By on January 13, 2011

Japan is the world’s center of gravity for plug-ins one actually can buy. News from the land of Nippon also illustrate a little detail that prevents EVs from wholesale adoption.

There is an EV conundrum that had been largely overlooked or ignored amongst the hype: So you need a charging station in your garage. What if you don’t have your own garage, because you live in an apartment complex? Range-challenged EVs are targeted at dense cities, and where do people live in dense cities?

Even if you could convince your building’s management that the greening of the planet is their moral obligation, there are other obstacles to overcome: “It is more difficult to install chargers and 200-volt power sources in buildings with multiple households than at a single-family home because fees must be collected from individual users and security measures must be in place to prevent unauthorized use,” writes The Nikkei [sub]. “Installing them at existing condo buildings is even more time-consuming because it requires approval from the residents association.”

Those pesky little details. Running fiber to your wall to give you gigabit Internet sounds downright trivial compared to equipping basement or (oops!) roadside parking spaces with hefty chargers. And where is my gigabit fiber anyway?

To allow condo-dwellers to charge up, you need to – brace yourself – build new condos. This is what “a growing number of real estate developers” in Japan are planning to do. They intend “to build condominium complexes with parking lots and garages equipped with electric car battery chargers, expecting the cars to become widespread in the near future,” reports The Nikkei.  It will be slow going.

Daikyo, one of Japan’s largest condo builders, “will set aside roughly 10 percent of the parking space to install EV battery chargers at the 70 or so condo complexes it will build in the Tokyo metropolitan area next fiscal year.” Smaller builders Itochu and Mitsui Fudosan are working on 10 buildings. Let’s hope they will put in the conduit for the remaining 90 percent.

Here is another sign that chargers won’t grow like mushrooms in the dim light of condo garages: The chargers need to be administered, usage of chargers needs to be — charged.

For that, Japan’s Fulltime System Co. has devised a system that allows the tracking of EV battery chargers at condo complexes from one single location. According to The Nikkei, Fulltime “aims to win business at 50 new and existing buildings this year, charging each building several hundred thousand of yen for the service.”

Nasty legacy infrastructure.

At least something is done in Japan. I shudder at the thought of the discussions with my former Upper Eastside co-op board.

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36 Comments on “EVs Encounter Condo Conundrum...”


  • avatar
    forraymond

    Finally someone broached this topic.  All these upcoming electric city cars for people who live in condos and apartments with no access to electrical outlets.  What the hell?  Poor planning all the way around.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      this an atypical picture of Japan. 70% or so life in single family residence. Japan isn’t Korea or Hong Kong
       

    • 0 avatar

      Ever heard of Roppongi? That’s what the picture shows. And yes, side of the street parking in Japan.

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      Roppongi is not your typical residential area, AFAIK.

      Nor is side street parking. All residents of any given area will have an assigned parking spot.
      As for single-family house residence… This would only be relevant in deeply rural areas. 

      And there is a very good reason for the Japanese rule that you have to apply for a parking permit before you can go and buy a motor vehicle over there. Free space in urban areas is just not there.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      acubra, you mean deeply rural areas like inside the yamanote line

  • avatar
    forraymond

    If these outlets are installed, how do you determine who pays for the outlet and who pays for the power?  Will parking be assigned with locks on the outlets so no one can charge their car on your dime?  This all seems like a pain in the ass.  What about those who have only street parking?  Who has electric outlets in their parking lots at work?  This is going to be horrible.  Great idea, but almost impossible to implement.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      Street parking in Japan?

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      In Japan cellphone frequently double as credit cards.  Its an electronic payment system where you swipe you cellphone (or smartcard) and you can instantly pay for a product or service.  It works in metro systems, retail outlets, and even on vending machines.  Nearly everyone in Japan has it to some capacity.
       
      I’d imagine these charging stations would you use a FeLiCa like payment system.  Drivers of the Leaf would only need to park the car and swipe their cellphones at the charging station.  Similar system can be setup for street-parking.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      “Great idea, but almost impossible to implement.”
      That is rather a lot of overstatement. How about simply swiping your credit card in the machine when you plug in? The machine could be set to automatically shut down if the connection is broken so that someone else can’t steal the juice you are paying for.
      Yes, there are issues, but no, they are nothing close to being impossible to solve.
      Electric cars certainly are not for everyone, and that is ok.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      You can give an electric signal trough the power cable. No need to swip. You plug the car in and it will tell the charging system its identity and who is paying.
       
      ps. A charging station already requires a method to communicate with the charging car to optimize charging so adding an identity/payment method isn’t difficult from that perspective

  • avatar
    blowfish

    they could come up with chargers just like parking meters, u pay for so many hours everytime u plug in. But is a lengthy process, not filled up an hour or 2.
     

  • avatar
    Garak

    In Finland we have engine block heater outlets everywhere, but surprise surprise: they are 230v single phase outlets, not 400v three phase models, and most of them aren’t rated for high currents.
     
    Besides, Finland is not a very ev-friendly country anyway, with low population density in most places, terrible weather conditions, and no government subsidies for electric vehicles. In fact, you have to pay an extra tax to operate an electric vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      Hyvää!

    • 0 avatar
      zeus01

      “In fact, you have to pay an extra tax to operate an electric vehicle.”
       
      Yup, and when pure electrics become common-place here in North America I’m sure we’ll all become intimately familiar with that “extra tax.” Governments will be scrambling to replace “lost” revenue from declining fossil fuel sales.
       
      Their answer to this conundrum may be any combination of extra taxes on electric vehicle sales, extra taxes on electricity or (most likely) turning all major highways into toll roads and collecting taxes by vehicle-mounted transponders. The sleaze never ends. What’s worse, I’m an optimist…

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      It is not an extra tax. ICE cars pay highway costs through gas taxes. Electric cars don’t use gas so no gas tax but they still need to pay for the upkeep of the highway system

    • 0 avatar
      mdensch

      Charly is right.  Just exactly where is the money for maintaining highway infrastructure going to come from if use of EVs become widespread (not likely any time soon) and road tax revenues decline?
      It isn’t “sleaze”, it’s reality.  Our roads and bridges aren’t going to fix themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      Many countries have road tax and don’t tax gas for road maintenance

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    How about the mischievous teenager group who will bond over a “let’s run through the parking lot and unplug all the electric cars” brain storm. That’s what I would be doing if I was still 15.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      It is Japan. Very little vandalism.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “let’s run through the parking lot and unplug all the electric cars”

      You forget, it’s the 21st century. They’ll stay at their keyboards (maybe in other countries) and shut the chargers down through the internet. The chargers or the vehicles will probably be connected to the net so that you can check status (like the Volt phone app).

    • 0 avatar
      pgcooldad

      I wouldn’t call unplugging a vehicle vandalism. There is no “physical damage” to plug or vehicle.
      How about the little old lady who minds everyones business but her own, “Humm, maybe if I unplug their electric car they won’t be coming and going at all hrs of the day making all that noise”.

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      Or an Earth-Firster who sees even electric micro cars as harmful to the environment.

  • avatar

    This will naturally raise the price of apartments.  So what if I rent one of these apartments and I don’t have an electric vehicle, will the rent be reduced?

  • avatar
    TR4

    No problem.  When wireless charging arrives you will just beam recharging power from your apartment to your vehicle:)

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      Just don’t get in the way of the “power beam”.  There are folks who are scared of milliwatts (from a cell phone) – and an electric car will be drawing lots of watts to recharge.

  • avatar
    thesal

    - Any electrically savvy people in the house?
    - How feasible is it for the grid in the city to suddenly provide a hundred cars worth of charge each night to a single address?
    - Is the infrastructure ready for this additional load?

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      I live in a high-rise apartment building.  The electrical connection to the building is pretty beefy.  All 300 apartments could turn on the microwave and the TV and the air conditioning at the same time with no problem.  Anything less is not going to satisfy landlord/tenant laws.  And probably wouldn’t pass the inspection to get an occupancy permit in the first place.  At night, very few people will be turning on the microwave so there is plenty of juice available for a bunch of electric cars.
       
      Also, in my building only about 1/3 of the people own cars.  Many high-rises are like that.  So you aren’t going to be charging one electric car per apartment.

    • 0 avatar
      benzaholic

      The peak drain on the electrical grid, especially in a city, is to businesses during the day. Any city with a reliable daytime electrical grid should be able to easily accommodate overnight vehicle recharging.
       
      Until solar power is a large contributor to the local power grid, in which case capacity is decreased when it’s dark.
       

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Compared to the air conditioning load on a hot, sunny summer day … no problem!

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      I am not so sure that the electrical system is capable of delivering the energy to “fill up” many electric cars – let alone a significant percentage of the current auto population.  I am not an electrical system expert but I have a degree in electrical engineering.
      Electric cars don’t change the amount of work required to move a vehicle 30-40-50-60 mph.  The energy is just being delivered by electricity rather than by a liquid (gasoline).
      I would estimate that it takes similar or more amounts of energy to move a 3000 pound automobile than run an air conditioner.  An air conditioner is basically 2 motors (compressor, fan) and some plumbing – not much mass is being moved by the motors.  An electric car is 1 motor moving a very heavy object.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Some plausible numbers:  a 2 ton (24,000 BTU) AC unit will consume 2.4 kW given a typical efficiency i.e. EER=10.  120V overnight charging at 12 amps is 1.44kW.  240V charging at 24 amps is 5.76kW.  So the slow charge is less than an AC but a fast charge is more. If many are fast charging it is easy to imagine an overload. 

    • 0 avatar
      cstoc

      I’ve already seen articles in our local newspaper quoting the concern of electrical utilities about EVs.  They say a charging EV basically uses as much power as an entire typical house.  They’re concerned that if more than a couple of EVs pop up in a neighborhood then the local transformer won’t be able to handle the load.  They also expect the EVs to not be evenly distributed, but to be concentrated in affluent neighborhoods, so their transformer upgrades will be planned accordingly.  Their planners say the next couple of years will be very instructive.

  • avatar
    ixim

    Enter the Chevy Volt, whose owners may plug in at their workplaces, etc. [maybe?].

  • avatar
    cackalacka

    I have never been to Japan/Asia, but…

    From what I understand regarding their johns; any society that can develop bathroom recepticals that elaborite should have no problem determining how to wire parking garages.

  • avatar
    zeus01

    “Charly is right.  Just exactly where is the money for maintaining highway infrastructure going to come from if use of EVs become widespread (not likely any time soon) and road tax revenues decline?
    It isn’t “sleaze”, it’s reality.  Our roads and bridges aren’t going to fix themselves.”
     
    True, there has to be a viable user-pay method of supporting the cost of maintaining our highway infrastructures. But the devil of course is, as always, in the details. And this is where the sleaze comes in.
     
    Not sure how the details play out in the states, but here north of the 49th parallel fuel taxes were originally introduced specifically for the understandable purpose of maintaining our highways. Said funds generated were directed to this cause exclusively. So far, so good.
     
    But governments of all levels have the damnedest habit of becoming addicted to the succulent taste and smell of other people’s money, namely that of taxpayers. Soon this revenue was quietly rolled into that black hole known up here as “general revenue.” Now it could be mis-appropriated at will, and with the smoke-and-mirrors show that the feds cooked up we peasants didn’t know what struck us.
     
    How bad was the sleaze? One Readers’ Digest article years ago stated that out of all funds raised from fuel taxes the feds were only returning 16 cents on the dollar to our highway infrastructure(!)
     
    I’m not against having some form of user-pay system levied against those driving pure-electric vehicles. An annual tax on odometer miles driven would be fair. OR a system of toll highways could work if administered fairly.  But bureaucrats are notorious for dropping the OR in favour of AND when it suits their whims. Typically they introduce one method, then once that has been grudgingly accepted they, over time, introduce another and then another. And the odds against even a modest majority of funds reaching their intended target are high. It’s called sleaze, folks. Plain and simple.
     

  • avatar
    SchmilBit

    You’ve made me realize this will be a HUGE problem — the build-out for charging these cars.

    I live in a high-rise building in Chicago, built in th 1960s, 600 units, an underground garage with 300 cars, 75 of which are “floaters,” which means they are parked randomly by the garage staff wherever there is room. After 2-3 years, these floaters will inherit a permanent assigned space. We do not have deeded spaces. Many garages in Chicago operate this way. There are many, many buildings like mine.

    I’m president of our condo board. The chief engineer is a friend of mine. I asked him about running 220 or even 110 power to spaces in the garage. He rolled his eyes.

    In Chicago, all electriity has to be run in conduit. Most big cities (where the highrises are) will have similar codes. Our garage is pretty spread out (it’s on one level) with the electricity entering the building sort of at one end of the garage. There are several “rooms” in the garage with fire doors, etc. The ceilng of the garage has lots of sewer and other piping already in place? A tough place to run big, new conduit.

    Where would the new conduit run? Would you run a heavy-duty line (3-inch conduit) to a junction box, then break it down, etc. fanning out to individual parking spaces? Would this conduit have to go in the floor (breaking up concrete) because it would be tough to run it along the ceiling, and impossible to run along the walls? Would electric cars get assigned spaces closer to the electric source, which would make them more “desirable” because they’d be closer to the door into the building?

    And finally, WHO PAYS FOR THE BUILD-OUT? It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to create this infrastructure, and if 50 people have electric cars, it would be too costly for them to pay for it. And it would be completely unreasonable for non-electric people — and the 300 non-car residents — to pay for any of it. I can’t see us spending this kind of money for a limited “amenity” when we need to spend first to upgrade to faster elevators, a new roof, better windows, energy-efficient boilers — the list goes on.

    And all this assumes there is some easy way to meter the electricity use. If you have to tap into Edison’s power ahead of our building’s master meter, you have even more problems and cost.

    SO I JUST DON’T SEE HOW THIS COULD WORK for the majority of high rise buildings, where many of the electric car people curently live. A suburban commuter driving a VOLT, no problem because there’s no range anxiety. A suburban commuter with a LEAF on a cold day where his battery is down 30% and he gets stuck in traffic from an accident and sits there with his heater off, afraid to waste power — not going to happen.

    I’d like to see more about the real-world life of electric cars, among the people most likely to own them.

    And I haven’t even mentioned the tens — maybe hundreds — of thousands of Chicagoans who park on the street!

    Welcome to the big city.
     


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