In my ongoing clean condo life series on nudging my 19-story, 233-suite, 330–parking stall condo building in a densely populated part of downtown Vancouver toward adaptation and mitigation in the era of climate change, it’s time to talk EV charging, in large part because our building reached a milestone today.
Yes, that’s a Tesla Model Y charging in the parkade in my building. Sharp eyes will note the EV and bike charging signs on the walls.
Let’s take a step back in clean condo life. I’m a climate solutions nerd. I spend much of my time assessing the biggest global warming forcers; assessing the solutions to them against the filter of thermodynamics, economics, and human nature; and then projecting what I think are realistic pathways to decarbonization decades into the future. I make my living these days helping big investment fund managers, policymakers, and corporate executives figure out what to do about the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
But I live in a city in 2023, not 2070. The city is new by global standards, but it was developed without climate resilience in mind. And the condo building I live in, only eleven years old, was built by organizations and under regulations only vaguely aware of climate change. The glorious Vancouver Seawall I walk along daily is now regularly inundated by king tides. The building I live in doesn’t have central air conditioning, yet we hit 35° Celsius in the neighborhood two years ago, something that came with an unwelcome roof deck fire due to a tenant who smoked and thought dumping their butts in a drying flower bed was a reasonable choice.
Making changes in condos with stratas in the era of climate change is a slow process, something which requires foresight and patience. Helping the strata council and owners make the right decisions requires care and finesse. Many solutions, such as getting heat pumps for owners, require a lot of carefully tended agreement among all owners. And EV charging is one of those slow moving challenges.
I joined my building’s strata council over two years ago in part because I was aware that condo values would be challenged if condo buildings didn’t have EV charging for residents. Vancouver is a spike of the future and now requires all new residential buildings to be EV ready. What that means is wired with sufficient juice at every parking stall to be able to charge EVs. It doesn’t mean EV chargers at every stall.
For people in the USA, Australia, Canada, and Europe who are perplexed by this because you live in detached homes on suburban lots (respectively less likely by geography listed), please understand that you are in the tiny minority globally. Most people in the world live in multi-unit residential buildings under various forms of agreements. Condo strata agreements, whatever they are called, are one of the more common structures in the world. The challenges I’m describing here are vastly more common than your challenges in finding a good lawn service or snow removal firm, no matter how important that may seem to you.
I didn’t expect moving EV charging into our building, a necessary climate mitigation and condo value requirement, would take as much time and effort as it has. Who knows before they start something novel to them how much time and effort it will take? No one. This is part of the optimism bias and planning fallacy Bent Flyvbjerg talks about in his great book How Big Things Get Done. Regardless of my awareness of cognitive biases around transformation, I was subject to them.
So, here it is, thirty or so months after I started the journey, and above is the first EV charging in the single EV charging stall I’ve managed to get installed. I’d expected to have the entire parkade of 330 stalls wired by now, at least. No dice.
Let’s talk about the journey.
First, I had to convince my fellow strata council members, people from multiple backgrounds and perspectives, people who cared about climate change and people who were less interested, people considering getting EVs and people who were vaguely aware that they were a thing, to agree that doing something about EV charging was important. How did I do that?
Kahneman’s prospect theory.
Errrm. What? Backing up a bit, Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist. Yeah, nothing to do with EV charging or climate change. But everything to do with people and getting buy in. His books Thinking, Fast and Slow and Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment are key reading for people trying to make sense of the world and to move things through the masses of semi-rational people we engage with.
He’s a Nobel Prize winner for economics. Yes, not psychology. Why? Because of prospect theory. All it says is that people fear loss more than they value gain. It’s almost trite. But it’s antithetical to what classical economics pretends is true. Classical economics uses homo economicus as a standard feature in its models. Homo economicus knows all of the data pertaining to a decision, runs prisoner dilemma and Monte Carlo simulations on the data, and arrives at a fully rational, economically optimized decision every time.
Sound like anyone you know? Sound like your buddy who aspires to tow a big boat to a glistening lake three times a year and buys a massive pickup to do that, despite not having a big boat or six weeks of vacation? Sound like your friend who buys an amazing party outfit despite not having been to an amazing socialite-laden party in their life? Sound like your acquaintance with a crypto wallet?
Yeah, we humans make stupid decisions based on inadequate information every day. And strata council members and condo owners are humans. Kahneman’s (and Tversky’s, who passed before the Nobel was awarded) prospect theory is one of the core underpinnings of behavioral economics, which is a much more nuanced view of how humans make economic decisions.
What does prospect theory have to do with EV charging? It’s the sales process.
We are already seeing in high-EV-penetration areas that having EV charging in condo buildings makes a difference to condo prices. Stratas without charging have units that sell for a bit less than stratas that have it. And so, I pitched EV charging as something to prevent loss of condo value. It’s both true and a useful framing to get the message across. I put a three-page document together to explain it and add some references. I didn’t oversell it, I think.
With the strata council behind me, the next problem was next steps. Here in Vancouver, as in many jurisdictions, there are free assessment services. And they are worth every penny. Getting someone to show up, look around, and write up something useful was a multi-month pain for our superintendent. The money for an assessment wasn’t worth it for firms looking for big contracts. Small contractors weren’t competent to look at the electrical systems of 19-story, 233-unit, 4-parkade level buildings.
A bunch of time passed. An annual general meeting (AGM) was pending. We had to spend some money to figure out what to do. And so, prospect theory again.
We put together a pitch to the AGM. Condo prices would be impacted if we didn’t have EV charging. Give us some leeway to spend money to investigate EV charging. And they did. We were asked some probing questions, of course. I was honest about how much evidence there was for everything, and what we didn’t know yet. That seemed to work.
We spent the money on investigation. Our 330 stalls will cost over C$400,000 to fully wire, without chargers mind you. The BC provincial government will give us C$120,000 in rebates for that. The final cost is around C$1,000 per stall to get the building to be EV ready, where an owner can relatively inexpensively add a charger to their stall.
And we had a bunch of other stuff that we had to do in the building. It was ten years old. We had just gone through the ten-year warranty handover, where everything unfixed became our fiscal problem. We had some money to spend.
And so, we deferred the big hit a year. We asked the next AGM for a few grand to let us lease a stall and put in EV and e-bike chargers. We also asked for permission to spend some money on competitive bids for full EV readiness, as vendors weren’t interested in working on spec.
They said yes, and so now we have a stall with a car and four bike charging outlets, including bike racks. C$25 per month gives EV owners in the building, around 10 right now, an RFID card that gives them access to the charger. The signs went up today, and the first EV was charging when I went to check this evening on my way out for my constitutional.
We spent some time assessing leading practices for EV charging rules, guidelines and the like, and came up with something we think is reasonable and good for our vertical village.
A little white board and marker provides a spot for community-minded people to write down their timing and contact information so that they can be contacted by other people waiting for juice. Hopefully they become EV buddies and find some sense of community spirit. We’re trying to avoid charger conflicts and enhance vertical village solidarity. Fingers crossed.
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