Nicole Yip charges her electric car at public stations, but if she had the choice, she wouldn’t.
“I describe it like doing laundry – you can go do your laundry somewhere if you have to, but you kind of just want to do it at home,” says Yip, a bookkeeper who lives in North Vancouver.
“It’s kind of expensive and all the charging stations are in malls or at the grocery store – I don’t want to have to shop every time I fill up my car.”
Yip got a Tesla Model 3 two months ago. It came sooner than she’d expected and she hadn’t really arranged for a place to charge it. So, she went to her condo board – in British Columbia, it’s called a strata – and asked if it could install a public charger in the four-year-old building’s parking lot.
“They said they had no money in the budget,” Yip says. “So I asked to just get a regular 110-volt outlet installed in my stall and they had to pass a vote – it was really annoying.”
When she got finally got her strata’s approval, she expected to pay about $200 to install an outlet. After permit and inspection fees however, the price turned out to be closer to $2,000.
“I just bought a new car so I can’t afford that,” says Yip, who commutes about 40 kilometres to work and back every day. “They make it so easy for people to get electric vehicles now, but I just wish I could charge where I park.”
Yip’s situation is common for people who live in condos and apartments, says Don Chandler, an engineer and past-president of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association (VEVA).
“About 25 per cent of the people in Canada live in condos – and they can’t charge at home,” Chandler says. “They’re garage orphans. It’s a problem.”
In and around Vancouver, most cities, including North Vancouver, now require parking stalls in brand new buildings to be EV-ready, Chandler says.
“The infrastructure includes items such as conduit for wiring to the parking stall and additional transformer capacity, or the space for future transformers in the building’s electrical room,” BC Hydro and Power Authority spokeswoman Tanya Fish said in an e-mail. “The result is intended to make adding a charging station to a parking stall as simple as installing a clothes dryer.”
The requirements, however, vary in other parts of the country. While Toronto requires stalls in newly built high-rise condos to be EV-ready, there are no such requirements in Quebec.
“It is a major issue as retrofitting a building for charging EVs is three to five times more expensive than in a new building,” Quebec EV Association spokesman David Corbeil said in an e-mail.
Expensive, if you can get permission
Most older buildings also aren’t EV-ready and costs vary widely when it comes to upgrading. It can be anywhere from a couple thousand dollars to more than $20,000 for each stall, depending on the building, says Erik Blair, an air quality planner with Metro Vancouver.
Even more frustrating may be the red tape challenges.
In most provinces, condo boards are free to prevent residents from installing outlets or dedicated EV chargers. In other words, if the majority of your neighbours decide they don’t want you charging your EV, they can vote you down.
The one province where this may not apply is Ontario, where the law changed in 2018 to limit the reasons that boards could reject an application. Condo boards must now have more legitimate reasons to turn down installation, such as providing an assessment that shows the charger violates the Electrical Safety Code or could damage the building.
“The rest of Canada should copy Ontario’s law,” Chandler at VEVA says. “It’s the one thing Ontario hasn’t killed yet in terms of electric cars.”
Evolving tech is also making things easier for condos. Load management systems can reduce the electrical demand on a building though smart charging – for instance, by letting EVs only charge at night when the buildings power demands are low.
While some cities, including Montreal, have focused on adding more public chargers on the street, Chandler thinks we’ll only see widespread EV adoption when most people can charge where they live.
“It’s the most convenient,” Chandler says. “Some people say they charge at the office and that’s great, but what do you do on holidays or on the weekend?”
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