Credit: Bridie Schmidt
Credit: Bridie Schmidt

In my role with the Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA), I regularly give talks on the ins and outs of installing EVSEs. (EVSE = Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment – the charging gear needed to get good rates of EV charging at home).

The consistent question I get at the end of them is “But I live in a unit/apartment – just how do I get an EVSE installed there??”

My regular answer to that question usually revolves around it being a case-by-case issue as owners corporations, local governments and supply authorities are all still working out what to do.

In countries where EV adoption is further developed (and where higher density living is more common) – some electric car charger guidelines have been developed that Australian authorities could look at.

One example is the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) recently released guidebook. This guidebook is designed to help residents make sense of the permitting process for installing electric vehicle charging stations in what they call ‘MUDs’. (Multi-Unit Dwellings).

In theory, that process should be simple: residents obtain approval from their owners’ corporation, get any necessary permits, have their electric supply business contacted for any issues and arrange for the installation.

In practice, here in Australia the usual answer from owners’ corporations and/or local governments is “uh? What’s an EVSE?”, closely followed by “What, it doesn’t have an engine?.”

The end result often being the poor EV owner goes back to the communal power point they were using when no-one was looking (often charging for free because no-one realised it was communal power) or a lead dangled from a window to the parked car.

Reading through the California EVSE charging installation guidelines shows just how far behind the curve we are. (By the way, it covers the installation of all forms of public AC and DC charging, not just units).

The take-home message from the document is that there needs to be a formal set of guidelines and laws set up to facilitate and guide the EVSE installation process for apartment/unit dwellers, as well as public EVSE infrastructure in general.

In all situations a resident’s first step is obtaining their owners’ corporation approval and cooperation to install electric vehicle charging.

This is often the first hurdle, as they often treat it as ‘all too hard’ and shoo the poor resident off. In the US, many states have passed laws that prevent MUD owners and homeowner associations from unreasonably restricting the construction of electric vehicle charging stations.

Some laws also require US cities and counties to develop a streamlined permitting process for EV charging stations in general.

By the way, an interesting carrot to offer owners’ corporations in the US is the many state and local governments, as well as electricity utilities, offering rebates for installing EV charging in MUDs (some of them quite generous).

This may very well swing the owners’ corporation from avoidance, to actually becoming quite supportive of installing some EVSEs. (Many of those incentives coming courtesy of Electrify America – the US $2 billion EV adoption support fund set up by VW in the US as compensation over the Dieselgate scandal).

So what is the process in the US that we could look at adopting?

Step one: identify the local government person or office responsible for the local area permit or support process for installing EVSEs. (And missing entirely here).

Step two: the local government person advises you and your property owner on the steps of the process from the initial application, to hiring an electrician, to contacting the electricity supply company.

Step three: gather together and submit the standard design and application paperwork.

Step four: commission the install.

Should be simple, but again this is at best an ad-hoc process here in Australia as just finding appropriately knowledgeable people, let alone a defined process, can be difficult to impossible.

At best, you will happen upon one or more of an electrician, engineer and/or EVSE supply company relevant to the needs of the situation. These people then will individually (or collectively) develop a site specific solution.

Because there are no clear guidelines, this can currently be an expensive and time consuming process as they are effectively educating themselves, the owners’ corporation, the local government AND the electricity supply business – all at the same time.

By the way: an EVSE installation process for apartments and the like should generally look like this:

  • application paperwork to the owners corporation and, if required, the local council;
  • application to the electricity supply authority that includes:
  • site plans;
  • single line electrical diagram;
  • electrical load calculations;
  • determination of whether a switchboard or supply upgrade is required;
  • a mechanical ventilation change design and permit if ventilation for the station is needed;
  • installation instructions from the EVSE manufacturer and
  • safety, accessibility and signage requirements.

Streamlining and creating a uniform process here in Australia is not being entirely ignored though. A number of local councils are currently researching EV charging and how to support their installation within local by-laws, as well as where to locate such processes and support roles.

However the wheels of government move slowly, even as compared to the potential EV uptake in Australia over the next few years – so sadly it may be a while before I can answer that thorny apartment EVSE question with “See such-and-such at your local council, they will guide you through the specifics of the following process.”

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