Plugging in

Workplace Electric Car Charging So Popular, Getting A Charge Is Sometimes Tough

Imagine the following scenario: you’re a large, pro-EV company wanting to encourage the adoption of plug-in vehicles among your workforce. To help your employees do the socially responsible thing and dump the pump for a plug, you install charging stations for staff and company visitors to use.

Is EV charging in demand at your office?

Is EV charging in demand at your office?

For a few years, everything goes to plan. Everyone can charge, plug-in owners benefit from reduced commuting costs, and your company gets the bonus green kudos that comes with offering plug-in charging.  But now, with electric car sales rocketing, your charging stations are under constant demand to the point that people are actually queuing to charge.

What do you do?

A few years ago, this scenario would have been unthinkable, even for Silicon Valley’s largest and most vocal of EV-friendly companies. Thanks to generous Federal and California state incentives totalling as much as $10,000 — not to mention single-occupant HOV lane access perks for qualifying all-electric and some plug-in hybrid cars — plug-in ownership has soared across California.

That includes Silicon Valley, where companies are finding their original compliment of electric vehicle charging stations are now struggling to meet demand.

As San Jose Mercury News reports, some Silicon Valley companies — like German software company SAP — are faced with demand an order of magnitude greater than the number of available charging stations. When the software company installed sixteen dedicated Level 2 charging stations at its Palo Alto campus in 2010, only a handful of employees owned a plug-in car. Now, more than sixty staff own a plug-in.

For the most part, employees at companies like SAP are reasonably amicable about restricted charging availability. Those who don’t need the charge happily pass on a work-based top-up while those who do need to charge are mindful of their coworkers’ needs when leaving their car on charge.

Sometimes, however, it all goes wrong.

“In the beginning, all of our EV drivers knew each other, we had enough infrastructure, and everyone was happy. That didn’t last for long,” SAP’s chief sustainability officer and LEAF driver Peter Graf told San Jose Mercury News. “Cars are getting unplugged while they are actively charging, and that’s a problem. Employees are calling and messaging each other, say, ‘I see you’re fully charged, can you please move your car?”

It’s a problem repeated at other campuses and at other companies. And while the majority of plug-in owners understand when someone else unplugs them for an emergency charge to help them make that next important work meeting off-campus, not everyone does.

With more plug-in cars than ever before being sold, the problem is only getting worse, with some larger companies hosting more than 100 plug-in cars in their parking lots.

Electronic Arts, another Silicon Valley company with 44 registered plug-in vehicles among its workforce, has a selection of different charging stations for guests and employees to use, including six public Level 2 charging stations and a dozen Level 1 (110-volt) charging stations in the company parking garages.

How do you make sure everyone who needs a charge gets one at your workplace?

How do you make sure everyone who needs a charge gets one at your workplace?

EA’s solution to increased EV charging demand is a low-tech but very effective EV community internal email list, along with a spreadsheet containing contact details for each and every registered EV owner on the staff.

“There’s only one rule we have: please move your car once it has sufficient charge,” said Scott Cronce, EV owner and Vice President of technology at EA.  “The spreadsheet has everyone’s EV details and their contact info on it, so if someone sits too long in a spot, they’ll get a polite call or email asking them to move.”

It’s a similar solution to one employed by Infoblox, a network control company with almost 10 percent of its 250-strong workforce behind the wheel of a plug-in car. At Infoblox, booking has gone one-step further, with employees required to book charging slots on the specially designated EV charging Outlook calendar.  At Infoblox, only two hours can be booked at a time, and no-one is allowed to touch someone else’s car — charging or not — without permission.

Both solutions offer a very elegant way of ensuring everyone gets at least some charge during the day. And if someone is in a hurry or forgets to unplug, emails and messages quickly end up in the inboxes of the EV owner internal email lists.

Over at EA, Cronce says staff have even taken to emailing the list before unplugging their car and driving off.

“The community has taken it upon themselves to email the group when they are vacating a spot, especially a level 2 one. This allows other people to grab it and plug in, minimising down-time between charges. We typically see 2-4 turns per day in each of the public level 2 slots,” he said.

Here at Transport Evolved we’ve never had that exact problem prevent itself (partly because Nikki has three charging stations outside her home office, enough for charging two Nissan LEAFs quite nicely.)  But we think there are some simple steps you can take if you do find yourself in a similar situation to ensure no-one is left without a much-needed charge.

i) If you’re a plug-in owner who doesn’t really need the charge, let someone else plug-in first.

ii) The same is true if you’re a plug-in hybrid or range-extended EV driver. Plugging in is nice, but let all-electric cars go first if you can.

iii) If you really do need a charge, make sure you leave contact details in your car window, or let the internal company email list know you’re plugged in and when you leave.

Do your have EV charging at your office? Are you finding demand is outstripping availability? How do you make sure everyone who needs a charge gets one?

Leave your thoughts and stories in the Comments below.


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