Solving the “garage orphans” problem

By Kerry Banks

Whenever technological revolutions get rolling there are segments of society left to catch up. In the case of the growing shift towards zero emission vehicles, a significant percentage of Canadians are being discouraged from buying electric vehicles because they have no easy means of charging them where they live. Such residents, who either live in residential condominiums and apartment buildings without the electrical capacity to support multiple Level 2 chargers, or else in dwellings that lack access to a driveway or a garage, have been dubbed “garage orphans.”

At least one third of Canadians live in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) today, and that number is not likely to decline. Increasingly, the residential real estate industry is moving towards multi-tenant construction. In Canada, two out of three homes built today are multi-family. In Ontario alone, nearly 700,000 households live in condos.

Access is critical

“Access to electrical chargers has become a critical challenge for some people who live in condos and multi-unit residential buildings,” says Melissa DeYoung, a director at Pollution Probe in Toronto, which released a report on garage orphans earlier this month. “This a major stumbling block because we know from surveys that about 80% of people charge their vehicles at home.”

That report, compiled after extensive consultation with stakeholders across Canada, details the existing barriers to the increased adoption of electric vehicles and offers suggestions on how stakeholders can overcome them and also outlines a number of important options targeted at new and existing buildings, including the use of building codes and zoning bylaws.

The solutions lie in two main areas: building out public charging infrastructure and mandating people’s “right to charge” in new MURB construction.

But while the Pollution Probe report looks to the future, much can be learned from examining what is currently happening on the ground to solve the problem of garage orphans. The solutions lie in two main areas: building out public charging infrastructure and mandating people’s “right to charge” in new MURB construction.

Conditions vary widely

Regulations regarding public charging are set by the provinces, but the situation varies widely depending upon where you live. “The province of Quebec is a real leader in electrification,” says Travis Allan, vice-president of public affairs and general counsel for AddEnergie, a producer of electrical charging stations and its subsidiary FLO. As Allan, who was also a consultant on the Pollution Probe report, notes, “The policy in Quebec is directed by the perception that using this clean form of energy will improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions.”

Quebec has set an ambitious goal of getting 100,000 EVs on the road by 2020. It also hopes to have EVs comprise a third of all new vehicle sales by 2030.

Due to the province’s proactive approach, Montreal is the runaway Canadian leader in numbers of public charging stations with more than 600 public chargers and plans on having 1,000 by 2020. To use Montreal’s curbside chargers, drivers pay either a flat $2.50 fee or a running rate of $1 per hour, billed by the minute.

Montreal also has a number of fast-chargers in the parking lots of arenas, libraries, community centres and other municipal facilities. “Civic investment in reliable public charging is a key piece in solving this puzzle,” says Allan.

New Westminster, BC, has launched a pilot project that uses street lamps to increase public access to EV charging stations. It’s an effort to help ‘Garage Orphans’ in the city.

In contrast, Toronto is badly lagging. Although there are 541 public charging stations within a 15-kilometre radius of the city, few are situated in downtown areas and only a handful of curbside stations have been installed as part of a pilot project. The city has a real need for them, however, because of its inner-city density and large number of older duplexes without driveways. There has been talk of attaching chargers to utility poles to provide curbside access, but this may not be a practical solution since you can’t reserve a spot in front of your house.

However, changes should be expected due to progress on the regulatory front. In 2018, Ontario passed Canada’s first right-to-electric-charge bylaw. Due to this revision to the Condominium Act, a condo corporation can’t reject an owner’s request for installation, as long as certain conditions are met. Further, it’s now possible for condo corporations to install EV charging infrastructure in common areas without requiring an owner vote. The condo board must also now give residents access to the electrical information they need to do a feasibility assessment.

“Richmond and Vancouver have devised a formula that is recognized across North America as the gold standard for charging regulations governing condos and multi-family buildings.”

Travis Allan, Vice-President, Public Affairs and General Counsel at AddÉnergie Technologies Inc.

Pushing the envelope

On the west side of the country, Vancouver has also pushed the regulatory envelope. The city recently passed a bylaw that mandates that all parking spots in condos and multi-family buildings constructed after January 1, 2019, must feature energized outlets capable of providing Level 2 EV charging or higher. Previous regulations required 20 per cent of stalls to be EV-ready.

It’s already mandatory for this infrastructure to be installed in all new attached or detached single-family homes and according to Ian Neville, climate policy analyst with the city, it’s much cheaper to install charging capability in new developments than to retrofit older buildings. The cost of adding charging infrastructure during construction is pegged at $300 per stall compared to an estimated $3,300 for a later retrofit.

“B.C. municipalities like Richmond and Vancouver have devised a formula that is recognized across North America as the gold standard for charging regulations governing condos and multi-family buildings,” says Allan, who notes that B.C.’s approach is unique because the province has given a lot of freedom to individual communities to be innovative and design their own regulations.

On the curbside-charging front, Vancouver currently manages 75 Level 2 public charging stations, 34 of which are on city properties. After allowing free charging for years, the city is experimenting with charging $2 an hour for a slow charge to $16 an hour for a fast charge, in addition to a regular parking meter rate for 16 city-owned curbside charging stations. Neville says the city will recommend the service be open to competition in order to allow the private sector to run it.

High-traffic areas

It’s estimated that another 175 charging points are available to EV drivers that are managed by parking garages, hotels, shopping malls and other services. The city is also putting charging stations in high-traffic areas where people are liable to park for awhile, including community centres, supermarkets, shopping malls and tourist attractions like the Vancouver Aquarium.

“Our goal by the end of 2021 is to have everyone in the city within a 10-minute drive of a fast-charging station.”

Ian Neville, Climate Policy Analyst, City of Vancouver

Besides providing a solution for garage orphans, more charging stations also benefit utilities. “By having home charging distributed throughout the city, it reduces peak loads on the B.C. Hydro grid, which is easier for them to manage,” says Neville.

Because Vancouver is a dense, compact city, most drivers travel less than 30 kilometres per day. EV batteries can be recharged from these trips in about one hour on a Level 2 plug, or in a few minutes on a fast charger. “Our goal by the end of 2021 is to have everyone in the city within a 10-minute drive of a fast-charging station,” says Neville.

Editor’s note: This story was revised from the original to clarify Montreal’s curbside charger prices and correct a detail regarding Vancouver’s condo bylaw.