The accelerating demand for electric vehicles (EV) is reshaping not only the automotive landscape but also the very fabric of urban living. The surge in EV popularity is introducing a unique challenge for older apartment buildings that may struggle to adapt to the evolving infrastructure needs. This article explores the potential effects of the new National Construction Code (NCC) on apartment values, highlighting the risks associated with the inability of older developments to meet the growing demand for EV charging facilities.
The EV boom is gearing up
Although it has been slow to gain traction, Australia’s transition to EV gained momentum in late 2022 when low- and zero-emission cars secured exemption from FBT. As the nation gradually embraces the electric future, construction policies are also shifting to accommodate this paradigm shift. NCC 2022, for instance, mandates that 10% of parking spaces in office and retail buildings and 20% of spaces in other building types must accommodate charging facilities. This forward-looking approach reflects a commitment to integrating sustainable technologies into the urban environment.
While Building Surveyors are still trying to fully understand the impacts of introducing electric vehicles into buildings, Australian fire services have issued industry guidance on expectations for compliance and consultation. Importantly, they consider professional assessment on a case-by-case basis essential to ensure that buildings continue to meet the performance standards of the NCC. The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) is the Australian and New Zealand National Council for fire, emergency services and land management. It is a collaborative network and advocates for appropriate, early engagement with the relevant fire authorities. This allows all parties to understand the risks and improve consultation in the development of acceptable solutions utilising fire engineering principles. Engaging with the fire authorities sooner will potentially save time and money later in the process.
Until further provisions are specifically addressed in the NCC, the AFAC position is that EVs and EV charging should be treated as a special hazard for new developments. It considers the implementation of Clauses E1D17 (2019:E1.10) and E2D21 (2019:E2.3) as appropriate mechanisms by which to document and address any requirements for the implementation of proposed or associated installations of EVs and EV charging equipment within the built environment in consideration of their assessment of the relevant NCC performance requirements.
Charging infrastructure and apartment values
While the push for EV adoption is commendable, it poses a potential threat to the value of older apartment buildings that cannot keep pace with the required charging infrastructure. The NCC’s standards, aiming to make EV charging available for 100% of apartment building parking spaces, may inadvertently create a value gap between new and older developments. This could lead to a two-tiered property market, where buildings equipped for the EV era command higher values than those struggling to adapt.
Navigating the fire safety landscape
Integrating EV charging facilities into existing structures requires careful consideration of fire safety standards. Key considerations in the AFAC’s guidance include:
- Location of charging stations: proximity to other vehicles, exits, fire safety systems, utilities, and critical infrastructure
- Fire resistance: ensuring appropriate fire resistance levels for building elements
- Safety systems: assessing the suitability and location of fire safety systems concerning the charging station
- Vehicle spaces: adequate separation to prevent fire spread, considering stacked parking arrangements and automatic vehicle parking systems
- Intervention: evaluating the capabilities of local fire authorities to respond to EV-related incidents
- Environmental impact: addressing concerns such as contaminated fire-water run-off
- Shutdown controls: implementing remote emergency shutdown controls and/or automatic shutdown for EV charging stations
- Impact protection: providing impact protection, such as bollards, for EV charging stations
- Standards: adhering to best practice standards for EV charging equipment
- Maintenance: establishing a regular schedule for EV charging equipment
The AFAC’s evolving guidance emphasises the importance of continuous updates as more information and evidence emerge. This collaborative approach aims to reduce risks to both the community and emergency services personnel.
Research Initiatives and Future Prospects
Fire & Rescue NSW’s Safety of Alternative and Renewable Energy Technologies research program underlines their commitment to understanding and managing potential risks associated with EV technology. The collaborative effort, involving fire services, government agencies, research institutions, and industry partners worldwide, explores best practices in handling lithium-ion battery-related fires, end-of-life battery hazard management, and the intricacies of EV fires in structures.
As the wheels of progress turn towards a future dominated by electric vehicles, the challenges faced by older apartment blocks in NSW are evident. Navigating the intersection of EV charging requirements, property values, and fire safety standards requires a proactive and collaborative approach. By embracing updated guidelines, engaging with fire authorities, and participating in research initiatives, the older buildings of today could be positioned as sustainable and resilient structures ready for the demands of tomorrow. However, it will not be a free ride and in some cases useful service life limitations and other remediation costs being faced by strata schemes in older apartment blocks may render the new requirements and selling price differences a moot point.