Plugging in to the future


Electric vehicles are coming, bringing with them challenges and change for new and old strata properties.


At the ground-breaking East Village at Knutsford in Fremantle they are preparing for an electric vehicle revolution.


As part of life at East Village, residents will share the use of an electric car which will be fully powered by solar energy from their rooftops and homes are being designed to allow for electric vehicle charging.


The new village — which is still in development but likely to be half strata — is part of a network of communities around the world which are embracing so-called One Planet Living, which has sustainable living at its core.


The WA government’s Development WA, which is behind the project, says with a micro grid supplying water and power to the homes solely from renewable sources, the village is the first of its kind in WA.


And electric vehicles are an important part of the plan.


“All homes at East Village will have EV-ready wiring to their car ports and outdoor power points for charging e-scooters and e-bikes,” says Development WA chief executive Frank Marra.


“Residents and visitors will have access to a shared community battery and a shared 50kW EV fast charger, powered by the onsite battery and generating revenue for the strata company.”


Marra says the East Village strata company has also invested in a new Hyundai Ioniq EV for residents.


He says the village is leading the way. “If you've got a 1.5 kilowatt solar panel system on your roof, and you plug your car in to be charged by the PV system, you're probably going to get between 60 km and 80 km of ‘free’ kilometres every day,” Marra says. “Most people only drive 12 km.”


Electrify me


Around the world, many countries are moving towards electric transport.


Just this month the European Union proposed an effective ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, aiming to speed up the switch to zero emission electric vehicles, news agency Reuters reported.


In Australia, data released by the Australia Bureau of Statistics shows electric vehicle registrations rose sharply in 2020, although petrol powered vehicles still dominate.


ABS Transport Statistics director Sarah Kiely says while the number of electric vehicles is still small — less than 0.1 per cent of Australia’s total fleet — the 14,253 electric vehicles registered in 2020 was almost double the previous year.


Dr Elliot Fishman, a transport planning expert with The Institute for Sensible Transport, says electric vehicles will present new challenges for cities — and strata bodies.


“About 93 percent of charging happens at home or the workplace,” he says. “It’s not like petrol or diesel where we go to a certain place to refuel. This mostly happens when we are asleep or at work.


“We wouldn’t want to create a divide where those in houses are able to charge at home, but those in apartments can’t. We want people in apartments to be able to as well.”

Strata Community Association (WA) President, Catherine Lezer, says issues like climate change, waste and renewable energy often steal the headlines, but managing the built environment to balance economic, social and environmental issues is also important.


Lezer says the association aims to be influential in ensuring the built environment of the future is home to healthy, inclusive, sustainable and prosperous communities by educating, inspiring and supporting its members to lead the way.


Future-proofing complexes


Electric vehicle service providers can see the day when recharging an electric car will be as normal as recharging a mobile telephone and recharge stations will be standard in apartment complexes, whether in private bays or shared in common areas.


Florian Popp, one of the owners of WA energy management and electric vehicles solution provider Gemtek, says the motoring landscape is changing.


“In general the number of electric vehicles in WA from this time last year has doubled and we’re seeing up to 100 new electric cars coming into WA every month in the private market,” Popp says.


“If I was to guess, perhaps 10 per cent of owners might be living in apartments or residential strata communities.”


Popp’s company installs chargers and supporting infrastructure for electric vehicles at commercial, government and residential properties. It worked on East Village.


He says a mix of old and new buildings are being outfitted with charging stations.


As well as the chargers, it can also involve fitting power loaders to balance out power use when many cars need to be charged and payment and billing systems when the chargers are owned by the strata company and those using it pay to top up.


Popp says many developers are planning for electric cars at the design stage.


“I think in the development space, the need has been seen and from a marketing perspective developers have planned for it and are putting some infrastructure in,” he says.


“But they are certainly not preparing for a greater quantity of electric vehicles, we find, because that capital cost at the beginning for load management and other things can be quite high.


“The first one or two are generally fine, then it’s the subsequent cars that have problems charging because the building electrical capacity is reached and that’s when you tend to need that load management.


“One or two slip through, but the preparedness for multiple vehicles is still, we find, unrecognised.”


Popp says each project is different. Some want basic chargers which start at about $1000. Others wants chargers that add to the aesthetics of the property.


“There are some really beautiful chargers around,” he says. “We can get Danish chargers that are wood grained finish, as with anything you can get really good looking hardware, it’s certainly out there but it comes down to whether people are prepared to spend the money.”

He says the next decade is set to bring big change.


“Most of the manufactures are not producing any more fossil fuel cars post 2030,” he says. “Really within the next 10 years we will be moving to electric cars and certainly renewable energy.


“You’ve only got to look at what’s happened in the rest of the world. Europe is certainly moving in that direction, Asia and particularly China is doing extremely well in that transition and America under Joe Biden is motoring towards the transition.”


Popp says although Australia is beginning to pick up pace, it is still lagging. The initial costs to a project are often seen as a deterrent to installing them in new buildings and complexes.


“I think the development sector has been slow to pick up on the technology transitions,” he says. “They are very good at beautiful looking switches and the aesthetics of buildings, but it’s the whole smart transition towards energy and water efficiency and electrification of transport.


“The sector is so cost driven.


“But when you look at the capital costs compared to the operational costs of buildings over a 50 year life cycle, that’s an area where there is a lot of opportunity at the moment to lead and differentiate, not just as a marketing or sales type, glossy brochure, but to really get that right.


“Because in the built environment, that transition into energy efficiency, lower carbon buildings in the operational life, that’s at the core of climate change.


“The built environment is a huge consumer of electricity as a whole. To get that metering and energy management component, and supporting the transition to electric vehicles, is at the core of what the world is trying to achieve.”

Image supplied by Development WA

Fitting the bill


Charging and billing platforms can be installed on e-chargers in common areas — and there are specialised companies working in the sphere.


Melbourne-based electric vehicle company Chargefox boasts a 22 station, ultra rapid charging network between Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, with extra stations in WA and Tasmania.


It can also organise for the installation of its charging and billing platform in private strata complexes.


“The new builds are setting aside car spaces and putting in place communal, shared chargers,” says Chargefox’s Nick Franco.


“In that instance the body corporate owns the chargers and they allow their tenants to come and use them.


“What they would typically do is put a price on the charge. They want to at least cover their own energy costs because it is using the common power.


"The tenants or visitors who have an EV would set up an account with Chargefox and every time they use the charger, Chargefox acts as a billing platform.


“So when they finish the charge we take the cost out of the driver’s account and we disperse the funds into the account of the building manager.”


Franco says many buildings are planning for the future.

“What we are finding, a lot of apartment buildings now are future proofing their buildings,” he says. “They may start off by installing four chargers but they will lay all of the services and conduit cabling so in the future they can bolt on or add on more chargers as demand grows.”


He says managing how drivers use the chargers can be a challenge for strata companies.

“We always say to the OCs or building managers, you must be very clear with your signs,” he says. “You must put clear signage up that says these bays are for EVs only while charging.


“It must be clear to drivers, when you finish your charge, please move your vehicle so someone else can use the charger. Drivers are usually quite respectful of each other because they all face the same problems.”


Green star gazing


Cameron Craig, digital marketing executive at Sydney-based charging company EVSE, says the firm gets enquiries from tenants, body corporates, building managers and electricians across Australia.


“New developments are pretty much always looking to improve their green star ratings and be as future-proof as possible, so they're allowing for the EV charger demand when they plan buildings, even if they aren't installing them all straight away,” he says.


“Existing complexes definitely want to explore EV charging, but as you can probably imagine there's usually a lot more work to do as there would be with most kinds of retrofitting.”


Craig says most of the time EV owners use intelligent chargers that track their energy use and then bill them via an online platform.


“At the end of the day though, any building can get EV chargers installed, it's just a matter of the hurdles that need to be overcome,” he says.