Can I charge an EV with solar in a condo community?

No solar on these condo roofs at Highline Crossing Cohousing in Littleton, Colo. -- although I'm hoping I might persuade them to allow me to install solar on my garage -- once I move in in late July 2017.
No solar on these condo roofs at Highline Crossing Cohousing in Littleton, Colo. — although I’m hoping I might persuade them to allow me to install solar on my garage — once I move in in late July 2017.

editors-blog-entry3So, for the past year and a half, I have been renting an apartment in Denver near the University of Denver – where I work – and paying an extra two cents per kilowatt hour for Xcel Energy “Windsource” energy to cover all the electricity use in my two bedroom, 800-square foot apartment plus ALL of the electricity I use to power my 2014 Nissan Leaf, which I have now been leasing for more than four years.

I have to admit, though, that paying extra for some far off wind turbine produced electricity to fuel my Leaf is not nearly as satisfying to me as when I was living in a 1,800-square foot home with a 5.5 kW solar system on it. In fact, far-away/indirect “Windsource” electricity is for me not even close to as satisfying as looking everyday at the panels that produce electricity for one’s EV and home (even if it often ends up being “offset” electricity).

In November 2015, I had to sell that house, with the solar system, thanks to a divorce that is now two and a half years old.

Given what a big deal solar-charging an electric vehicle (admittedly often via solar offset) is to me and to my identity, you would think that I would not put myself in a position where I would buy a condo whose roof, and whose garage roofs, including my garage roof, are not owned by me, but by a condo collective.

Yet, I have done exactly that: In early June of 2017 I bought a three-level condo in a community in Littleton, Colo. called Highline Crossing Cohousing. The primary allure of living there is I am hoping that both I, and my two daughters, who are 10 and 12 years old, will more easily make friends as well as feel much more part of a community than I/we ever did living in the suburban single-family home we owned in Aurora, Colo. from 2005 to 2015. Cohousing communities are more deliberately focused on building community, friendships, etc. than communities which are not cohousing based.

(We have not yet moved into our new townhome/condo, we will be doing so on July 22nd. )

So, basically, I have opted for community over having my own solar. I could have bought a home for which I owned the roof (although on a journalism professor’s salary, and a single salary, rather than a dual salary, which is what wife-husband partners have, there wasn’t much affordable for me within reasonable distance of the University of Denver). The Front Range housing market is totally nutso, in large part because of all of the Texans, Californians and Midwesterners who are abandoning those places for a much nicer climate here in Colorado and/or cheaper living.

The Highline Crossing Cohousing home web page.
The Highline Crossing Cohousing home web page.

However, just because I opted for community over my own home solar doesn’t mean that I still don’t really want to power my electric car with sunshine. I still very much do wish to fuel my 2014 Leaf with sun. But my initial instinct is to sigh, and say: You will not be allowed to install solar on your garage, you do not own the garage roof PLUS all of the electricity used in the garages is collectively paid for: There are no separate utility meters for each of the 25 or so two-car garages.

On top of the fact that I do not own my garage roof and do not own my townhome roof at Highline Crossing, the roofs are covered by 50-year ceramic/cement shingles that, to me, look like they would present a HUGE challenge in terms of installing solar rails and solar.

At this point, what I most need is a 240-volt outlet to charge my Leaf in my garage. I will very definitely run out of charge again in my Leaf if I am forced to trickle charge at 120-volts. The garages at Highline Crossing do not currently have any 240-volt outlets, although I am hoping that somewhere in the garages there is 30-40 amp circuitry – sorry, I am not good with the correct electrical engineering terminology – or at least the ability to add this circuitry.

I have twice run out of charge in my 2014 Leaf – which, by the way, is my ONLY car. Both times were shortly after my ex-wife moved out of our solar home in Aurora, Colo., and took our gas car, a 2014 Subaru Forester, with her. Prior to her leaving, we could work it out so that even if the Leaf did not fill up completely on a trickle charge, the person who needed the most distance on a given day could drive the Subaru.

For 18 months, my 2014 Nissan Leaf was solar-charged, but now it is only being charged by indirect Xcel Energy “Windsource” electricity. I am hoping to change that, but don’t know if my new HOA will let me install solar on my garage — whose roof is owned collectively by the HOA, not me.

About three months after she moved out of our Aurora, Colo. home, I had my Leaf charging unit modified from 120 to 240-volt and I then ran the charging cord in from the garage to my dryer outlet in the laundry room, located conveniently near our garage.

I was hoping maybe some of you might be able offer advice/feedback/suggestions on how I might most effectively get myself into a position where I am solar charging again in condo HOA. Here are my questions/issues.

  1. I need a 240-volt outlet in my garage, or a 240-volt charger, but, of course, I cannot install this without permission from my HOA. Again, electricity use in the 25 garages is collectively paid for by the HOA and, as far as I know, there are no separate utility meters in the garages.
  2. I do not plan to ask for permission to install solar on my townhome roof, but I would very much like to install solar on my garage roof: My two-car garage is, like ALL garages in this “cohousing community” deliberately built with no physical connection to my townhome. This forces owners to walk from the garage to their townhome encourages more human interaction.
  3. I am considering installing Tesla Powerwalls in my garage, although it all may be too expensive.
  4. The scenario I am thinking of right no would be to install a 2 to 2.6 kW system on my garage (whose roof I do NOT own, once again, sigh….), have this system feed electricity into a couple of Tesla Powerwalls, and have a charging unit that would allow me to directly “pull” electricity out of the Powerwalls and into my EV.
  5. An alternative would be to install a solar system on my garage roof without the Powerwalls. However, if the electricity in the garages is COLLECTIVE electricity, I’m not sure how that would/could be handled in terms of net metering, etc. There would be a single solar system on one of 25 two-car garages, which would be feeding electricity presumably out to the other garages, but whose production, seemingly could not be monitored effectively vis-à-vis the grid without a separate utility meter with which to measure its production.
  6. What can I do in terms of installing a 240-volt plug/30-40 amp plug in my garage – without putting myself into a position where if I am fortunate enough to persuade the community to allow me to install solar on my garage later on – so that the money in this 240-volt outlet will not have been wasted because a completely different set-up would be needed, for example, for a Tesla Powerwall storage + EV charging system?

In theory, most of the people who live in this cohousing community are “progressive” politically, but that does not necessarily mean they are solar friendly. I guess I will find out  just how “progressive” they really are/are not when I move in and request to install solar on my garage roof. I have a feeling that such a request may be denied, but that is my internal pessimism dominating, not what really might, or might now transpire.

So, suggestions on how to best approach powering my EV in a condo cohousing community with collectively shared electricity production and collectively shared payment for garage electricity would be much appreciated.

I could save myself a lot of hassle by simply paying extra for Xcel Windsource electricity and pretending that my EV is powered by renewables. However, that creates such a flat, ho-hum feeling in me compared to having a solar system right over my electric car.