A hurdle for electric vehicles: How to encourage home charging as cities densify?

Jerome Mayaud
Nov 30, 2018 · 4 min read

Over two million electric vehicles (EVs) are now on the road worldwide, but a big hurdle to adoption remains: ensuring that charging stations are available in homes. To encourage their citizens to take the leap and purchase an EV, governments must develop bold new strategies that incentivise the installation of residential charging.

Rapid urban population growth is driving many cities around the world to reduce their carbon footprints. In Canada, two major policy agendas are being pursued to achieve this: urban densification and electrification of the transportation network. Despite the linkages between these goals, they are often pursued separately through disjointed planning strategies. In time, ad-hoc policies could be counterproductive and reduce uptake of EVs by making ownership expensive, inefficient and complicated.

Most Canadians live in cities, where the deployment of EVs has two main advantages. First, EVs can help to drastically reduce local emissions, as long as their electricity comes from sustainable sources. Second, their driving ranges are suited to short urban trips. For example, 95% of driving drips in the City of Vancouver fall under 30 km, well within the range of an EV. The province of British Columbia (BC) is an attractive location for EV deployment because roughly 90% of its electricity is sourced from large renewable hydropower, so widespread EV usage could cut its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 98%. What’s more, residential electricity rates in BC are low enough that charging a vehicle at home is less expensive than fueling a conventional gasoline vehicle. Together with BC’s EV subsidies, these factors resulted in provincial EV sales more than doubling between 2013 and 2017. However, EVs still only make up 2% of all vehicles on BC’s roads, which suggests more stringent policies are needed.

Consumers are switching to EVs as the number of models on the market grows and battery prices decrease, but drivers have to be sure they will be able to charge their vehicles quickly, easily and cheaply. Electrified transportation is still beset by a classic ‘chicken-and-egg’ problem: fuel providers will not invest in fueling infrastructure until enough EVs are in circulation, and people will avoid buying an EV until sufficient charging points exist.

While a dense network of public charging points will be important for reducing range anxiety among users, almost 90% of charging takes place at home due to convenience. However, the installation of home charging is complicated in buildings with multiple dwelling units, because of competing interests in the common spaces shared by residents. So-called ‘Multi-Unit Residential Buildings’ (MURBs) now account for over a quarter of all households in BC (Figure 1) and are forecast to make up 70% of all new residential constructions in the province by 2020.

Figure 2. BC building permits for multiple unit residences are on an upward trend. Data from Statistics Canada.

Legislation increasingly mandates constructors to include EV charging infrastructure in new MURBs, but no policies exist to encourage the retrofitting of charging points in existing buildings. To help address this gap, research led by Diana Lopez-Behar at the University of British Columbia identified the main challenges and decision-making processes for installing charging points in BC’s MURBs. The team found that the most significant barriers are related to financial and technical issues, which arise from imposing electrical loads onto the existing power systems of buildings. Other barriers include the lack of support from non-EV drivers, unclear regulation concerning the rights and obligations of drivers and landlords, and overly conservative regulatory requirements for buildings.

From this analysis, Lopez-Behar and her team developed a set of policy recommendations that could help boost the uptake of EVs in many markets worldwide. They proposed three main categories of policy interventions: financial/fiscal, regulatory and information/awareness measures. Financial/fiscal policy measures include creating incentives for EV owners and extending them to the building owners, and programs to incentivize and provide financial aid for building owners to develop building retrofit plans. Regulatory policy measures include addressing the rights and obligations of the stakeholders and communicating them effectively to people with differing levels of technical knowledge and trust in EV technology. Information/awareness policy measures include expanding existing chagrining guidelines and informing the development of a long-term EV charging infrastructure plan.

Cities generate 80% of global GDP and are responsible for 70% of CO2 emissions, so they are critical arenas for addressing the sources and effects of climate change. As vehicle electrification gains pace in Canada and further afield, policies will have to better account for the obstacles and opportunities surrounding residential charging. The high densification and mobility challenges experienced in BC’s urban areas is illustrative of the challenges faced by many modern cities, so the UBC team’s suggestions are relevant to EV markets around the world. More joined-up thinking is needed to ensure EVs are adopted as widely as possible.

This piece was written in collaboration with Diana Lopez-Behar, Martino Tran, Thomas Froese, Omar Herrera and Walter Merida (University of British Columbia).

The research led by Diana Lopez-Behar is published in two papers:

Lopez-Behar, D., Tran, M., Froese, T., Mayaud, J. R., Herrera, O. & Merida, W. (2018). Charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in Multi-Unit Residential Buildings: Mapping feedbacks and policy recommendations. Energy Policy.

Lopez-Behar, D., Tran, M., Mayaud, J. R., Froese, T., Herrera, O., Merida, W. (2018). Putting electric vehicles on the map: A policy agenda for residential charging infrastructure in Canada. Energy Research and Social Science.

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