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Reviewing “Smart Outlet” EV Chargers for your Multi-Tenant Property? 4 Key Considerations for Building Owners and Managers

05/05/2023

The EV charging space has seen an emergence of “smart outlets” positioned as an affordable way to add EV charging to multi-tenant properties. These smart outlets tout that they can deliver sufficient charging capabilities without expensive equipment installation and infrastructure upgrades. Although cost is always a key decision factor for any major investment, there are a few key areas to consider around compatibility, scalability, and charging speed that you may want to review carefully before making a decision around your EV charging system:

What is a “Smart Outlet” EV charger? 

A smart outlet is essentially a regular 120V or 240V wall outlet with some extra features added (and charged a monthly fee for). The outlet can track energy usage by individual drivers and make sure they’re billed appropriately. These smart outlets don’t come with a charging cable, requiring drivers to keep one in their car at all times and remember to take it with them after charging. 

While smart outlets can track and bill for energy usage, in addition to the obvious charging speed difference, they lack key functionality provided by networked Level 2 chargers that is should be considered by building managers and owners before moving forward: load sharing/management, advanced system management and open protocols (OCPP, OCPI) that allow the property owner to take advantage of revenue opportunities through their utility and rebate & incentive programs, topics detailed below.

How fast can I charge my EV with a “Smart Outlet”? 

Many smart outlets come in the standard 120V (aka Level 1), with some providers also offering a 240V version. To see exactly how a 120V smart outlet would perform in real world conditions we decided to perform a test by plugging in a Tesla Model 3 Long Range with its battery near empty. With the outlet only delivering 120 volts, the rate at which it took on charge was agonisingly slow. The outlet was only capable of adding 5 miles of range per hour of charging (with many of the later hours only added 3-4 miles each hour), and took 68 hours of charging to get the battery to 90% charged. 

With the 240V version, it definitely adds horsepower, but in our opinion, not enough to provide peace of mind for EV drivers who may return home with a low battery and hope to get a full charge overnight before heading back out – forcing drivers to find a faster public charger. But the real different-makers when considering smart outlets for your building are in their lack of load sharing, scalability, and future-proofing.

Scaling smart outlets erodes your electrical capacity quickly. Multi-tenant buildings require circuit sharing & load management to scale efficiently

TLDR: A smart outlet requires a dedicated circuit. Circuit sharing & energy management technology can install multiple chargers on the same circuit, and share the capacity, effectively allowing up to 4 times more chargers to be installed on the same infrastructure. 

In regards to utilizing your available electrical capacity efficiently, smart outlets are frankly not smart. Each smart outlet requires a dedicated circuit, and if you’re using the faster 240V option, that’s 20 amps you’re having to effectively “reserve” all the time for the use of the smart outlet to charge electric vehicles.

For simplicity, let’s say you have a fully available 100 amp panel that you want to use for EV chargers (but only 80 amps of that is usable due to electrical standards). Using 240V smart outlets, you’d be able to install 4 of them (as each one requires a dedicated 20 amps).

On that same panel, using SWTCH’s networked Level 2 EV chargers,  with SWTCH Control our dynamic load management solution, we would be able to safely install and manage 12 EV chargers – effectively installing three times as many before you’d have to add another electrical panel.  With dynamic load management, when other vehicles are not charging, the remaining vehicles can make use of the remaining electrical capacity, allowing them to charge twice as fast.

When you look at a multi-tenant building, accessibility and convenience should be prioritized to allow the most number of people to access EV charging at home. When installing your first EV chargers, you should build for a future world where you may have the need for 20, 50 or 100+ EV chargers in the building.

swtchcontrol
SWTCH Control’s dynamic load management solution redistributes energy into the night when demand is low to maximize the number of chargers a property can safely install

Closed-Source Technology Puts Your Investment and Safety at Risk

An additional drawback is the fact that smart outlets don’t conform to Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) standards. OCPP is a global standard which allows chargers and charging station management systems to communicate with each other. OCPP is open-source and free to use, allowing a wide range of EV chargers to work on various networks, ensuring that you have choice and flexibility to mix and match or swap with a different hardware or software provider if your needs evolve – using proprietary technology creates lock-in to their solution. 

Incentives Up to 100% Off Exist, but Only for Networked Level 2 EV Chargers

From a building owner’s point of view, choosing a networked OCPP-ready charging solution also opens up a world of grants and rebates that smart outlets don’t qualify for. One recent count put the figure at over 520 active EV charging incentives across North America, so choosing a networked charging solution that is OCPP compliant could really ease the financial burden of the installation and operation of your building’s new EV charging system.


If interested in learning about what a networked level 2 EV charging system could look like and cost at your property,
Contact SWTCH and let us get to work on building a charging solution that meets all your charging needs today, and for the future. 

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