Tune-in. Plug-in.

As automakers prepare to roll out around 20 different electric vehicle models over the next few years, apartment owners and managers are finding ways to drive more traffic to their properties.

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SemaConnect, a start-up company in Baltimore, Md., is offering apartment owners the opportunity to plug into the electric car trend and earn ancillary income in the process.

Founded just two years ago, SemaConnect is offering an electric car charging system called ChargePro that allows apartment owners to collect payment and profit through the use of a small, wall-mounted unit that utilizes a smart card reader to charge for access to electricity.

Renters, who own electric cars like the plug-in Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf and wish to use the system, secure a smart card or key fob from their apartment managers. A wave of the device in front of a gray box logs in the user and keeps track of power usage, enabling the apartment owner to assess the renter a predetermined monthly fee. The ChargePro station also provides a wireless Web-based network management and driver software platform.

The charging stations, which have a plug that resembles a gas pump and a display light that turns green to indicate that a vehicle is fully charged, use 240V and have a full charging time of between four and eight hours, depending on the model of car- much faster than plugging into the 120V wall outlets typical in apartment buildings, which can take up 20 hours to fully charge. SemaConnect estimates that service fees per station will cost from $40 to $50 per month. The property owner will then decide on a mark-up to the renter.

SemaConnect estimates that system owners can easily collect $125 to $150 per month if the unit is utilized in high-volume areas such as apartment communities. The charge for the systems, including installation, is around $2,500 to $3,000. The initial investment could result in a break-even time of around two years, with profit expected every year thereafter, says the company.

The ChargePro system earned SemaConnect the Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the first annual Maryland Clean Energy Summit in Baltimore, Md., on October 4, 2010. Mahi Reddy, president and founder of SemaConnect, accepted the award that recognizes an individual or new company that brings new technologies, products or services to the market in Maryland. The Bozzuto Group is one of the first apartment companies to install ChargePro systems in a multifamily development. The electric car charging station was one of the checklist items that helped the company achieve LEED Silver certification for the 275-unit Fitzgerald, a newly constructed mixed-use property built on 4.6 acres owned by the University of Baltimore in Baltimore, Md.

Bozzuto plans to install charging stations in future developments with the goal of making them a standard feature.

Charging up in Austin
Alliance Residential installed a ChargePoint charging station manufactured by Campbell, Calif.-based Coulomb Technologies at its 280-unit Broadstone Grand Avenue in Austin, Tex., and has made the station available to renters and the general public free of charge for a limited introductory period.

Renters will be able to power up their electric vehicles any time day or night and the public will have access to the station during leasing office hours. The ChargePoint station, which features both 120- and 240-volt output chargers, can be located via smart phone by electric car drivers looking to power up. The complimentary usage period will end when Alliance establishes a pricing structure for the charging system.

Coulomb Technologies went live in January 2009 with its ChargePoint Network-the largest network of electric car-charging stations in the world, operating in 14 countries.

Equity’s win/win
Equity Residential has installed charging stations at properties in Washington, D.C., Seattle and Cambridge, Mass., with plans to install additional stations at communities in four more markets sometime this year. And, the nation’s largest apartment REIT isn’t paying a dime for the stations that are being installed, managed and maintained by Car Charging Inc., a Miami Beach-based company that collects usage fees directly from residents and other electric car drivers who use the station through a membership account card, or any credit card with a chip in it. Equity Residential is reimbursed for the stations’ electricity costs and also receives a portion of the revenue they generate.

The REIT also recently teamed with Zipcar to make car-sharing services available to around 17,000 residents of participating Equity Residential apartments in Boston, New York City, Seattle and Washington, D.C., with plans to expand the program to other markets in the future. According to Zipcar Chairman and CEO Scott Griffith, each Zipcar removes approximately 15 personally owned cars from the road. “This offering delivers outstanding value to residents of Equity Residential properties, since Zipcar members report saving $7,200 per year versus car ownership,” he said.