lucky I can communicate with my car through my BMW app. But if my car was at Level 3, 4 or 5, deep in the concrete jungle, there’s no cellular.
I’m actually going to petition the condo board to install Wi-Fi in the parking levels, because it’s a safety issue and if you want to program the charging so you’re charging at [times with] low power costs, you need to have Wi-Fi. That’s another lesson learned.
What would you do differently next time?
Start earlier to plan out the Level 2 charger installation.
What do condo corporations need to do moving forward?
Condo boards need to take this more seriously now. The demand is going to skyrocket. They need to have a policy – even if the policy is we’ll do nothing. It needs to be in writing so you know where you stand.
This interview has been edited and condensed.