Owning an electric vehicle (EV) is more appealing if the vehicle can be affordably charged at home. However, not everyone can simply install a charger within their single family home. According to census data, around a fifth of the U.S. population lives in multiunit dwellings (MUDs) — such as condominiums and apartment buildings — which is driving the need for the development of feasible charging options for these consumers, especially as the number of EVs on the road increases in the future.

MUDs have a unique, and often underestimated, set of complexities that do not exist for single family homes when it comes to electrification. Even the generous programs utilities have begun offering that handle installation of EV supply equipment (EVSE) behind the meter and sometimes include customer rebates for the cost of charging stations need to be modified to consider MUDs. For a utility to assist these consumers, they must understand the additional steps necessary for MUDs, and accommodate those steps within the programs offered.

Breaking Down the Hurdles

When developing charging programs for MUDs, consider the following obstacles these unique consumers may face:

  1. A blended assortment of stakeholders. Unlike single-family homes, multiunit dwellings require approval and agreements from a wide variety of parties. From property owners and homeowners’ associations (HOAs) to landlords and neighbors, it takes a lot of conversations upfront to greenlight electrification for even one unit.
  2. Nontraditional parking arrangements. Not all parking situations for MUDs are created equal. Whether spots are provided in a covered garage attached to the building or across the street in an uncovered outdoor lot, a great deal of planning, and often trenching and digging, is required to simply install the conduits and cables for EVSE — and connect it to the correct unit’s meter.
  3. Unpredictability created by transient patrons. In contrast to single-family homes, most tenants of MUDs don’t stay for years on end to justify the investment in EVSE. Therefore, it may fall to landlords or property owners to foot the bill on the infrastructure with variable utilization of the newly installed equipment.

Existing Options to Install EVSE at MUDs

Currently, there are numerous ways EV owners living in MUDs can charge from the convenience of their home. One option is to run a cord from the unit or garage directly to the vehicle, creating safety hazards for the HOA or landlord to address. A second option is for tenants to get approval to install their own chargers, which may work for those with garage parking who plan to stay in one location for a while. It’s also an option to engage with utilities and landlords to install chargers, though it may be difficult to justify to landlords due to low EV penetration and transient patrons, even if it does increase the property value. To support vehicle electrification at MUDs, utilities and property owners need to work together to create a scalable plan that provides affordable charging to the customers with minimal risk of stranded charging assets.

Beginning to Overcome the Hurdles

There are several strategies that electric utilities can adopted to address the concerns of vehicle electrification at MUDs, including:

  1. Educate customers about the requirements of EV charging. This includes representing the options available for installing EV charging infrastructure.
  2. Work with developers building new MUDs. Installation costs can be reduced by implementing EVSE during the construction of the property.
  3. Propose plans to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for make-ready infrastructure programs. As part of the proposal, specifically target the expansion of EV charging at MUDs.
  4. Work with policymakers in state and local governments to promote Right to Charge legislation. These policies prevent property owners from denying tenants the ability to install charging infrastructure if they are willing to pay for the construction that is within reason.

Educating customers and promoting these programs will allow access to convenient and affordable charging for EV owners living in MUDs.

Developing a Consultative Approach

This is by no means an exhaustive list of obstacles and solutions, but it does illustrate how vehicle electrification at MUDs is not one-size-fits-all. To support the continued rise of vehicle electrification, and include residents outside single-family homes, utilities need to offer tailored assistance for interested MUD parties. This may require building up office staff to walk consumers through the obstacles they may encounter and recommend solutions on a case-by-case basis. By offering customer engagement, education services and programs that support EVSE installation, utilities can help collectively manage the unique needs of MUDs within the community — and empower access to readily available, reliable and safe EV charging infrastructure. 

 

Learn more about the unique challenges associated with electrification and how to adapt to this movement.

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Jackson Cutsor is an analyst for power distribution systems in the Business & Technology Solutions Group at Burns & McDonnell. Experienced in sustainable energy and electric transportation, Jackson specializes in the analysis of renewable energy and beneficial electrification.