The Altair Apartments in Sydney was a winner in the World Architecture Awards following the completion of construction in 2002. The basement car park has over 150 private car spaces plus visitor spots spread over four levels.
Recently Electric Vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure was installed to support users paying EV charging on individual car spaces. The final solution was surprisingly affordable, and the implementation went smoothly.
User pays EV charging unit installed on car space (left) controlled via mobile app (right)
Payments Consulting Network Associate, Ross McIntyre, caught up with Gavin Napier, a long time resident of the apartments and Payments Consulting Network Director, to discuss the building’s EV charging solution.
You can read the highlights of the conversation below.
RM: Who was involved in this project at Altair?
GN: It was initially a sub-committee of the building’s strata committee including the onsite building manager, Francis Management. Following that, providers of electricity supply and cabling infrastructure, charging units, meters and payments solutions in addition to electricity engineering consultants. The implemented solution supports EV chargers on individual car spaces and is now managed by Karchargers.
RM: Why did you need a payments solution for this?
GN: The electricity supply to the car park area is paid for by the strata. This is very common in apartment buildings. It is not practical to connect a basement car space to the power supply of an apartment. So, you have to use common power. We wanted a payment solution for EV owners to pay for their use of the common electricity. This is fair for everyone.
RM: What’s involved in setting up the wall chargers?
GN: We have an arrangement with Karchargers that supplies the end-to-end solution. This includes charging units, metering, billing, payments, website and mobile app. They use partners to supply and install the car charging units. Residents pay for the unit and its installation.
RM: How does the system work? What’s the user experience?
GN: The charging unit is activated by a security swipe. It then delivers the power to the vehicle plus meters consumption. The consumption data is relayed via a secure Wi-Fi network to Karchargers who manages the billing and payments. Residents are charged for usage via Stripe and a pre-arranged credit or debit card at the time of the transaction. The payment arrangements are set up securely through the website or app. Users pay a fixed annual fee and a per transaction rate per kWh (kilo watt hour) of usage.
As I said, the electricity cost is borne by the building. So Karchargers then periodically reimburses the building for resident usage.
RM: What do they provide in terms of billing, reporting and service?
GN: Users of the system can access charging, transaction and payment history via the website or through the app. Periodic usage information is provided by Karchargers to the building’s treasurer.
RM: Are there any special fraud or security issues with the payments solution?
GN: Yes. The car charging unit is activated by a security card not unlike a personnel security pass to prevent unauthorised use, albeit highly unlikely. The charging unit uses a secure, dedicated Wi-Fi network to gather and transmit metering and usage information.
RM: How quickly is it being taken up and used? What impact is it having?
GN: We have four car parks presently and another in progress. Obviously, we envisage more will follow with the take up of EVs. The early adopter residents were eager to access the facility as soon as it was available. Curiously our percentage of EVs almost mirrors the portion of EV sales in Australia. The whole system has operated seamlessly to date and was remarkably easy to source, arrange and implement.
RM: How did the project come about?
GN: A small number of residents were asking for a solution. The strata committee also recognised that provision of EV charging facilities was inevitable. It was an element of the long-term planning. The strata committee has a rolling 20 year plan of investment in a range of projects to continually replace, renovate and expand facilities thereby enhancing the utility of the building.
RM: Who is providing solutions in Australia? How did you engage with them?
GN: Following the decision to proceed, approved at an AGM in early 2021, we searched for project management providers and considered two in greater detail, those being JetCharge and VeCharge. VeCharge was selected for the electrical implementation. Karchargers manages the charging units and the payments solution.
RM: How big are these solution providers?
GN: Our providers are highly flexible, relatively small and reasonably new to the market with a focus on strata buildings. They can cater to a wide range of projects. They use non-proprietary hardware and infrastructure and have no fixed contracts. They can also connect to other infrastructure configurations or car charging units.
RM: What were the main considerations?
GN: Initially the main issue was whether to implement infrastructure for only the residents who had EVs or across all resident car parks. This consideration had a major bearing on how the charging infrastructure would be integrated with the existing building electricity supply network, how the network might be impacted, and whether it could cope.
The next major issue was the infrastructure capital cost in relation to installation of cable trays and electricity distribution boards. This was by far the major element of the project investment. As it became apparent, this isn’t the exclusive domain of the EV charging specialists. It can be undertaken by any competent mid-sized electrical contractor. Understanding this substantially reduced the potential overall project outlay.
Cable Trays attached to car park ceiling carry electricity distribution infrastructure
RM: Tell us about the solution you went with?
GN: The solution encompasses provision of electricity cabling access to all resident carparks. The car park infrastructure installation spanned several weeks. However, there was almost no inconvenience to residents. The charging units need to be installed in each carpark and connected to the newly installed infrastructure. This is done at the request of the resident. The solution is non-proprietary and has no fixed contracts. We could easily move to another supplier or move to an alternate brand of car charging unit with a minimum of inconvenience.
RM: Is energy supply and management an issue? Any other issues?
GN: It was initially thought to be. However, following research around the power drain and likely charging times we determined the electricity infrastructure in the building could cope. As a safety measure the electricity supply is capped so as not to affect supply for other high priority purposes in the building such as lifts.
RM: Does the solution allow for selling EV charging to people outside the building?
GN: In short, no. That would encompass a range of considerations, including the likelihood of attracting sufficient usage to render the investment in infrastructure viable and the tax implications for owners of the non-mutual income that would be derived.
RM: Are you considering other energy solutions such as solar power or batteries?
GN: Solar power has been a serious consideration for the building for some time, given the potential benefits. The building has particular constraints. There is a scarcity of roof space for solar panels. There are also concerns with the means by which they are affixed. These two issues have been the primary obstacles to proceeding with solar power up to the present. In addition, the calculated payback of the investment in solar has to date been significantly less than the cost and so it’s not regarded as viable. Recent advances in panel and battery technology indicate the gap is narrowing. The building will nonetheless be keeping the possibility of solar power under continued assessment.
RM: Where are we headed with all this? What are the big changes you see coming?
GN: In a broad sense we see this as just one means of the residents and building collectively contributing to lowering our carbon footprint. Altair was initially designed to be an environmentally friendly building and our intent is to continue this ethos. The vast majority of its residences, for example, are not airconditioned. The building has won awards and received accolades for its design and lower environmental impact. We are also regarded by City of Sydney Council as the benchmark for waste management and recycling initiatives for everything from food to clothing and electronics.
Author: Ross McIntyre, Associate, Sydney, Payments Consulting Network
Ross has over 15 years of experience in data science, financial analysis, and the preparation of business cases, proposals, and strategies. His experience includes a business case lead on several end-to-end supply chain reviews, a commercial lead on high-level pricing strategies, profit worker design for retail, and business case support for large corporate deals.
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