When the lease ended on my last car, I knew I would never buy another ICE vehicle. I cried a little, mostly because I love driving manual transmission, but I’m a climate scientist who believes that we need to “electrify everything” and buying a new gas guzzler would be inconsistent with my values. Luckily, I live in Brooklyn, New York, and usually take the subway. However, many friends opted to get cars during the pandemic, and many of them came to me for advice about getting an electric car as an apartment dweller. Where could they charge? How often would they need to? Is an EV feasible if you don’t have a dedicated place to park?
Of course, the easiest way to handle having an EV in New York is to pay for a parking lot that offers EV charging, either as a monthly customer or once in a while. However, this is an expensive option that is limited to people living in certain neighborhoods. If you live in a big charging desert like I do (see below), you may need to explore other options.
There are also millions of people who live in apartments in cities other than New York where there may not be such robust public transit options. If you are reliant on a private vehicle and want to go electric, here are some questions to ask yourself.
How often do you drive?
EV ownership in a city may depend on how and when you use your car. Do you commute on a regular basis or save your car for weekend trips and emergencies? If you know you’re going 20 miles a day, five days a week, an EV with 200+ mile range will be easy to recharge once a week. Even if you’re looking at used EVs, this is a range that is well within reach. Another consideration is where you’re driving. If work has a dedicated parking area, do they have chargers? Might they be willing to install them? There are often programs that subsidize the installation cost for public access chargers.
On the other hand, if you only use the car to run errands or go out of town on the weekend, you can build charging time into your plans and refuel before coming home. In either case, make sure to use an app like PlugShare to find chargers near you and verify how it takes to get your vehicle recharged. Also know that some cars (mostly Teslas and some others with robust telematics systems) will have some degree of phantom or “vampire” drain when the car is not in use. If you fill up to 80% on Sunday, don’t be shocked to see 75% battery on Friday evening.
Do you park in a lot or on the street?
In most of New York, people park on the street, making daily charging (let alone finding a spot) almost impossible. Private driveways are coveted and parking garages ask a hefty price tag.
However, if your apartment comes with a lot or parking area, you may have some daily charging flexibility.
In many municipalities, there are incentives for businesses and individuals to install public chargers at almost no upfront cost. If you’re in a building with other EV drivers or you're friendly with the property owner, you may want to discuss this option. Of course, you may still need to share the charger with other drivers, or compensate the building for electricity used, but there have been success stories about property owners installing charging for EVs and offering dedicated spots at reasonable prices. Hopefully you can persuade your building that chargers are an investment: in coming years, having EV charging will be a major selling point for new tenants! Similarly, if you are in a condo that comes with a spot, you can likely install a personal use charger for very little out of pocket.
Another, less ideal solution might be to run a 110 V plug from a nearby wall outlet via extension cord. If your daily mileage isn’t very high or if you opt for a hybrid, this might be an option. However, definitely speak with a pro before you do this to make sure the extension cord you use is rated for such use!
Where is your nearest public charger?
New York has been installing public chargers all around Brooklyn, and Revel recently installed a very cool public charging station not far from my house. There are a few street parking spots near the Whole Foods in Williamsburg, but I would be nervous to rely exclusively on these two spots to power my car. There is no guarantee that they will be unoccupied when I need them, and if I’m planning an hour to charge and get groceries, an unexpected delay can throw a wrench in my day. Especially if I’m running low on battery!
The public Revel charging station near me is great - there are probably 30+ chargers with all different plugs and speeds. However, the neighborhood is somewhat lacking in amenities, and especially at night, there is not much to do other than chat with the attendants and wait to fill up.
Other cities that are more car-centric have done a much better job placing chargers in high traffic, commercial corridors, and drivers can park in an expansive grocery store lot and run some errands while recharging. There are a few spots like this in New York, but none close enough to my neighborhood to make it easy.
Are the chargers near your Level 2 AC Chargers or DC Fast Chargers?
If you’re trying to find time during the day to squeeze in charge sessions, you should know if the chargers you have access to are Level 2 AC chargers, which are 240 Volts and usually add 12-75 miles per hour, or DC Fast Chargers, which can add 3-20 miles per minute. Ultimately, the charge speeds will come down to how much energy the charger outputs and how fast your car can accept it.
Another good thing to check is the cost of charging. While many Level 2 chargers are cheap or even free with certain perks, Level 3/ DC Fast Charging can cost more. It will still be cheaper than gasoline, but make sure to check it out.
How fast does your vehicle charge?
The main constraint on charge time for Level 2 and Level 3 charging is your car itself. Every EV has an onboard charger that controls the influx of energy to the battery. This speed is measured in kilowatts (kW). Some older models or hybrids with small batteries can only accept 3.7 kW, while very few EVs can accept 22 kW. Most new EVs come with around 11 kW on-board chargers. This max kW measure defines how quickly a level 2 charger will refill the car. For some more context:
- Hyundai Kona + older Chevy Bolt: 7.2 kW
- New Bolt: 11 kW
- Model 3 RWD: 7.7 kW
- Model S, X, Y : 11.5 kW
- BMW i3: 3.3-7.7 kW depending on year
- Older Nissan Leaf: 3.6 kW
- Newer Nissan Leaf: 6.6 kW
- Audi e-tron (optional): 11kW (22 kW)
- VW ID.4: 11 kW
There are similar constraints on Level 3 charging speeds, and even if a car is “supposed” to charge in a certain amount of time, actual speeds may vary if there are other cars charging from the same source, if your battery is cold, or if you have very high or low states of charge. Read all about how weather affects batteries and more about EV charging.
Another note about relying on public charging: idle fees. Many public charging sites charge something called idle fees, which is accrued when you are not actively charging but still occupying a charger space. If you are planning to park at a charger near work and stay there for eight hours, you should check to see if idle fees will apply to you. And, even if they don’t, it’s good to use proper charging etiquette. Luckily, the EV community is overwhelmingly friendly and helpful, but hogging a charger that you don’t need is effectively preventing someone from getting home, relieving the babysitter, or getting to work on time. Make sure to consider the needs of all EV drivers.
Charging karma is real, my friends.