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BCIT research could help Burnaby apartment buildings become EV-ready

“The buildings were never designed for the additional electrical load of electric vehicle charging, and so retrofits have to be done carefully. And we created a blueprint on… the correct way to do it.”

By Srushti Gangdev | July 26, 2022 |5:00 am

A research group at BCIT has created a blueprint to help multi-unit residential buildings, like apartments and condos, expand their electrical capacity to accommodate electrical vehicles (EVs).

With gas prices reaching record highs over the past few months in Burnaby, you may have found yourself wondering if it’s worth going electrical. But residents who live in multi-family buildings might run into problems with their buildings allowing EV chargers.

“The issue is that there’s kind of a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. And if you do it wrong, you can quickly exhaust any spare electrical capacity that you’ve got in the building,” said BCIT SMART research head Clay Howey.

“The buildings were never designed for the additional electrical load of electric vehicle charging, and so retrofits have to be done carefully. And we created a blueprint on… the correct way to do it.”

Howey said the project “pioneers” the use of electric vehicle energy management systems (EVEMS), which can help maximize the usage efficiency of existing electrical infrastructure without requiring expensive upgrades.

“With the old version of the Canadian Electric Code, you had to run a dedicated circuit to each charger. You would have an electrical circuit, typically protected by a 40-amp breaker, and all that does is service one charger,” he said.

“And with the changes that we’ve been able to work with Technical Safety BC and so on, the Canadian electric code has been changed to allow for EVEMS in order to use more than one charger on a circuit.”

For example, he said, a 40-amp circuit could service up to four Level 2 charges—the charge most commonly used in a residential scenario—rather than just one.

If there are four cars simultaneously connected on one circuit, they may charge more slowly than if there was just one connected. But Howey pointed out that most cars aren’t all showing up to chargers at the same time. And as one car finishes charging, the system allocates more power to the others.

“Typically by morning, everyone is going to be able to get to their destination because the bulk of charging happens overnight,” Howey said.

“So instead of having to get up and move vehicles around in the middle of the night, for the few chargers that you may be able to install in a building, this way the power gets shared among a collection of chargers. So it’s just a more efficient way to do it.”

Some municipalities have passed bylaws requiring EV readiness in multi-family developments. Burnaby’s bylaw, passed in 2020, mandates that each stall in new developments—including single-family homes—be equipped with Level 2 (208/240v) energized outlets.

But many municipalities in other parts of the country don’t have those rules. And the bylaw doesn’t apply to older buildings.

At the moment, what’s typically happening in buildings that don’t have EV chargers is that a resident will ask for permission from building management or strata to install a charger at their own stall, at personal cost.

But the problem is that as electric vehicles become more common, more and more residents will ask the same thing and take up more of the building’s electrical capacity—”Until you know, whether it’s the fourth or fifth or 10th tenant in that building, they just have to shrug their shoulders and say ‘sorry, we don’t have any electrical capacity,’” Howey said.

And the fact of the matter is that electric vehicles simply will become more common over the next few years. Indeed, the federal government has already adopted a ZEV mandate, which will require that any new vehicles sold after 2035 be zero-emission.

“So we’re getting off fossil fuels, which is a good thing, but the bad thing is, we need to figure out how to provision the infrastructure.”

Stratas or other buildings that are interested in utilizing BCIT SMART’s work can look at the team’s papers and blueprints online, and approach an electrical engineer to devise a plan for their building.

The project, which developed plans for three sites in Metro Vancouver, didn’t install chargers for the entire parking garages at the site—the team just installed a few, because that was the level of need at the time.

“But the important part is that all of the electrical infrastructure is in place [to equip the whole parking lot] and the plan is in place, so that they can organically grow their network of chargers,” Howey said.

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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