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Mitsubishi Launches Smart Chargers for Apartments

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.

27 Responses to “Mitsubishi Launches Smart Chargers for Apartments”

  1. “For Apartments, the cheap interim choice could be to install weatherized 120/220 outlets with simple lock boxes around them…then you give out keys to those that pay you a flat monthly fee. They can park at any of them and use. Since the equip is “cheaper” and “easier” to put in (depends on avail electrical service and distance to it), you can expand when you need. $500?”

    Surely you jest? Many apartment complexes have large and scattered parking lots, with rows of parking. They would have to dig up all the concrete to install underground power lines and outlets at parking spaces…and that costs way more than $500.

    • Hi Jen,
      I was referring to the equipment cost for each station. The price to get power to them is highly variable since each property is unique. Some estimates have been very cheap for the wiring part of the installation…like $1000…and some have been well over $10K.

      On your other comment, it’s true that most PSCs restrict non-utilities from selling power…that’s why the commercial payment enabled charging stations charge for time…$X.XX for YY minutes of charge.

      • Thanks Mark. Ok, I see now. My only gripe is that home owners seem to not have to pay a surcharge for electricity, while apartment dwellers do. Given that home owners are already subsidized by the government via mortgage interest deductions and are generally in a better position to pay surcharges (they are richer), it seems only fair to give the little guy (apartment dwellers) a break and charge them only the actual cost of electricity, which is what homeowners are charged.

  2. Bob Wallace

    Apartment complexes offer immensities such swimming pools, laundromats, exercise rooms, etc.

    And like laundromats, apartment complexes can treat charging stations as profit points. Set a small surcharge on top of the cost of electricity which will first pay off the equipment/installation and then create an additional income stream.

    • Kimberly Madrigal

      Maybe they can add a surcharge and maybe they can’t. The utility companies can be very prickly about these things, at least here in California. Another issue is access. If there are multiple garages, do you install it in each garage, at each parking place or in a central spot or spots? If it’s in a central spot, how do you ensure that tenants move their vehicles ASAP, so others can charge up? People have a hard enough time managing their laundry room behavior and retrieving their clothes in a timely manner.

      I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. As a landlord, I have a vested interest in this stuff and would like nothing better than to see a simple, low to no-cost solution to the issue of plug-in cars. How does a plug-in station at a building with solar panels get billed? I can’t bill a user because then I would be in the utility business. . .

      • Bob Wallace

        Probably best not to assume that what is today is what will be tomorrow. If utility companies have regulations against reselling their electricity I’d look for those regulations to go away.

        I doubt that apartment buildings would install rapid charge stations, but more simple 110vac/220vac outlets. Most likely you’re going to see people plug in when they come home and stay plugged in until they leave. The utility companies are likely to want that to happen in order to implement V2G systems.

        That would mean that EV owners would need reserved parking places. Not unlike current handicapped parking.

        If you look at the illustration above it looks like amount of power used is sent from the point of charge to some central data storage system. Any power you might add to the system via solar panels should be on the backside of those charge points and not change that data.

        If systems use V2G there is going to have to be a clean data feed from EV to grid. Everything else is going to have to be kept separate by the system.

      • For Apartments, the cheap interim choice could be to install weatherized 120/220 outlets with simple lock boxes around them…then you give out keys to those that pay you a flat monthly fee. They can park at any of them and use. Since the equip is “cheaper” and “easier” to put in (depends on avail electrical service and distance to it), you can expand when you need. $500?

        Then you could upgrade to weatherized real charging stations (like ones in this article) with lock boxes. $1000?

        Finally, the expensive solution is the automated pay-per-charge or subscription charging stations (Coulomb). These account for the energy they consume, do billing for you, and notify the user…but at a higher cost per charging station. $3000+

        On the subject of the solar power at your place, that energy will be measured by electrical meters and just affect your building’s power bill…so it will only be a financial concern of yours to know your true cost of kW…and you don’t have to worry about affecting your charging station customers.

      • “. How does a plug-in station at a building with solar panels get billed? I can’t bill a user because then I would be in the utility business. . .”

        It doesn’t. Why should I, as a tenant, pay you a cent for something you get for free (electrical power)?

      • “Probably best not to assume that what is today is what will be tomorrow. If utility companies have regulations against reselling their electricity I’d look for those regulations to go away.”

        This will happen over my dead body. Why should I, as a tenant, pay a surcharge for electricity, that homeowners do not have to pay??

  3. waltinseattle

    well, upscaler apt buiklding owners might use it as another proof of the address’s upscale status and be glad to spring the expense.

    Meanwhile downscale…perhaps there could be a leasing version that the car owner(s) in a building could rent or rent=to-buy. This would be like the proposals for leased battery packs, which, in addition to the superior economics, allows fleet conversion and updates to newer tech in a simple manner and more broadly than one car at a time…

    Seems, in any case, like a pretty simple addition to the current carrying part of the charger. I bet one could be added as a DIY for under $50, meaning as a commercial product, a cost=added of less than say $100? Digital amp reader into a computer chip set to user account log in….voila.