Electric-vehicle chargers not yet priority for building managers

Electric CircuitElectric-vehicle stations are green, sexy and cutting-edge, but commercial property managers say they’re not yet sensing high demand for them.

Gatineau, Que., is among the latest areas to see the gradual growth of plug-in stations for electric vehicles. Electric Circuit, a partnership of several Quebec businesses and public agencies that operates a network of vehicle charging stations in the province, recently announced that Maison du citoyen, which houses Gatineau’s city hall, had become home to two new plug-in stations.

The partnership says it has about 200 vehicle charging stations across the province. Many of them are in the parking lots of businesses such as St-Hubert, Rona and Metro, which are among the partners of Electric Circuit. Hydro-Québec and Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT), which runs the public transit system in the Montreal area, are also in the partnership.

The Canadian Automobile Association’s website offers a map application for finding electric-vehicle charging stations across the country. It shows such stations are available in every province except Prince Edward Island, with clusters in major urban centres and more sporadic availability in smaller and more remote areas. For example, one should be aware that if you’re travelling in northern Ontario and heading west, the next charging station after Terrace Bay is 400 kilometres away in Atikokan, according to the CAA map.

The places that have them tend to have one or two stations. Auto dealerships and hotels are among the businesses most often equipped.

electric charging stationNot yet a priority for property managers

Martin Lefebvre, vice-president of SNC-Lavalin Operations & Maintenance in Ottawa, was unsure whether properties under his group’s management have electric-vehicle stations.

“We’ve got the odd area where it had been requested, but it’s nowhere near something systematic that we see anywhere,” he said. “It’s still the exception.”

Lefebvre said there has been talk among his peers about how common vehicle charging stations could become in the future, but that the industry is “still in the sit-and-wait approach.”

He said as it now stands, if a client requests a charging station, it can be installed fairly simply, and the costs for the equipment and usage would be passed on directly to the client.

“I think it becomes a much bigger issue if that becomes widespread, whereas the expectation coming in is that all parking spots have one of these,” Lefebvre said. “That would require potentially an upgrade to the building infrastructure.”

Lefebvre said he has not gone so far as to study the potential corresponding costs.

Keith Major, senior vice-president of property management for Bentall Kennedy Canada in Toronto, said there are about a dozen car-charging stations at buildings managed by his firm. Some are for business vehicles at locations in Toronto and Ottawa, while others are located at other Ontario retail properties. All have been installed within the last two years.

Major said demand for such equipment, and what’s expected for the foreseeable future, is not currently sufficient to make it a high priority for his company.

“While there’s a lot of focus on (electric vehicles), the reality is it’s a very small percentage of vehicles that they anticipate being EVs (electric vehicles) over the (next decade),” he said.

Navigant Research, a market research firm, predicts that Canadian sales of plug-in electric vehicles will reach 230,479 by 2022. That would still represent less than 15 per cent of the 1.7 million new-vehicle sales sold in Canada in 2012, according to Statistics Canada.

Demand on the grid

Major added that if electrical-vehicle use became widespread, it would be irresponsible for users to depend on office locations to charge their vehicles during the day.

“That actually causes more strain on the power grid and it actually compounds a problem we already have in Ontario where we’ve got a daytime peaking problem, during the summer in particular,” he said. “Ideally, if they’re moving toward electrification of transportation, they should be (charging) at night when the power is relatively inexpensive and there’s a surplus of power in Ontario.”

Nathalie Vachon, a spokeswoman for Hydro-Québec and Electric Circuit, said the 240-volt charging stations her group uses, which include payment and communications systems, cost about $5,000 each, plus installation.

Chris Hill, president of Electric Mobility Canada, a national promoter of electric vehicles, said basic chargers are available for less than $500.

Demand for electric charging stations

“That’s a wall-mounted system, with a single connector, 240 volts, but it won’t read credit cards or anything like that,” Hill said.

He described demand for charging stations as “developing slowly in Canada,” adding that there are about 1,000 public stations in Canada. He singled out British Columbia as a leading province in public car chargers, with about 450.

Hill said workplace charging is an area where he sees some heightened interest as of late.

“If there’s the availability of a charging station at work, it looks good for the employer, it might help with things like LEED certification for a building, and it just helps to show support for employees that want to drive electric vehicles,” he said.

Hill agreed if demand for vehicle-charging stations were to become more widespread, commercial building managers would have to invest significant amounts of money into their electrical infrastructure.

“I guess it would just be like putting in a parking lot,” he said. “It’s certainly likely to come at some point, and it’s like putting in Wi-Fi or any other service as technology develops.”

He said demand placed on the grid by electric vehicles is something that could become a future concern, but the numbers are not yet high enough to cause problems. He said the demand for power of an electric vehicle is similar to that of a house.

“We’re adding 50,000 new homes to the grid in Ontario every year,” Hill said. “It’s going to be a long time before we’re adding 50,000 new electric cars.”

Hill added that most drivers of electric-vehicles make efforts not to have to recharge anywhere in their daily travels.

“I’d say the vast majority of electric-vehicle drivers plan their day around not having to charge,” Hill said, noting he can make a round trip of 100 kilometres on one charge in his vehicle.

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