Beware costs and logistics of at-home chargers before buying an electric car

Beware costs and logistics of at-home chargers before buying an electric car
Photo credit: Nicholas Pescod

It’s a simple yet important routine for so many Canadians — plugging in their cellphones and smartwatches before bed to ensure they’re fully charged in the morning. Increasingly, there’s another item to add to the list: the car.

Electric vehicles have been gaining in popularity, accounting for three per cent of light vehicle sales in 2022, up from 2.3 per cent a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada. That number is poised to jump, with the federal government phasing out the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035.

Still, experts say potential buyers often overlook the cost and logistical challenge of setting up at-home charging infrastructure before driving their brand-new car home.

The problem, according to Daniel Breton, head of the industry association Electric Mobility Canada, is people have limited knowledge and understanding of electric vehicle chargers.

An Electric Mobility Canada survey found 88 per cent of respondents said they would like their next vehicle to be electric but only 13 per cent claimed to have an in-depth understanding of EVs, including the number of public charging stations, government rebates and battery life, among other aspects.

Installing an at-home charger is not typically a do-it-yourself project, with the electrical system being central to the setup.

Mark Marmer, owner of Signature Electric, said the process begins with consulting a licensed electrical contractor, who can offer advice on where to install the charger and whether existing electric panels are adequate.

The rules vary by region, but installing a charger typically requires a permit from the local electric authority.

There are different types of chargers, each with their own specific use and charging speed.

Level one chargers often come with electric vehicles and can be plugged into any regular wall outlet without additional setup, Marmer said.

Level two chargers, which are also used at home and very common, offer faster charging.

Meanwhile, level three chargers, often the size of refrigerators, are mostly found in public areas.

Marmer, who has been installing electric vehicle chargers for about eight years, said it’s important to understand the driver’s parking style.

“I don’t care where you want the charger, I want to know how and where you park your car,” he said, adding the installation advice changes if it’s a new driver needing extra space to park the car.

Marmer said single-family homes have more flexibility in where and how they want their charger can be installed.

The overall installation process for a detached home can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000, while the price tag of a level two charger itself can cost between $500 and $1,500. Government rebates can help families offset installation costs.

Charging an electric vehicle in a shared space such as a multi-family home, condominium or apartment gets more complicated.

Halifax resident Dylan Harris-McDonald bought his first electric vehicle last year while living in a rental apartment.

“There wasn’t an exterior plug that we could charge at home and it was logistically challenging trying to figure out where to charge publicly and how to charge at work, mostly because my work location is somewhat remote,” he said.

When Harris-McDonald subsequently moved into a single-family home, the charging situation became a lot easier but only after he upgraded the home’s electrical wiring.

He says he routinely racked up $200 in electric bills every month to charge both his vehicles. His round-trip commute was roughly an hour each day.

Most rental apartments don’t come with the electric capacity to charge electric vehicles in-house. While some condo owners have started to push for charging stations to be installed in their buildings, the process can be difficult to persuade all residents and the board due to high installation costs and resistance from corporate landlords.

Akiko Hara says she relied on a shopping mall charging station when she bought her first electric vehicle four years ago — until the shopping centre was torn down a year later.

Since then, Hara said she has been advocating for her Vancouver condominium to install EV chargers.

In November, building residents rejected the second motion for a charging station over the last three years. If it were to be approved, all condo owners would’ve split the cost of installations  — estimated at $35,000 — proportionate to their condo units, whether they own an EV or not.

Mike Mulqueen, director of commercial partnerships for electric vehicle charging technology company Swtch Energy Inc., says pushing condo boards for faster adoption of private charging stations is necessary.

“The very important conversations have to be had with the property manager and board members … for there to be a plan for the building to accommodate residents with electric vehicles,” Mulqueen said. Swtch works with condo boards and property managers on the electric charger installation process.

Depending on the engagement of a condo board, Mulqueen said, the installation process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year, including applying for government rebates.

Condo chargers, while requiring similar infrastructure, also need a mechanism for revenue collection, unlike single-family homes — making installations more expensive.

“You need those charges to be a bit smarter,” Mulqueen said. “They need to be networked so that you can pull that information and see who’s using those kilowatt-hours, which adds a bit of cost because the charger itself is typically more expensive in a multi-family situation.”

Depending on the number of chargers, size of the transformers and panels, charging stations in condos can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 per level two charger, Mulqueen said.

But he adds charging infrastructure in condo buildings is the future.

“Most charging is going to happen at home,” he said. “People are making purchasing decisions around a range of anxieties because they’re worried about being caught in public without a charger for a long trip.”

For Hara, the fight to get chargers installed in her condo building is still on, but stands by her decision to buy an electric car.

“I have no regret,” Hara said. “I’m doing something kinder for the earth. That’s my belief and that’s the least I can do.”

By Ritika Dubey in Toronto

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2023.

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