Mitsubishi and the Japan Delivery System Corp think they have a solution to some of the hurdles that stand between apartment dwellers and convenient electric vehicle charging. Launching in Japan today, the duo’s i-Charger system uses the same personal log-in information (a PIN or verification code) that many tenants have for package delivery in large apartment complexes in Japan.
JDS manufactures, sells and manages these home-delivery boxes, and the i-Charger billing and management system will run on JDS servers, accessed through the same system building supervisors have for managing package delivery. As Mitsubishi and JDS put it, the i-Charger product provides a “delivery box” system for retrieving electricity. The idea is to let building supervisors bill individual tenants based on the amount of juice they pull for their plug-in vehicles in a shared parking lot or garage.
While homeowners with a personal garage can have a charge point installed and see the electricity costs added to their regular utility bill, apartment complexes will require a smart charging system with secure login and billing features so that residents are charged fairly and accurately.
Meeting the needs of urban residents through systems like the i-Charger holds particular importance in the effort to accelerate mass adoption of electric vehicle. Short-distance, stop-and-go city driving represents the lowest-hanging fruit for all-electric vehicles. And as IBM Vice President for Energy & Utilities Allan Schurr explained earlier this year at an event in San Francisco, “I don’t know any automaker that is going to throw away [a sizable share] of the market opportunity and sell cars only to those that have access to garages.”
The bulk of the vehicle market, said Schurr, is made up of apartment dwellers, urban homeowners and others who don’t own a garage. Yet much of the early work to deploy residential charging infrastructure has focused on tackling solutions for a single-family home with a garage — how to streamline interactions with the utility, for example, speed up the installation process and reduce costs for the homeowner.
As General Motors’ Britta Gross, who heads up infrastructure commercialization said at the Plug-In 2009 conference in Long Beach, Calif., home charger installations are more like cable or Internet installations: cheap, quick and low maintenance. Large apartment buildings need similar access and options.
The i-Charger systems sounds like it could address the billing issue for apartment complexes, but it leaves the open question of what will motivate property owners to invest in these systems in the first place. If and when plug-in vehicles go mainstream enough to spur building owners to provide these systems the way they might provide a laundry room today (in order to lure tenants), that may not be an issue. In the meantime, however, this is where some electric car and charge point makers hope new building codes can come into play, requiring property owners to outfit new or significantly renovated buildings with charging infrastructure.