But to reach this future with zero emissions, Los Angeles will need charging stations within reach of more people. This means first and foremost installing chargers in apartment and condominium buildings.
“People who want to buy electric cars if they can not charge at home, where else do they charge it?” said Rajit Gadh, director of UCLA’s Smart Grid Energy Research Center.
A 2019 UC Davis study examining EV charging rates in California found that more than 50% of battery-powered drivers living in single-family homes could charge vehicles at home, while most multi-family residents primarily relied on public chargers.
“If you just look around while driving through Santa Monica and neighborhoods where you used to have single-family homes, you have apartment buildings,” Gadh said. “It’s absolutely essential that we all work on the issue of multi-device charging.”
Los Angeles has become a hub for the growing electric car industry, and now several local businesses are tackling the problem of access to electric chargers.
The power of discounts
Culver City-based Chargie works directly with property owners to install charging infrastructure in multi-family and commercial buildings. Formerly a division of solar panel installer PCS Energy, Chargie was spun off into a separate company last year.
Tracy Chou, the company’s design and marketing director, said that PCS Energy and Chargie have already installed chargers on more than 700 properties with multi-family buildings, which make up the vast majority of the total amount.
“The reason we’ve had such a huge impact is that our founders are people who have been working in multi-family for a very long time, so we really understand the priorities of multi-family property owners,” Chou said.
Building owners are not only looking to install equipment quickly and cost-effectively, Chou said, but to ensure operations are monitored and chargers are kept in order.
PCS Energy was launched in 2014 by apartment industry veterans Joseph Fryzer, Paul Jennings and Joseph Pekarovic with the aim of using renewable energy to deliver cost savings to building owners. Chou said the establishment of Chargie as a separate entity has enabled the company to better serve property owners who want to install EV charging equipment.
“You’re really talking about a lot of moving parts when it comes to EV charging,” Chou said. “If something happens to your charging station, it will be a very difficult thing to troubleshoot. Is it the electric? Is it the software? ”
Chou said Chargie’s team guides building owners through the entire installation process as well as any necessary maintenance once chargers are running.
The company is also able to provide these services at a low cost to building owners in the Los Angeles area thanks to temporary grants offered by local utilities.
In 2016, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began offering a discount to multi-family owners covering up to $ 4,000 per year. Charger plus $ 750 for an additional port. Edison in Southern California is offering similar discounts to building owners who install chargers on site, and in July announced a $ 436 million investment in power infrastructure.
According to Chou, most apartment owners who work with Chargie install chargers virtually free of charge when using these discounts.
“A lot of the time (building owners) pay nothing to get electric charging stations installed,” Chou said. “We manage the whole process from end to end and help them reap the benefits of these discounts, but it makes a huge difference when you talk about a project that will not be free in five years.”
Addressing ‘range anxiety’
Discount programs in particular can entice owners of newly built buildings, which according to the California Building Code must include “EV-stand” parking lots with electrical panels and racetracks to support EV charging equipment in at least 10% of the parking spaces.
The requirements are stricter in the city of Los Angeles, where developers actually have to install chargers in at least 10% of the parking lots, while a further 20% are EV-compatible.
Aric Ohana, CEO of Culver City-based Envoy Technologies Inc., said that even without incentives, it is easy for owners of apartment buildings to see the appeal of electric car infrastructure as an important convenience for residents.
“We are now in 15 markets in 10 states,” Ohana said. It includes small markets such as Boise, Idaho and Athens, Ohio. In these markets you will not find incentives. It is more forward-thinking real estate operators and developers. ”
Like Chargie, Envoy sometimes installs EV charging equipment on multi-family properties, but the company is primarily focused on a car-sharing platform that allows users to rent electric cars that are parked and charged in residential and commercial properties.
Ohana said shared mobility models like this are ideal for apartment buildings where a single vehicle can serve dozens of residents who occasionally make short trips. The company also gives drivers considering buying an electric vehicle the chance to try one out and see how it works for typical use.
“It’s a new technology and people have what’s called‘ tension anxiety, ’” Ohana said.
Drivers considering switching to an electric vehicle are often concerned about the distance cars can drive before they need to be charged, he said, and how close or far the nearest charging station is. Being able to use a vehicle when driving errands or taking a day trip allows drivers to familiarize themselves with electric cars and range.
“If they test drive a vehicle, they do not get a sense of how it interacts with their daily lives,” Ohana said. “People live with this car right outside the door. It enables them to really adopt electric cars. ”
The future is coming
Addressing the issue of so-called range anxiety is a primary goal of EVgo Inc., the Sawtelle-based electric car charging company, which was announced earlier this year through a reverse merger with a special purpose acquisition company.
The company was established in 2010 and has built up an extensive network of public charging stations in more than 65 metropolitan areas.
Sara Rafalson, vice president of market development and public policy, said EVgo now primarily installs DC fast chargers that are capable of fully charging a vehicle’s battery in just 30 minutes (compared to several hours for a typical home charger).
Fast chargers are unsuitable for apartment buildings due to high power consumption, but Rafalson said they can be a good option for drivers living in multi-unit homes when located nearby.
“Sometimes residents don’t even have access to on-site parking,” Rafalson said. “We see high demand in areas with a large share of multi-family housing.”
EVgo commissioned a UCLA survey, released in February, which analyzed user data and charging habits for apartment and apartment residents. It showed that chargers located in high-density cities attracted a larger share of apartment users than others in the EVgo network. Nearly a quarter of users in these areas did not have a charger at home.
“We like locating chargers in places where customers want to be and where there are adequate facilities,” Rafalson said, adding that she did not even have a charger at home when she bought an electric car.
“I just wanted to charge in my grocery store once a week,” she said. “I was able to integrate charging into my daily life.”
But charging in public places is not always convenient, and the high electric currents generated by fast charging can degrade a car’s battery, UCLA’s Gadh said. Plus, he said, the optimal time to connect between 6 p.m. 23 and at 5 – when most people are at home and there is less load on the electricity grid.
“To charge easily and simply, you need to be able to charge at home,” Gadh said.
Ultimately, local EV charging companies agree that public, commercial and residential charging infrastructure will all play complementary roles in the widespread use of electric cars.
Ohana said it is becoming clear that property owners are also starting to think that way.
“They realize they need this and they are future-proofing their buildings,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. The writing is on the wall. ”
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