HABITAT

BUILDING OPERATIONS

Generating Garage Revenue from Charging Up Electric Cars

Jennifer V. Hughes in Building Operations

Coulomb's ChargePoint charging stations, about the size of a parking meter, work like this: a condo- or co-op-owned garage buys the charging station for about $2,000. Installation costs $200, and usually isn't difficult, Lowenthal says — most garages are already wired for electricity with lighting.

Electric-car drivers then purchase a subscription from Coulomb and get a key fob that activates the charging station when their vehicle is plugged in. The charging stations have a charging cord and they also work with car models that have their own cords. Lowenthal says drivers can get a range of subscriptions depending on their needs and usage, and which averages about $570 a year. Drivers have access to their account information online and can receive notifications such as when their charge is low, when their car is charged and when is the best time of day to charge.

 

The co-op or condo gets 80 percent of the subscription fees, while Coulomb takes the rest for administrative costs. He estimates that a return on investment in about five years. "It's very much like a coin-operated laundry or a vending machine," he says.

Tax Credit Available

Where taxes are concerned, buying a charging station can make sense. The $789 billion stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama in February provides a 50 percent tax credit for individuals or companies that purchase electric car chargers in 2009 and 2010.
Coulomb has placed about 100 charging stations around the nation, including some on the streets in San Francisco and others in municipal garages in San Jose. None are yet in New York City.

Jerry Reich, the northeast regional distributors for Coulomb and also the owner of Green Power Technology, has been talking about putting in charging stations with several private garage owners and city agencies. "In the past three or four months, word is starting to generate that we really need to get away from this oil dependency," Reich says. "People are starting to look at this technology and see that it will work."

ChargePoint habitat magazine

Those people include Hector Chevalier, senior vice president of Central Parking System's northeast division. The parking giant owns, leases or manages about 300 garages in the five boroughs. "I'd like for us to be the first company to get with the program," Chevalier says. "I think this will definitely be a system that people are going to move to. Especially in midtown Manhattan, I think a lot of our customers will want to use electric cars."

Central Parking has already shown green tendencies. It allows owners of the tiny Smart Cars to park for half price because of their diminutive size. Chevalier says buying charging stations would be good for the company in terms of being a good "green" citizen, but it also help lure electric-car drivers to its garages. "There is always a way to make money and do the right thing," he says.

Yet with gasoline prices stable, many drivers may not be as eager as before to switch to an electric model, notes Andrew Grossman, vice president of GGMC Parking, which owns, leases or manages about New York City 45 garages, most of which are for co-op/condo residential parking. If a substantial number of electric cars do get on the road, however, Grossman says, "We'll have to adapt; otherwise they'll take their cars elsewhere," he says.

Electric Avenue

One issue with charging electric cars is that it takes time. Unlike gasoline, which can be loaded into a tank in a matter of minutes, it takes between four to eight hours to get a full charge. That means the best charging will take place when drivers are at home for the night or at work.

Lowenthal, a former a general manager for the software giant Cisco Systems, understands that the changeover "is driven now more by policy than need," he says, adding that auto industry experts estimate that almost every carmaker will have some type of electric or plug-in hybrid model on the market in 2009 through 2011. Despite a sour economy that is making everyone tight-fisted and despite the fact that many people are skittish about investing in tomorrow's technology, Lowenthal says he remains positive. "We are totally, delusionally optimistic," he jokes.

Maybe there are some condos and co-ops out there who will feel the same way.

 

Adapted from Habitat April 2009. For the complete article and more, join our Archive >>

Illustration by Marcellus Hall

 

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