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‘Charge rage’: Too many electric cars, not enough workplace chargers

‘Charge rage’: Too many electric cars, not enough workplace chargers thumbnail

Eager to reduce energy use, German software company SAP installed 16 electric vehicle charging ports in 2010 at its Palo Alto campus for the handful of employees who owned electric vehicles.

Just three years later, SAP faces a problem that is increasingly common at Silicon Valley companies — far more electric cars than chargers. Sixty-one of the roughly 1,800 employees on the campus now drive a plug-in vehicle, overwhelming the 16 available chargers. And as demand for chargers exceeds supply, a host of thorny etiquette issues have arisen, along with some rare but notorious incidents of “charge rage.”

“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,” said Peter Graf, SAP’s chief sustainability officer and the driver of a Nissan Leaf. “Cars are getting unplugged while they are actively charging, and that’s a problem. Employees are calling and messaging each other, saying, ‘I see you’re fully charged, can you please move your car?'”

SAP is now drafting charging guidelines for its EV-driving employees.

Consider it the dark side of workplace charging, which has joined on-site sushi chefs, massages and stock options as an expected perk in Silicon Valley.

“If you want to attract the best people and top talent, EV charging is a must-have,” said Graf. “It’s a recruitment tool.”

Campbell-based ChargePoint operates the world’s largest network of electric vehicle charging stations — 15,000 across the United States, Europe and Australia. It tells its corporate clients — including Google (GOOG), Facebook, Target, Whole Foods and Disney — that they need one charging port for every two of their employees’ electric vehicles.

Charging an EV can take as little as a half-hour, to “top it off,” to as long as eight hours, depending on the vehicle and how much it is already charged.
“If you don’t maintain a 2-to-1 ratio, you are dead,” said ChargePoint CEO Pat Romano. “Having two chargers and 20 electric cars is worse than having no chargers and 20 electric cars. If you are going to do this, you have to be willing to continue to scale it.”

PG&E expects to see as many as 800,000 electric vehicles on the road within its Northern California territory by the end of 2020, up from just 20,000 now, and the valley is a hot spot of adoption. In addition to home charging stations, there are nearly 20,000 public and workplace electric vehicle charging stations across the United States, according to a tally maintained by the Department of Energy. Of those, more than 5,000 are in California.

But at many workplaces, the number of electric cars is multiplying much faster than the number of charging stations. Adding new chargers is not always easy, as many companies lease their facilities instead of owning them outright, making them loath to install permanent infrastructure. In addition, the chargers themselves are expensive.

George Betak learned firsthand the perils of “charge rage” last fall when he worked at Yahoo’s (YHOO) Sunnyvale headquarters, where he said more than 100 employees who drove plug-in vehicles regularly tussled over limited charging spots.

Betak, who no longer works at Yahoo, drives the all-electric BMW Active E and one day made the grave mistake of unplugging a colleague’s Chevy Volt.

“I needed to be somewhere by 6 p.m., and all of the active chargers were full. I couldn’t plug in all day,” he said. “There was a Volt that appeared to be finished charging, so I unplugged it so I could get a half-hour boost. The Volt isn’t pure electric — it also has a gasoline engine. The next day, I learned that the Volt owner was furious, and he sent out this email blast saying that I stole his charge. It was awful.”

Many electric vehicles have apps that communicate its level of charge to the owner, and some workplaces urge employees to make sure those alerts are set up, so cars can be moved as soon as they are fully charged. In typical Silicon Valley fashion, one company has turned to technology to juggle the charging logistics.

Infoblox, a network control company, has 260 employees at its headquarters in Santa Clara. Of those, 27 have plug-in electric vehicles, or roughly 10 percent of the workforce. But the company has only six charging stations, a shortage that has led to the creation of an internal “EV user” distribution list, as well as a shared calendar for managing charging slots.

“You have to book your charging time on Outlook,” said David Gee, Infoblox’s executive vice president of marketing and the owner of a Tesla Model S. “You can only book for a two-hour window. But Rule No. 1 is: No one touches anyone else’s car without permission.”

The 27 EVs at Infoblox include several Nissan Leafs, Toyota Prius Plug-Ins, Chevy Volts, a Ford Focus EV and a few Model S sedans. But there’s no hierarchy among the vehicles, nor do top executives get special charging rights. If anyone overstays their allotted time, the emails come fast: “Will the owner of the red Leaf in Bay #3 move their car now?”

“It’s a highly egalitarian community,” said Gee. “Public shaming is the best motivator.”

17 Comments on "‘Charge rage’: Too many electric cars, not enough workplace chargers"

  1. DC on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 1:43 am 

    So lets see, 61/1800 or .03% of trash cans in that location, and there are already problems.

    What if, say, 10% or even 5% of the trash-cans were Electric, 90-180 or so? Sounds like rather than actually working, these people are going to be spending more time making sure someone hasn’t unplugged there private garbage can from the charger.

    Of course, there is always a ‘solution’ right at hand. Carpet the entire area with chargers!(I wont get into what that entails, im sure everyone here can figure that part out) No matter how the proponents of cars-only transportation spin things, EVs, at least the *private* 2500kg EV modelled exactly after current gas-burners, are NO ‘solution’ to the liquid-fuels. endless suburban sprawl paradigm.

    However, if things carry on in this manner, well soon be adding a new meme to the language, as this article seems to indicate.

    What shall we call it?


    Ill keeping working on it…

  2. DMyers on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 3:09 am 

    Another level of absurdity has been plastered onto the existing corpus of absurdity. Next thing you know, we’ll be seeing a Jerry Springer ilk program showing videos of car charging confrontations, with a caption of “Fighting for Daddy’s Juice.”

    I agree with DC. This is not going to be the new facade on an old paradigm. The transition from gas to electric is to be followed by: “Oh, shit, now we’ve gotta find some gas to make the electric!” Gas gone, either way.

  3. dissident on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 3:28 am 

    These plug in electric vehicles are actually running on coal power. The pollution is there but not coming out of these cars directly, so the owners can feel real good about themselves.

  4. surf on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 6:23 am 

    The article is mainly focused on California. In California only about 5% of the electricity is from coal. 20% is from renewable (excluding large hydro) and the rest natural gas. By law 33% must be from renewables by 2020.

  5. Norm on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 8:05 am 

    It is kinda showing us a problem, isnt it? Ya mean if 50,000 employees drive to work in electric cars, that you will need at least 16 charger stations, maybe more. whoopsy daisy. well, make ’em charge at home. but then the nuclear power plant will get overloaded and glowing green foam start pouring out the top.

  6. Meld on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 8:28 am 

    electric cars are such a joke. Trust the Germans to be first to spot that particular problem. Next they’ll be figuring out that in reality solar panels are a net energy loss to the country.

  7. action on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 4:16 pm 

    Then there’s always the rebellious teens to worry about, going around and unplugging every car in the lot. They’re upset because their charge rage puts a stain on their perfect smug little Im better than you because I care about the environment demeanor, despite it being a misguided one.

  8. Plantagenet on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 4:25 pm 

    Plugging in at work is free. Just imagine the chaos if companies starting offering free gas

  9. Kenz300 on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 4:58 pm 

    It is time to end the oil monopoly on transportation fuels. A monopoly is only good for the monopoly and not good for the consumers.

    Bring on the electric, flex-fuel, hybrid, CNG, LNG and hydrogen fueled vehicles.

    Electric vehicle use will continue to grow each year as the technology improves, batteries get better, range improves and charging times continue to decrease.

  10. SteveO on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 5:54 pm 

    “In addition, the chargers themselves are expensive.”

    These companies will spend a few million on executive perks and not bat an eye. Gawd forbid that they drop a few thousand on the peasants.

  11. J-Gav on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 6:15 pm 

    Electric vehicles make sens for municipal buses and utility fleets. Maybe for golf carts, though, as some of you may remember, I’m in favor in of turning golf courses into permaculture farms.

    As for building out infrastructure for personal vehicles and spending mega-bucks to make the batteries charge quicker and squeeze a little more range out of them … that looks like a recipe for some stranded assets in the not-very-distant future.

  12. Northwest Resident on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 8:10 pm 

    Electric vehicles are responsible ultimately for a lot more energy usage than just the coal/NG/whatever it takes to produce the electricity to (re)power them. Those batteries are the product of intensive mining and chemical processing activity. There is a good chance that the amount of fossil fuel energy that goes into creating each battery — not to mention each car — is greater than the fossil fuel energy that the car will save over at least the first few years of its lifetime, and perhaps over its entire lifetime — or so I have read. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that is absolutely true. There is a good argument being made that the same is true for solar panels and wind farms here:

  13. Makati1 on Sat, 25th Jan 2014 3:44 am 

    You might want to check in and read:

    “Ten Reasons Intermittent Renewables (Wind and Solar PV) are a Problem”

    It puts the ‘renewable’ fad in it’s place. ‘Renewable’ is just another word for ‘extend and pretend’.

  14. Peter Romersa on Sat, 25th Jan 2014 1:46 pm 

    Coal fire plants? How bout NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS in northern CA? Can U say FUKUSHIMA? Oh yeah, these electric cars are really gonna solve our energy problems…. Then we can sell the cars to Iran, which is insisting that their nuclear program is purely for “energy purposes!” I’m sure they’ll be beating down the bushes to install car battery chargers that get powered by their all the nuclear plants they are planning to build! ☢

  15. GregT on Sun, 26th Jan 2014 3:28 am 

    Once again, there are two kinds of resources. Renewable, and finite. Anything that requires finite resources in it’s manufacturing, construction, or maintenance, is NON-renewable. PERIOD.

    Resources that are renewable are grown through natural processes, and even those are now being exploited faster than they can renew themselves.

    The techie religious cult has gone beyond ridiculous, it is now bordering on insanity.

    Those that actually get it, had better get their ducks in a row soon. The techies will soon be knocking at your door, desperately searching for scraps of food.

  16. Northwest Resident on Sun, 26th Jan 2014 6:00 pm 

    “The techies will soon be knocking at your door, desperately searching for scraps of food.”

    I read the “Little House On the Prairie” series of books when I was a kid. One book, “The Long Winter”, takes place with the pioneer family out on the prairie during an especially brutal winter. Other pioneer families were starving to death, but Laura and Mary’s father had been wise enough to stock up on food — and hide it from view. As the neighbors starved to death, our main family managed to survive. IF Laura’s father had decided to share with the starving families, then Laura’s family would also have starved. One man noticed the “false wall” that Laura’s father had built to hide his food, and Laura’s father made a deal with that man to feed him, but just him. That man knew that he could not divulge the secret, or both he and Laura’s family would starve once the other pioneer families had raided the food store.

    We may all find ourselves in this same position in the not-too-distant future. And that is most unfortunate, but what are you going to do?

  17. rollin on Mon, 27th Jan 2014 3:34 am 

    I’m a modern man, digital and smoke-free; a man for the millennium.

    A diversified, multi-cultural, post-modern deconstructionist; politically, anatomically and ecologically incorrect.

    I’ve been uplinked and downloaded, I’ve been inputted and outsourced. I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading.

    I’m a high-tech low-life. A cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, bi-coastal multi-tasker, and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.

    I’m new-wave, but I’m old-school; and my inner child is outward-bound.

    I’m a hot-wired, heat-seeking, warm-hearted cool customer; voice-activated and bio-degradable.

    I interface with my database; my database is in cyberspace; so I’m interactive, I’m hyperactive, and from time to time I’m radioactive.

    Behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve, ridin’ the wave, dodgin’ the bullet, pushin’ the envelope.

    I’m on point, on task, on message, and off drugs.

    I’ve got no need for coke and speed; I’ve got no urge to binge and purge.

    I’m in the moment, on the edge, over the top, but under the radar.

    A high-concept, low-profile, medium-range ballistic missionary.

    A street-wise smart bomb. A top-gun bottom-feeder.

    I wear power ties, I tell power lies, I take power naps, I run victory laps.

    I’m a totally ongoing, big-foot, slam-dunk rainmaker with a pro-active outreach.

    A raging workaholic, a working rageaholic; out of rehab and in denial.

    I’ve got a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a personal assistant, and a personal agenda.

    You can’t shut me up; you can’t dumb me down. ‘Cause I’m tireless, and I’m wireless. I’m an alpha-male on beta-blockers.

    I’m a non-believer, I’m an over-achiever; Laid-back and fashion-forward. Up-front, down-home; low-rent, high-maintenance.

    I’m super-sized, long-lasting, high-definition, fast-acting, oven-ready and built to last.

    A hands-on, footloose, knee-jerk head case; prematurely post-traumatic, and I have a love child who sends me hate-mail.

    But I’m feeling, I’m caring, I’m healing, I’m sharing. A supportive, bonding, nurturing primary-care giver.

    My output is down, but my income is up. I take a short position on the long bond, and my revenue stream has its own cash flow.

    I read junk mail, I eat junk food, I buy junk bonds, I watch trash sports.

    I’m gender-specific, capital-intensive, user-friendly and lactose-intolerant.

    I like rough sex; I like tough love. I use the f-word in my e-mail. And the software on my hard drive is hard-core—no soft porn.

    I bought a microwave at a mini-mall. I bought a mini-van at a mega-store. I eat fast food in the slow lane. I’m toll-free, bite-size, ready-to-wear, and I come in all sizes.

    A fully equipped, factory-authorized, hospital-tested, clinically proven, scientifically formulated medical miracle.

    I’ve been pre-washed, pre-cooked, pre-heated, pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze-dried, double-wrapped and vacuum-packed.

    And . . . I have unlimited broadband capacity.

    I’m a rude dude, but I’m the real deal. Lean and mean. Cocked, locked and ready to rock; rough, tough and hard to bluff.

    I take it slow, I go with the flow; I ride with the tide, I’ve got glide in my stride.

    Drivin’ and movin’, sailin’ and spinnin’; jivin’ and groovin’, wailin’ and winnin’.

    I don’t snooze, so I don’t lose. I keep the pedal to the metal and the rubber on the road. I party hearty, and lunchtime is crunch time.

    I’m hangin’ in, there ain’t no doubt;

    and I’m hangin’ tough.

    Over and out.

    George Carlin

    Do you think George would ever own a plug in hybrid car?

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