Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Electric Cars: The Next Parking Issue in Your Community?

Remember when pick-up trucks were restricted in many community associations? That rule has fallen out of favor these days. How about motorcycles or their less intimidating cousin, scooters? Many associations now allow owners to park these types of vehicles in the community as their popularity has grown.

Far too many communities in Florida have parking accommodations and the restrictions relating to their use, dating back to a time when many families used only one car. Has your association changed its rules or policies in regard to these parking issues? Has your board peered into the future to discuss the next parking issue on the horizon so you can be part of the vanguard rather than playing catch-up? If you have, has the topic of electric cars come up and what their growing popularity might mean for your community?

Electric cars are hailed by some as the panacea to eliminate our country’s dependence on foreign oil. According to proponents, they are ‘green” which means they are planet-friendly (friendlier than our current gas guzzlers, anyhow) 2.4 percent of all cars bought in 2010 were electric or hybrid, with that projected to increase to 3.7 percent in 2011, 4.1 percent in 2012 and 4.8 percent in 2013. That reflects a twofold increase in electric and hybrid cars in a four year period. The federal government has set a target of at least 1 million electric vehicles in service nationwide by 2015. About 80 percent of charging is expected to occur at home which is where your association comes into the picture.

So what does that mean for your community?

Imagine coming home to your townhouse parking lot or underground parking garage and having to drive over extensions cords strewn throughout the parking area for cars recharging their batteries, or someone else’s car plugged into your electrical outlet in front of your townhouse? Who should pay for the electricity to charge a few owners’ electric or hybrid vehicles? How would you police "electrical theft" should an owner plug his or her vehicle into another owner's or the community's socket?

How will your association handle this potentially looming problem? Let’s take a look.

Charging Equipment for Plug-In Electric Vehicles

How fast a vehicle charges depends on the battery type and the type of charging equipment used. Level 1 equipment can charge an electric vehicle (“EV”) in 8 to 20 hours. Level 2 equipment performs the same task in 3 – 8 hours. DC Fast Charging does the trick in less than 30 minutes. The Electric Power Research Institute anticipates most EV owners will charge their vehicles overnight at home. For this reason, Level 1 (120 volts) and Level 2 (240 volts) charging equipment will be the primary options for homeowners.

Level 1 equipment provides charging through a 120 volt (V), alternating-current (AC) plug (up to 15 amperes and 1.8 kW). Level 1 EVSE is portable and does not require installation of charging equipment. On one end of the cord is a standard, three-prong household plug. On the other end is a connector, which plugs into the vehicle. Level 1 works well for charging at home, work, or when there is only a 120 V outlet, or "trickle charge," available. Depending on the battery type, Level 1 charging can take 6 to 20 hours for a fully depleted battery to reach a full charge. Unless an association installs a charging station as discussed below, EVs using this type of charging equipment may become a problem for an association. By plugging into a standard 120 volt electrical outlet, this type of charging is available wherever you can plug in an extension cord. However, the question remains as to how feasible this type of charging may be if it takes anywhere from 6 – 20 hours to fully charge a depleted EV battery.

Level 2 equipment offers charging through a 240 V, AC plug and requires professional installation of home charging or public charging equipment. Many available units operate at 30 amperes, delivering 7.2 kW of power. These units require a dedicated 40 amp circuit. Level 2 equipment can take anywhere from 3 – 8 hours to fully charge a depleted EV battery. There are numerous companies that can install Level 2 charging stations in your association. Some of these companies will install the equipment at no charge and share a percentage of the revenue generated with the association.

We know electric cars will be a more widespread purchase in the future. At my Firm, we have already had a few clients contact us regarding installation of Level 2 charging stations in their communities. Among other concerns, the following are some factors we discussed with them:

1) Is the installation of the charging station a material alteration that may require the vote of the owners to install?

2) How many charging stations would be required and where would be the most logical place to locate them?

3) Who should pay for the electricity to charge the EVs – the owner(s) or the association?

4) Does the association need to pass policies and rules regarding the use of the charging stations and limit or prohibit Level 1 charging which would tap into the association's common area electrical outlets?

5) Are there any liability and insurance concerns?

We will continue this dialogue in upcoming blogs. In the meantime, don’t be "shocked" when long orange extension cords crop up in your parking areas!

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