Sunday, May 29, 2011

Workplace Charging: The Electric Car's Best Friend

MINI-E #250 Sipping On Some Electrons While I'm Working
There has been a lot of talk about the necessity of public charging stations and the lack thereof. There are some that think we cannot expect people to buy electric cars unless there's a complex network of public charging points on every block, in order to compete with the multitude of gas stations that seem to be on the corner of every main intersection.

I've written on various websites that I just don't think that's necessary. I think a nice sprinkling of public charge points here and there will do just fine for now, until EV's really gain traction and we see sales of electric cars in the tens of thousands every month. I also think that the private sector(at least the smart ones) will jump on the opportunity to capture customers that drive EV's and install a charger or two in their parking lot. Let's face it, if an EV driver is looking for a quick bite to eat and they know that McDonald's has public chargers and Burger King doesn't, I bet they will stop at a McDonald's if there is one in the area. Even if they don't really "need" to charge, why not get a 1/2 hour boost or so while you grab a quick bite to eat. Also, if you do happen to need to charge, you know you can do so there, so they get a customer that they wouldn't have if they didn't have the chargers.

I know level 3 DC quick charge will be useful for long-trip highway driving, but we don't even have a standard and I think we are a ways away from seeing it available in any great numbers so I'm not going to really focus on it. For the most, I really think level 2 public charging is more important for the psyche of potential EV buyers, to give them peace of mind so they don't think they will be stranded with no place to charge than I think it will really be needed. It's mainly this reason that I am in favor of installing them, just not as many as I think some others feel is necessary and I hate to see public funds wasted by over-installing them in clusters where they will be underutilized.

Which brings me to the topic of the day, workplace charging. About six months into the MINI-E program, BMW offered the pioneers a second EVSE if we wanted one and had a use for it. I accepted the offer and installed it at my restaurant as did Cliff Saunders, a MINI-E pioneer that lives in New York who also owns a restaurant. I know what you are going to say "Not everyone owns their own restaurant and can install an EVSE there" and you would be right with that. However many of the other MINI-E pioneers were able to convince their employers to let them either install a 220v EVSE or simply charge at 110v. Charging at 220v is optimal, but even charging at 110v for a typical work day can add about 25-30 miles or range to your EV. That may be enough to give those with a long commute the extra cushion they need to feel comfortable and not stress out about making the return trip home after work.

I firmly believe workplace charging is by far the most important secondary charge point after home charging. Let's face it, today's electric cars with roughly 100 miles ranges aren't meant to drive 300 miles on holiday. They are however perfect commuter cars and can drastically reduce your fuel and maintenance costs for this driving. Commuting to work in an EV has been perfect for me and many others that I communicate with. Talking to your boss and explaining why you drive electric and how little the electricity will actually cost him/her will go a long way in helping them to decide to let you plug in at work. Always offer to pay for  the electricity though, it's not fair to ask your company to pay for it unless they currently pay for your gasoline. There are obstacles, and many times it would cost too much to bring electricity to where you park and in that case you may be out of luck, but many times it is available and both you and your employer will benefit if you work together to come up with a way to allow you to charge while you work. You get the added security of a longer range and they get a happier employee, cleaner air and if they want to, I'm sure they can get some local press coverage about how they are encouraging green transportation for their employees and that's good PR for sure.

I wonder if the EVSE companies like AreoVironment, Clipper Creek, Columb and GE are approaching large companies that employ hundreds of workers at multiple locations. If not, they should be. My wife works at ADP and they have offices all over our area, with huge parking lots at every office and hundreds of cars parked at all of them. A big company like ADP could easily afford to install a bank of chargers at all of their locations, and could get an enormous amount of great public relations press coverage while inspiring their workforce to drive electric. They could even take it a step further and install solar carports that have the public chargers installed there. Big companies like ADP are always encouraging their workforce to represent the company in a professional manner and "do the right thing" here's a chance for them to lead by example.


  1. Before you can do any work charging, educating employers is a must. A personal experience of mine has convinced me of this. One day I spent my Saturday tutoring some students. While there I decided to charge my car, 1 to pick up a few miles and 2 as a stimulus to some thinking on their part. The next school day I received nasty emails from administrators about how I was wasting electricity and that I should NEVER do it again. In the future I was to do all of my charging at home! I calculated that for the short period of time at 110 the cost was close to a dime. Never mind that I spent a couple of hours working for FREE.
    However, the shortsightedness of my employers is not matched by my city's politicians. We worked out a grant to install about a dozen charging stations around our city. Way to go Riverside, CA! Too bad our school systems aren't educated enough to understand and encourage this. Mini e #135.

  2. Hi John! Yes, I tried to work that into the post without spending to much time on it as the long posts seem to be the least read! You DEFINITELY need to have the discussion with your employer first and make sure they know just how little it will actually cost and offer to pay for the electricity.

    I'm sorry to hear you had the problem, it's very unfortunate, but I bet the people complaining think it will cost a lot of money in electricity. Most people think it will cost a lot to charge the car. I recently plugged in 110 at my uncles house for a few hours while I visited. I didn't ask his permission when I arrived because I know he would let me. Of course he didn't have a problem with it but he asked me if he would notice a difference in his electric bill that month. He has a 4,000sq ft home with three zones of central A/C and a huge heated pool. His electric bill is about $600/month. He was shocked when I told him that I probably used about sixty cents in electricity. People that aren't EV savvy really don't know how little the car's use. I guess because they're so used to paying $100 to fill up their gas tanks now that they can't grasp the low cost per mile of an EV.

  3. Agreed. But we do need to push for level 3 quick charging for the same reason you gave for adding level 2 public charging, so people will not worry about refueling. People want to hear 80% charged in under 30 minutes, not eight hours to charge like they hear for the Nissan LEAF. That all but guarantees that you can't drive it more than 100 miles per day.

  4. Tom, Tell your wife to call me and give me a contact at ADP! I will be down there in a heartbeat to sell them 100s of EVSEs from my company and all for almost a 100% tax break (need to talk to their accountant but it is doable)..... Ask me how!!!

    Douglas Stansfield

  5. Tom

    I agree about charging at work, and my employer is in the process of putting in some EVSEs soon.

    But keep in mind the problem of grid load. Night time charging is optimal for the grid, which is why the current generation of EVs have this pathetic 3 to 6 kw charging rates. The Mini E is an exception with 12 kw built in charging, and even that is throttled back from the 18 kw capacity of the ACP drive train. But as you told me yourself, some car makers are afraid of the grid load problem if a lot of people charge during the day. Hence wipmy built in chargers.

    It won't be long before the power companies offer better rates if they can slow down your EVSE for a few minutes while they ramp up generation or switch around equipment problems. I have this at home, Duke Energy can throttle back my air conditioners when they get close to peak load. But until load management is widespread, I don't expect charging at work to be a large part of the narrative for EVs. Too bad.

    By the way, there are lots of public stations going in near you, for one example see:

    And hey, my Th!nk EV can add 45 miles from a 120 volt outlet during the work day. The Th!nk charger is far more efficient than the Mini E charger at 120 volts.

  6. Jim: Yes you are right about the daytime EV charging. charging at 110v as you are doing would be fine at work and give the EV driver a nice boost while they work. If you really need to charge at 220v at work then perhaps you shouldn't be driving your EV to work as the range just isn't good enough.

    James, 45 miles is a nice boost, what is the charge rate at 110V on the Th!nk?

    I wouldn't encourage anyone to use an EV to commute if it cannot make the round trip without charging at work. However by being able to do so you then may be able to run errands or stop at a friends house on the way home that you may not have otherwise felt comfortable doing because you would be pushing the range limit. Things like that always pop up and it's really convenient to have your employer allow you to charge while you work. The car is just sitting out there in the parking lot all day, it's a perfect opportunity to plug in.

  7. Charging at work is a good thing for all the commuters that need the boost for a safe return to home or to have some extra range to do some errands.

    But if EVs become an integrated part of a "Smart Grid" that stores excessive energy in times of low power consumption in an EVs battery and calls up the same energy later to cover the peak load of electrical consumption, it will be crucial to connect the EV to the grid during the day when these peaks occur. In this case a high charging rate is also helpful to allow a quick reaction to the power demand or surplus.

    So in future plugging in at the workplace is maybe more an issue of becomming an integrated part of the energy supply than just a "one way" charging.

  8. Yes I agree with Stefan but I think we have a long time before the smart grid that is is talking about becomes reality, no? This need a lot of money and everybody is cutting budgets now now adding new technology at great expense

  9. I work for a Very Large Telecomunication company ( two guesses who) I received permission from someone to use a 110 outlet, but when I did someone complained and I was told I couldnt use it again, would be considered theft of company resources. So now days I drive my Volt to work on Electricity and home on Gas.
    Would love to have some form of Electric car charging at work, but I think we are going to need third party companies, that can offer Electric Vehicle chargers to other companies like soda machines or ATM's a service that doesnt cost the Company anything.
    Another problem I've found with public Chargers, is legally only Electric utilities can charge for electricity, so EV chargers charge customers by the time used, but if you have a 16A car like the Volt on a 32A charger, your probably going to pay double the rate you should.

  10. Robert workplace charging that is limited to the company employees should be offered free in my opinion. The electricity cost is so insignificant(what would your volt cost per day to charge, $1.50?) that good companies should see the benefit of encouraging green transportation for their employees.

    I think a lot of the resistance is based on ignorance and that they think it will cost a lot of money to allow you to plug in. This is and issue that I think need to be brought to the very high levels of the company and explained. Perhaps if they really understand how little the electricity cost will be and how positive it can be for the company (happy employee & they can get some good PR out of it if they do it right) then perhaps they will consider setting up a few designated spaces for electric cars for their employees.

  11. Tom, I dont think most companies would mind a $1.50 a charge when its just a couple people but most balk at the cost of installing the chargers, even when the chargers are free. also there are many gas burners that get angry thinking electric car users are getting free Electricity when they have to pay for gas. I think its best to pay for the little electricity we use, and not build anymore ill will with gas burners ... they are in the majority.

  12. Robert, I agree you should offer to pay, but forward thinking companies should realize it's costing them practically nothing and they are inspiring green transportation and a cleaner environment so they could allow it at least for the next few years when there aren't many EV driving employees.

  13. Hey Tom:

    I just read your Mini E blog, referred from the article in June, Solar Today. Keep up your good work!
    Question: I have a 1998 VW New Beetle that I would like to convert to all electric. Can you suggest some potential shops that could do this? I live in Burlington, Vermont.
    Thanks in advance for your help.

  14. Great blog, i recently test drove a Mini-e and really enjoyed the experience. It has made me convinced my next car will be an EV.

    Check out my op/ed on test driving the electric Mini:

    I will link your blog in mine if you don't mind, if you like my comment and we can chat!