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The Low-Hanging Fruit Of Public Urban Eco-Services

2011 June 21
by Nate Cole-Daum

Electric cars and charging stations have arrived, bringing with them the opportunity to reduce commuters’ carbon footprint. Nowhere is this more true than in dense urban areas.

Even if you travel by single occupancy vehicle (as opposed to transit or bicycle) living in the dense, compact-development context of multifamily housing can bring your carbon footprint down way below the national average. It is well-known that folks who live in vertical neighborhoods are far more likely to find what they need (and head out to earn their living) via much shorter trips than their single-family dwelling counterparts.

So I find it surprising how little discussion there has been about the apartment and condo context for electric vehicle owners. And that’s why I was glad to see this Transportation Nation blog post recently, featuring a condo dweller who was among the first in the nation to own the new Chevy Volt. His challenge (working with his HOA to retrofit their parking area) will hopefully be resolved; the solution celebrated and replicated.

For while there’s simply no match for a city networked with robust, convenient and pleasant public transit, walking and biking routes, rethinking a car-oriented city takes time. While we wait, making it easy for individuals to lighten the impact of their single-occupancy vehicle, especially when they’re already urban, ready and willing to pay that premium for eco-piety, behooves us all.

Here in the Puget Sound, in particular, since our grid is fed largely by lower-impact hydropower, getting urbanites off oil and onto the grid, can be low-hanging fruit.

Speaking of fruit, how many multifamily buildings have food waste pickup at this point?


Nate Cole-Daum is a board member of Great City.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. June 22, 2011

    the “opportunity to reduce commuters’ carbon footprint” is actually much greater (and thus ‘more true’) in the ‘burbs where transportation energy is nearly 3x that of urban transportation energy.

    • Nate permalink
      June 22, 2011

      I agree with your point, Mike, but having lived in a condo and seen the process of the Homeowners’ Association working through simple maintenance and upkeep issues, I’m really interested in the situation of urbanist motorists who may want to go electric. If all they read about in the paper is Joe Suburb getting that charger installed on his personal property, I wonder how many of those who would have to work with their HOA to get something installed in a shared garage are likely to think, “hey, I can do that.” …Where “that” is something more sophisticated than an extension cord running out the window and down into the garage below. :)

  2. June 22, 2011

    I’m also hoping some experts can weigh in here: apartments and condos with underground parking aren’t usually wired for outlets in every stall, what’s the feasibility of drilling through concrete to install these charging stations? Seems like a big job, and something to consider when building new, even if it is just incorporating conduit that can later be electrified. Are there implications for the building’s insurance policy? What’s the Fire Department’s take (ventilation, sprinklers, etc.)?

  3. Margaret permalink
    June 22, 2011

    I’d love to hear from anyone who’s tried to set up a charging station (or stations) in a condominium garage. I’m on my condo’s HOA Board, and we’ve had a couple of residents ask about the feasibility of doing it.

    The problem of how to run wiring around your concrete garage is probably metal conduit on the surface; I think retrofitting a garage to incorporate one or more charging stations is do-able, and somewhere between moderately and ridiculously expensive. At least it’s a one-time cost, you can budget for it, get support and/or a vote for it from residents, etc. Of course, there is also the issue that you mentioned about ventilation, fire hazards, etc., which might preclude doing it at all, depending on how your garage is designed.

    What I see as a larger problem is how to determine and share the cost of the electricity usage. If, say, we could install a charger at every stall, could each charger have a separate meter? It seems next to impossible to hook up a particular resident’s charging unit to their individual electrical meter for their unit (at least once the building’s already been designed and built – you *could* plan this ahead of time, I guess). So then the question becomes, if we provide a charger in every garage space, but only one or two people have electric cars, and the chargers have to be hooked to the “main” or shared electrical system of the building, then the electricity flowing to those chargers is paid for by the HOA’s electrical bill. That means that every homeowner’s dues are subsidizing the few who use electric cars. That would probably piss off a lot of homeowners.

    On the other hand, I suppose it would be a more viable model to install, say 3-5 chargers in one area, and any residents who want to use them have to pay a monthly fee for the electricity they’re using. Except that in our garage, there are no un-owned or visitor spots, so there’s no good way to do that.

    So there really are a lot of questions and practicalities to consider, and I would really be interested to hear if anyone’s actually managed to set up a workable system in a shared condo garage.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      June 22, 2011

      One way you might do this is to sub-meter each of the electric outlets. Electric sub-meters start at a few hundred dollars.

      • Margaret permalink
        June 22, 2011

        Right, but then who reads the meters on a monthly basis? A Board member? Rely on the homeowner to report? Who does the math to determine what amount from the HOA’s overall electric bill the homeowner owes?

        I do realize that there is such a thing as a meter that can be attached to a single outlet, but there are still a lot of logistical issues around using such meters in a community living situation.

  4. Jordan permalink
    June 23, 2011

    I believe that the Florera building in the Green Lake neighborhood of Seattle was originally built with at least one electric vehicle charging station. If you are looking at how to do it in your building, it might be worth reaching out the HOA at the Florera to see how they run the show there.

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