My Inconvenient Truth About EV Charging at Home

The woes of charging an electric vehicle for those of us who don’t live in single-family homes…well, hits home.

Look closely, and you’ll spot an early morning “PatioCharge”.

Once or twice a week, you can find me hanging off of my home’s second-story balcony.

I don’t necessarily want to be there. I’m not waving to passersby. I’m not training for a covid-friendly Cirque du Soleil routine.

I live in a rental condo, and I’m dropping an extension cord to charge my Nissan Leaf in the parking area below. It’s a ritual I refer to as PatioCharge.

Out of respect for my neighbors, I only enable PatioCharge during night-time hours. Because who wants an extension cord dangling off the front of their building?

Inconvenient? Most definitely! But for most of the 40% of Californians who live in multi-unit dwellings (MUD) like me, PatioCharge represents our only home charging option.

But it can’t be a long-term solution.

Transportation is the largest source of California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Over 40% of our annual emissions results from driving passenger vehicles. Tackling this enormous opportunity to curb tailpipe emissions necessitates access to convenient and reliable electric vehicle (EV) charging. For most drivers, that means charging where we live and work.

Recent Adoptions

A 2021 Black & Veatch (BV) study estimates the San Diego region’s roadways will support over 300,000 EVs by 2025. That’s a four-fold increase from the 70,000 EVs on San Diego roads in 2020.

The BV study tells us that Level 2 EV charging infrastructure needed at MUDs like mine must grow more than eight-fold by 2025. Fast-Charging (DCFC) infrastructure needs an almost fifteen-fold increase.

If mass-EV adoption miraculously occurred overnight, many drivers would be out of luck. Our region’s charging infrastructure simply isn’t ready.

Mind the Gap

The California Energy Commission (CEC) is also studying EV infrastructure gaps across the entire state. In 2021 the CEC found California is falling short by about 57,000 public charging ports compared to 2025 goals.

To reach our goals, the CEC is requesting more funding to incentivize investment in EV charging. But they’re also thinking about unintended consequences of mass EV charging.

State planners must also consider the stress widespread EV charging could introduce to the electric grid. In response, the CEC encourages “prioritizing the installation of [EV charging stations] with smart charging capabilities”.

Hey – that’s exactly what I’m working on! So you may be curious – what is “smart charging”?

Get Smart

Smart charging typically refers to software that enables EV charging stations to decide when and how much electricity to deliver to the vehicles they’re charging. That’s compared with “dumb charging”, or an EV charging station that acts like a regular appliance. Whenever a dumb charger is plugged in, it’s charging at full capacity until the vehicle is fully charged.

Smart charging saves EV drivers money by prioritizing charging when electricity is least expensive.

My team is developing smart charging software called “adaptive load management” (ALM). It regulates the amount of power all charging stations across one site cumulatively draw at a single moment. In addition to operational savings, ALM can also reduce upfront capital costs.

Monitoring and regulating power consumption at the site level allows developers to install more EV charging ports without expensive upgrades to existing electrical infrastructure. Smaller wires and less infrastructure for EV charging equates to big cost savings.

San Diego Chargers

In April 2021, the California Public Utilities Commission approved San Diego’s local investor-owned utility, SDG&E, to move forward with a second round of funding incentivizing the installation of electric vehicle charging stations throughout San Diego County.

SDG&E anticipates the $44M program will attract investment in 2,000 charging ports at workplaces and multi-unit dwellings (MUDs). (That’s me!)

MUDdy Waters

Charging infrastructure at MUDs and workplaces provides a crucial link to widespread EV adoption for the masses. But MUDs are one of the hardest nuts to crack for several reasons.

For one, many MUD residents (like me) rent. That means we don’t hold the decision-making abilities to bring EV charging solutions home that a homeowner would. Some supportive landlords may be willing to cooperate, but what about the HOA?

Who’s paying for station installation? Costs can vary depending on the distance between parking spaces and the MUD’s electric utility infrastructure.

Once installed, how will residents meter and pay for the electricity? How can HOA’s spread the costs fairly to all stakeholders, regardless of who owns an EV?

These are questions I’m working answer.

Charging Forward

I’m working alongside a talented team towards a future of widespread EV adoption. That means offering convenient, innovative, replicable smart-charging options for our homes and workplaces. You can learn more about our work here.

Until we reach that future, be sure to wave next time you see me hanging off the side of my patio. I can’t wait retire “PatioCharge”.

If you’d like to learn more about EV charging solutions at MUDs or workplaces and how to charge with renewables, I’d like to hear from you. You can reach me at alex.kaufman@powerflex.com.

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