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Ariel Fan, CEO of GreenWealth Energy, and Michele Florence, GM at Azzurra, discuss considerations and experiences with installing electric vehicle charging stations.


Assembly Bill 1738 – California State law will soon require EV chargers for existing multifamily properties, to be proposed by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

GreenWealth Energy Partners

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[00:00:25.590] – Matthew Holbrook

Welcome to The Uncommon Area. I’m Matthew Holbrook, and today’s theme is all about electric vehicle charging stations. To discuss that, I am joined today by Ariel Fan, who is the CEO and Founder of GreenWealth Energy, and also Florence, the General Manager of Azzurra Homeowners Association, a high-rise in Marina del Rey that Action Property Management has had the privilege of managing for a long time now.


[00:00:54.720] – Matthew Holbrook

Michelle brings some real firsthand experience with this subject, so we’re going to dive into that a little bit. Ariel, why don’t you start off and tell us a little bit about just what is it, in a sentence or two, that you do and that your company does?


[00:01:10.330] – Ariel Fan

Yeah. Thanks, Matthew, for having me on the podcast. GreenWealth Energy, we’re proud to be the first woman and minority-owned EV charging company in the state of California. We do EV charging at scale, specializing in multi-family space.


[00:01:23.450] – Matthew Holbrook

Okay. When you say EV charging at scale, you’re talking about you do this, as opposed to one-offs, you’re doing it in large buildings or large communities, multiple stations at a time?


[00:01:35.740] – Ariel Fan

Exactly. Charging is really much more complex than people believe. There are so much funding out there. There’s regulatory compliance based on the local region. For multi-families, they need to understand how to work collaboratively with the HOAs, the board members, the residents, as well as to understand and equip themselves with the tools to navigate the construction and also technology landscape for charging.


[00:02:00.240] – Matthew Holbrook

Okay. You said something there earlier in your answer about there’s a lot of funding available. Who is that funding available to? Are we talking electric vehicle car owners, or for actual associations that put in charging stations? How much funding, and who is that for?


[00:02:19.960] – Ariel Fan

Great question. We’re at the precipice of a complete overhaul of the entire automotive industry. We look at the federal level, there’s already 7.5 billion in funding going strictly to EV infrastructure. That’s only federal. California specifically has an additional $2 billion of funding. Then on top of that, you have utility funding, local regional grants. HOAs and multi-family properties, they can take advantage of it and be smart because there are many different strategies to maximize these different funding avenues.


[00:02:53.070] – Matthew Holbrook

Will this funding be primarily in the form of rebates that an HOA, for example, they would install a certain number of stations and they could obtain certain rebates that would offset some of those costs, or how does that generally work?


[00:03:07.100] – Ariel Fan

Exactly. This funding depends on the utility rebate program for that particular area. The funding covers anything from charging hardwares, networking, electric infrastructure, engineering, everything it takes to actually get the chargers into the ground.


[00:03:23.940] – Matthew Holbrook

Okay, great. Michelle, just to get you into the game here, you manage Azzurra and you came in in the middle of a project like this. Maybe just in a really short way—we’ll unpack this more as we go on—but what’s the summary of what your experience was in this situation?


[00:03:42.020] – Michelle Florence

The summary, my experience was I came in, as you said. They had already signed off on contracts that already decided exactly how the infrastructure and everything was going to be installed. It was underway when I started and I took over Azzurra. I had to immediately jump in and start digging into exactly what was going on and making sure that everyone was following the exact plan, making sure that the infrastructure, all the electrical work, the engineering, everything was going according to what was approved by the board.


[00:04:11.410] – Matthew Holbrook

Okay, and that project is completed now?


[00:04:14.420] – Michelle Florence

It is completed, at least phase one. I always refer to phase one because I do believe at some point we’re going to need to add on to it because the demand of EV charging stations.


[00:04:24.630] – Matthew Holbrook

Okay. Well, I appreciate you being a part of this. I think as we dive into what your particular experience was, there were probably some learnings that we could take away from that that hopefully other managers and board members might be able to benefit from. We’ll come back to that.


[00:04:41.660] – Matthew Holbrook

For both of you, and we’ll start, Ariel, with you. If I was a board member or a manager and know nothing about this whole electric vehicle charging station projects subject, but I know that obviously electric vehicles are rising in demand and there’s a need for chargers to be in my association, let’s say that I manage or I’m a board member of, but I don’t know anything more than that, what would you say? What’s the starting point? What do I need to know to start thinking about this type of a project?


[00:05:18.430] – Ariel Fan

That’s a great question. We often deal with HOAs that are exploring charging at the very elementary stages. GreenWealth Energy, we’ve now interacted with a few dozen Action properties throughout Southern California. What we found, there’s a few different pieces to a successful charging exploration.


[00:05:37.300] – Ariel Fan

The first step is how many chargers does your property actually need? As a board or as a management company, are you assessing that need effectively? We do that through facilitating a tenant survey. Asking the tenants, “How many of you drive EVs?” But also, “How many of you plan to drive EVs, especially if there are chargers available where you live?”


[00:05:59.340] – Ariel Fan

Aside from that, especially in California, there’s a lot of code requirements that are in the pipeline at the state level to require multi-families to do charging. We’re looking at new construction code as of this year. As of 2022, 10% of all parking stalls for new construction must be EV charging capable.


[00:06:23.230] – Ariel Fan

Yeah, that’s new. New legislation is underway in the next one or two years to require multi-families over a certain size to have them, even for existing buildings. This varies by jurisdiction, too. Part of the role of a proactive property is to know not just the needs for charging today, but how can you stay above the curve for this policy coming? It takes a lot of planning, to be honest.


[00:06:47.420] – Ariel Fan

What we’re finding is that for a successful project, once you effectively collect all the bids, understand the different charging manufacturer options, explore different financing and understand rebates, from time you start it might be up to a year when you actually have construction.


[00:07:04.210] – Ariel Fan

For California state, there is currently legislation going through the House and Senate to mandate that existing multi-family buildings all have charging stations. It hasn’t been passed yet, but this is evidence of a transition period we’re in. Properties need to get prepared now because these are very complex and can be very expensive capital expense projects. In planning and being smart about it, you can leverage the incentives and creative financing to make the impact less on the community.


[00:07:35.970] – Matthew Holbrook

Yeah. Michelle, in your experience, I know you came into this in the middle but if you were to start, let’s say, at a new building to you, but an existing building that didn’t have electric vehicle charging and you were thinking about starting that type of a project, what are the main things that you’d be thinking through that need to be taken into consideration?


[00:07:57.100] – Michelle Florence

Ariel mentioned earlier a resident survey. I think that’s number one, is putting together a survey and trying to determine not only what is the interest, how much interest, because are we talking about needing to put in 10% EVCS in your parking spaces, or are you talking more like 25%? Because as you know, it drastically changes the whole scope of the project. I think number one is getting a feel for your residents in the building and what they want and how much interest there is.


[00:08:29.360] – Matthew Holbrook

Then beyond that, what’s the next step?


[00:08:30.820] – Michelle Florence

The next step is I would probably start suggesting to the board possibly putting together a tech committee, because there is a lot of technology that goes into this and sometimes it can be really overwhelming to an HOA board who already is handling so many other items and they spend so many other volunteer hours, as you know, on so many other aspects of making sure that the building is running well along with teaming up with us.


[00:08:57.680] – Michelle Florence

But it’s a big project. At Azzurra, we were fortunate that they did have a tech committee. That was very helpful. I would say suggesting to the board possibly forming that type of committee and trying to get homeowners in the association, who maybe lean more tech savvy, interested in the project to help. I think that’s a huge step to take.


[00:09:19.900] – Ariel Fan

Michelle, could I add on to the tech committee? Tech committee or EV committee, we’ve worked with a number of properties that have established these committees outside of the board, specifically for the EV charging project. What their role has been, that we’ve seen, is to work with different vendors to negotiate and understand what is the proposal that you have.


[00:09:41.530] – Ariel Fan

For a charging proposal, there’s really a few parts. You have the charger itself, the hardware, you have the network. Sometimes it doesn’t come hand in hand, but they’re two different companies. You have the construction and the incentives.


[00:09:56.060] – Ariel Fan

There’s also another important aspect of specifically charging in the multi-family space, where you have a layer of project management. You need this layer in order to level all the bids and know what you’re getting. Within the range, they really help reduce the risk and understand the project fully. There’s different models here. Understanding among the charger space itself, are you doing a revenue share model, a revenue share of the collected funds received from the drivers? Are you getting the charges at a discount?


[00:10:31.170] – Ariel Fan

But what is really the cost for you in the lifetime of the charging? What are you giving up if you take, let’s say, for example, a very cheap or a free option? What are the dangers of those, just so you are protected? Are you also future-proofing the stations? Are you working with a contractor that is credible? Are you assessing the infrastructure design that they laid out so it’s safe and also helps you add on to chargers in the future?


[00:10:56.280] – Matthew Holbrook

What you’re really saying is you could have multiple different contractors or companies involved in this process, and there’s this whole list of questions that the board has to work through and answer. That’s where a company like yours or somebody that does something like that helps to, from an overall integration perspective, puts that all together and helps to coordinate all of that, and knowing the questions to ask and the things to think through and so forth.


[00:11:27.190] – Ariel Fan

Yes. That’s what GreenWealth does is really the holistic approach to integration, but we’re just one of the companies that’s out there. There’s other installers. I think the important thing that HOAs need to know: the layer of project management. You can’t look at it as, “This is an installation, let me just hire a contractor.” But charging is so complex because of all the reasons we laid out. For Action properties, you add in hundreds of people living in the buildings, all with different opinions.


[00:12:03.000] – Ariel Fan

There is this project management and this glue and collaborative layer that this EV committee can help resolve. The EV integration layer is just so important because without a committee or an agnostic integrator that can act on the HOA’s behalf, it can be really confusing. What HOAs need to know is regardless of if you go with an installer or an integrator, someone will be pulled in because this takes years of effort.


[00:12:38.630] – Matthew Holbrook

Yeah, no, that’s good. The temptation for an association might be, “Hey, we can save some money by not having a project manager beyond the contractors that were hiring. The general manager and the tech committee could potentially function in that role.” It would seem to me that that’s where, in the effort to save those dollars, that it opens the door for maybe things to not go super well.


[00:13:06.920] – Matthew Holbrook

I know, Michelle, you had some challenges that you walked into at Azzurra right out the gate. Can you maybe talk through what were some of those challenges and how did those come about?


[00:13:18.530] – Michelle Florence

There were several different challenges that we dealt with. I think with high-rises that have multi-level garages, the biggest challenge, at least for us, was Internet connection. You don’t realize until you start trying to feed and get that Internet connection in your garage that you may have pockets that have a really difficult time connecting.


[00:13:41.930] – Michelle Florence

If I could offer any advice to an HOA who’s considering this, I’d say go bigger than what you think you’re going to need when it comes to Internet needs down there, because the last thing you want is for your homeowners and your residents to try to connect to their charging station at midnight when they get home after a trip or getting home after a long day at work, and not be able to connect and be able to properly charge. If I could offer any advice, it’d be to go a bit larger than what you think you need when it comes to the Internet infrastructure.


[00:14:10.720] – Matthew Holbrook

Just to interrupt real quick, we’re talking right now about a high-rise scenario. I want to be clear that these types of projects are undertaken by high-rises, mid-rises, garden-style condominium associations, a whole variety of different types of communities. We’ll come back to some of those others here in just a minute. In case anybody’s watching or listening to this and saying, “Hey, I don’t live in a high-rise, but we’re still looking at this,” we’ll get to that.


[00:14:41.820] – Matthew Holbrook

The Internet connection portion may not be quite as big of an issue in a lot of the more low-rise or garden-style condominium associations, but obviously, where you have multi-layered parking garages, that can be a real issue.


[00:14:59.870] – Ariel Fan

Matthew, may I add to this? There’s chargers out there that interact with WiFi capabilities and other that are through cellular data, and they come at different price points. Through a garage, the reason why Internet and WiFi can be spotty is because of the different columns, the make of the garage. In these high-rises, you have concrete columns and it interferes with the connectivity. What happens is it influences the charger’s performance. They can’t have reliable connections, so you don’t know and oftentimes they don’t work.


[00:15:37.550] – Ariel Fan

What we found is one step that HOAs need to be proactive to take is to bring in a vendor that can assess the connectivity throughout the garage, because as you scale up, there are certain spots that will be spotty and some areas that will be stronger. You need to also add and consider cellular boosters.


[00:15:56.810] – Ariel Fan

There are also vendors out there, just for the sake of the sale, that will dissuade properties in order to lower their quote. As we’ve seen with Azzurra, that only comes at the expense and time wasted for the property, so it’s important to ask these questions upfront.


[00:16:11.780] – Matthew Holbrook

Beyond the connectivity issues, whether it be cellular or WiFi, what other types of challenges did you learn from?


[00:16:20.310] – Michelle Florence

One of the things that the association had to decide before they actually started is where to install the charging stations. At Azzurra, we do not have common parking spaces, so guest parking spaces or two or three parking spaces that we could say, “Okay, we’re just going to put the chargers here and everyone can use them and you just pay as you use them.” Instead, we actually installed them at an individual person’s parking space.


[00:16:48.050] – Michelle Florence

Depending on where someone’s parking space is, you’re talking about electrical work that could possibly run 140 feet, someone else is only 20 feet from the main infrastructure that we put in. That was a little difficult because for some people we can install within a day, a couple of hours. With other people, it might have taken a couple of days.


[00:17:06.330] – Matthew Holbrook

In Azzurra’s case, did the residents or homeowners bear any cost in the installation?


[00:17:13.850] – Michelle Florence

They did. The way that we did it is we obviously reached out to see how many people were interested, and then once we had a feel for how many people, that’s where we got the number of installing 40 initially. We purchased 40, and then what we did is we did an early bird special if you signed up early as we were actually installing the infrastructure, before we actually started installing the individual EV charging stations in each person’s individual parking space.


[00:17:43.610] – Michelle Florence

We were able, right up front, to sell 35 of the initial 40 that we purchased. Then once we started installing, it was a matter of 60 days maybe before we had the additional five.


[00:17:55.300] – Matthew Holbrook

Was the cost the same for everyone, like average costs? Because your actual cost for the installation was different depending on the factors you were just saying.


[00:18:04.120] – Michelle Florence

Exactly. We just did a flat rate for the first 40. After that, we have one vendor that we use because we want to make sure that the installs are done the way that we want them done, properly and with the right conduit electrical work. There’s a lot that goes into installing one of these. Now, they have to go to our preferred vendor and get a price quote for the charging station, the electrical, the permit.


[00:18:28.080] – Matthew Holbrook

Then they’re going to pay a different cost depending on what is it going to take to get everything lined up to their particular space.


[00:18:34.260] – Michelle Florence

Yeah, and it could be significantly more depending on where their parking space is.


[00:18:38.510] – Ariel Fan

If I may add on top of that, this is a very common model we’ve seen in the SoCal area specifically. The 40 chargers, this is actually because a number of utilities, specifically LA Department of Water and Power, that’s the maximum rebates you can get. I would suggest for the multi properties to see where is the limit, how much funding can I get for this site?


[00:19:01.240] – Ariel Fan

Then the other piece from this is I think Azzurra’s model is good in that they know that there is the base infrastructure and the base number of residents getting chargers, but where is the scalability on top of that? What happens when the main project is done and you have residents down the road asking, “Oh, can you put in one or two chargers?” Are you going with a provider that can provide that holistic solution, not just for the now, but what about a few months or a year down the line?


[00:19:31.420] – Michelle Florence

Exactly. We’ve been talking about that already, about phase two. Right now our infrastructure will hold up to possibly a hundred EV charging stations. We have 450 units, approximately a thousand parking spaces. At some point, we’re going to hit that 100 mark, and I think it’s going to be sooner than later. We need to already start thinking about what’s phase two, and how do we build on to what we currently have?


[00:19:57.060] – Matthew Holbrook

Ariel, what are some of the other maybe common mistakes that managers or board members might make or just not think of in approaching this kind of a project?


[00:20:06.790] – Ariel Fan

I think the biggest mistake that we find, number one is going for the low-cost bid. There’s a lot of providers out there, manufacturers that are trying to land grab, and they’ll have irresistible offers like, “Oh, completely free charging stations.” It just doesn’t make any sense, but it’s very attractive, especially for an HOA that’s looking to reduce costs. We’re finding that some properties later down the line, in the fine print they’re signing off as I won’t get revenue ever, I waive my rights to ever participate in any funding. They’re really pigeonholing themselves in.


[00:20:45.400] – Ariel Fan

What properties need to know is if you have chargers at your property, these can be revenue-generating assets for your property. This is a very exciting, booming industry with tons of incentives, and you want to have the control over your revenue and also flexibility to move around your system as your property needs.


[00:21:03.460] – Matthew Holbrook

Yeah. The risk, as I understand it, is that an association could inadvertently lose out on opportunities for funding or incentives because of certain decisions they might make and not realizing the impact that has on the overall big picture.


[00:21:18.480] – Ariel Fan

Yes. You can lose out on incentives, but you can also go down the path of a complex multi-hundred thousand infrastructure project, only to have something poorly designed, and you would have wasted two or three years to get that done. When you sign on to a free vendor or a super low-cost vendor, you’re basically giving them the keys to do whatever they want to do.


[00:21:37.950] – Matthew Holbrook

Yeah. Coming back to your more non-high-rise environment, your garden-style condos, is there anything specific that that type of community should have in mind that might be different, or is it just overall a little bit easier? How does that compare to the scenarios we’re talking about?


[00:21:57.040] – Ariel Fan

Garden-style communities specifically, they have their unique needs as being a more sprawled environment. Many of them also have outdoor parking garages or parking lots. It is more expensive to do charging outdoor. You also involve different civil infrastructure work, such as trenching, doing asphalt work, some landscaping that, let’s say, urban high-rise multi-family properties don’t need to do.


[00:22:24.720] – Ariel Fan

I would actually budget more, advise them to budget more. Some of the other considerations, too, is because these garden-style communities are larger, they may benefit from more public charging stations rather than dedicated stalls.


[00:22:38.690] – Matthew Holbrook

Right. That’s what I was going to ask. They might set that up in a few, for example, guest parking spots or something that maybe owners are allowed to go in to use to charge, but then would have to go back to their permanent parking.


[00:22:50.460] – Ariel Fan



[00:22:51.030] – Matthew Holbrook

Okay, good. Well, anything else that is really pressing that either of you think, hey, if somebody’s going to be doing one of these projects they really need to know this?


[00:23:01.070] – Ariel Fan

I got one. My one piece of advice is for HOAs and property managers to get multiple bids, and also have at least one of the teammates on your side be vendor-neutral or agnostic. You really need somebody who is looking out for the HOA and the building’s best interest, and that’s not always the interest of the manufacturer. They want to sell you their hardware.


[00:23:23.850] – Matthew Holbrook

Somebody who knows what they’re doing that can advocate on behalf of the HOA, that’s the key. Not just a random committee member who really likes technology, but somebody who actually knows the ins and outs of this type of work.


[00:23:36.360] – Ariel Fan

And who understands the complexities and difficulties for construction also.


[00:23:40.240] – Matthew Holbrook

Yeah. From my seat, just listening to both of you talk and thinking through this, it just seems that there is such a multifaceted approach to how this all comes together. A lot of different contractors, a lot of moving pieces, a lot of considerations.


[00:24:00.870] – Matthew Holbrook

Having somebody that can function in that project management role overall, that can tie it all together, ask the right questions, help you to think through the right things that you might miss, could really save you from one, wasting money going down a road that maybe doesn’t really work for your community, wasting time going down a road that doesn’t really work for your community, or missing out on incentives and/or funding in some way.


[00:24:25.110] – Matthew Holbrook

Having somebody that can help think through all of that and has an expertise, that’s my biggest takeaway out of all of this, is that you really need to have somebody that can function in that role. Is that a fair thing to say?


[00:24:36.330] – Michelle Florence

I think that’s very fair.


[00:24:37.870] – Matthew Holbrook

All right. Well thank you both so much for joining us. Lots of really helpful information, and I hope that was helpful for our viewers and listeners. We will continue to address other questions that are relevant to homeowners associations.