Is using the building code to promote EV readiness the best approach? An EV group says no. We spoke with them, and also the City of Vancouver, which switched from the building code to zoning law and now has a flexible approach promising a minimum of 12 kWh over 8 hours in every residential parking stall. Welcome to the quantum physics of EV charging policy.

Last month, the International Code Council updated its proposed code to recommend 208/240V, 40A circuits for residential parking spots. Electrek spoke with Jim Hindson, a retired transportation engineer, EV Zoning Bylaw evangelist, and member of the Victoria, British Columbia EV Association, who cautioned that the building code is too blunt an instrument. We followed up with Ian Neville, Senior Sustainability Specialist with the City of Vancouver, to hear about that city’s switch from basic building code rules to more nuanced zoning requirements.

Hindson told Electrek:

Building codes are all about structural integrity, envelope specifications, and safety. But building codes don’t offer the ability to regulate EV infrastructure according to land use. That’s what zoning laws do. Using zoning laws offers much more flexibility. It’s not ideal having a one-size-fits-all solution for shopping centers, fast food restaurants, hospitals, etc. Requiring an L2 charger in every parking stall at a fast-food restaurant would generally be regarded as a poor use of resources. And parking lots don’t have buildings, so they get missed.

Tailoring the EV requirements to the land use through zoning helps ensure that EV infrastructure funding is deployed effectively – nether wasting money through overbuilding nor leaving key properties with too little EV infrastructure.

For example, municipal zoning laws are better suited to consider the number of parking spaces on the property (will a spot be a shared EVSE, or for someone’s exclusive use). The local zoning authority can consider the average vehicle daily driving distances, vehicle charging speed, local weather, traffic conditions and even the effects of local terrain.

Vancouver’s two paths to 100% electrified residential parking stalls, guaranteeing 12kWh over 8 hours

Normally, building codes are set at the state/provincial level. But Vancouver, like a handful of other major cities in North America, actually has its own building code. So it says something that this EV pioneering city still transitioned to zoning for its EV readiness requirements when it already had the authority to amend its own building code.

Vancouver began with EV charging requirements in its building code back in 2011, and while they didn’t track development those first few years, since 2014 the city has added over 50,000 new residential EV charging circuits. Since moving from a building code model to a zoning model, Vancouver has been able to offer residential building developers a flexible, two-path approach to their requirement that every parking space be electrified.

Developers in Vancouver can choose the basic option – “prescriptive minimum” – of a Level 2 (208/240V) circuit for every parking stall. But doing so can quickly put a strain on larger buildings’ load capacity, and increase costs of construction. So developers can also choose the “performance minimum” and deploy an Electric Vehicle Energy Management System (EVEMS), or load-sharing EVSEs, so long as at least 12kWh are delivered to each parking stall over the course of 8 hours. See City of Vancouver Bulletin Electric Vehicle Charging for Buildings (PDF). See also Vancouver’s Parking Zoning By-Law, section 4.14, and definitions of EV, EVSE, and Energized Outlet.

Neville explains that in Vancouver, typical daily EV consumption is about 8kWh, equating to an average daily drive of 20 miles (30km) or less. So 12kWh covers the large majority of Vancouver drivers – and keep in mind, it’s not fatal if you don’t fully recharge your battery every night. You can make it up over the weekend or while shopping for groceries. A more spread out metro or rural county would likely see a much higher average daily kWh use by EVs, so would want to adjust their zoning rules appropriately.

But Neville emphasizes upfront that whether you’re using the building code or zoning laws, it’s critical for governments to get EV-readiness requirements in place to prevent much more costly upgrades down the road: “Any form of EV readiness in residential parking is probably the most important electric vehicle adoption policy that a municipality can take on. Probably more important than public charging in the long term.”

Neville tells Electrek to stay tuned for an update to Vancouver’s non-residential building EV-readiness zoning requirements later this year. Because of all the different kinds of charging that might occur at non-residential buildings – commuters who park all day, or shoppers who are running brief errands – tapping into the different zoning options will be helpful in setting these standards.

We asked Hindson of the Victoria EV Association about his group’s advocacy efforts. Hindson noted that they “found that there was virtually no discussion on alternatives to the building code. The building code was quickly becoming the default EV infrastructure option. We wanted to change that.”

For urban planning professionals, his group has prepared materials that go into depth, documenting the differences between the Building Code and Zoning Bylaw approach. They researched the 10 ZEV States and provinces as to which jurisdictions already appeared to have the legislative framework in place to be able to potentially use the zoning bylaw option. In British Columbia, ten municipalities with a combined population of over 2.2 million persons now have zoning bylaws requiring EV infrastructure for 100% of the suites in new residential properties.

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