Clever solutions to sharing EV chargers in the workplace?
October 14, 2013 4:05 PM   Subscribe

My workplace is experiencing a surge in electric car ownership, which is awesome. The company has put in four EV charging stations, which have been swamped by the increased demand. Are there any clever suggestions or ideas for how to share the available stations efficiently?

I've googled for this and haven't found much. We are lobbying to get some additional stations put in, but that is unlikely to happen quickly. Right now there is an internal alias for people who use the chargers, and it is getting a lot of frustrated traffic along the lines of "Please move your cars so someone else can have a chance!". There has also been admonishment that people only charge if they absolutely need a charge to make it home, and that people only charge for as long as needed to make it home and not until they are full. This is taking on a frustrated tone, and it is still left to individuals to be courteous about whether they need to charge and how much. People also report spending a lot of time going out to check the charger availability, which is ultimately wasted/interrupted time at work.

The best I have come up with is putting cell numbers on a list each day for each charger, and then when one person finishes they can text the next number. It doesn't really address the issue of making sure people use the chargers only to the minimum extent possible. Anyone have a better solution, or is there an ap for this? Note that our charging stations do not support reservations.
posted by handful of rain to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hire a parking attendant to valet park all the cars and move them around as needed?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:15 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep an appointment book for each charger with slots of however long a minimum charge takes (1 hour? 2?) that people need to sign up for on the day, or the day before? I am not sure how you could enforce people taking slots when it's not their booked time though.
posted by corvine at 4:16 PM on October 14, 2013

This is the same problem people have with shared semi private laundromats. If you figure that one out, the world will beat a path to your door. The culture needs to change so those parking spaces are looked at as sitting in front a gas pump. Strong working letting people know they are *not* parking spaces may help.

Can you remove a charger from someone elses car? If so, I would suggest the equivalent of putting someones dry clothes on top of the dryer (once they are dry). When the car is fully charged, remove the plug and move it to a different car. To do this, the facilities must move the chargers to be able to service 4 or 6 spots, not one. And this is impossible maybe, but see about getting the chargers to send an MMS/email to a group of people that subscribe saying when the chargers are free and when they have completed a charge. Public knowledge of who the hog is will quickly solve the problem.

If it gets really bad, employ a valet!
posted by bensherman at 4:17 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Put up a webcam that shows the charging stations and lets you see the numberplate of the cars using it. People can check for availability from their desks, and can notice if the same car is there all day and something something peer pressure?
posted by jacalata at 4:18 PM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Could you use a calendar or booking app online to allow people to book in one hour time slots?
posted by ssg at 4:19 PM on October 14, 2013

If this is an annoying problem that is getting to the point of wasting employee time, it probably makes sense for the company to just install more chargers.

(alternatively, remove all chargers)
posted by ryanrs at 4:22 PM on October 14, 2013

You need to put someone in charge of the chargers, so to speak. That person needs to have enforcement power, the power to enforce rules such as maximum time, and penalties if those rules are broken, such as no longer being allowed to use the chargers in the future. Without enforcement, you're depending on people's good will. And even if your coworkers are the nicest people in the world, they're still going to keep flouting the rules because it's inconvenient or because they have a really good reason in their own minds or because they're lazy or whatever. Enforcement is key here.
posted by decathecting at 4:32 PM on October 14, 2013

You need to put a price on using the chargers. Maybe $1-2/hour. Is your parking lot currently patrolled?
posted by mr_roboto at 4:52 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is there any way to install *timers* on the chargers, something sort of like parking meters that would limit the time anybody could clog up a space? Even better would be it those timers could be rigged to not only shut off after x amount of time but also trigger a group email: 'charger number 3 is now available to the next person on the roster'.
posted by easily confused at 5:09 PM on October 14, 2013

It might help if the chargers could have longer cords so that they could be swapped from car to car without people having to move said cars. Then all the parking spaces within reach of the chargers could be designated for EV cars without having to have chargers installed in them (yet), and they could eventually serve as locations for the new chargers when they do eventually get installed. Then a sign-up list or a roster could be made (I'd make it an electronic one that people can access via phone or computer, and which alerts people when their times begin and end via email or text) and some cameras installed so that a designated person could help enforce it. Limit slots to a reasonable time frame based on the number of cars registered on the list, so that everybody gets a turn with the chargers who wants it.

Agreed that there needs to be enforcement, with consequences (i.e. revocation of charging privileges) for people who habitually abuse the system. If the chargers had long enough cords though, then the person who's turn it was could simply walk down and switch the charger from the old one to theirs, so the only abuse would be from people coming down early and stealing a little time from the person who was in front of them in line rather than also from people who keep their car on the charger for longer than they're supposed to.

Alternatively, if you can employ a valet (either paid for by your company our out of a common fund created by registered charger users) then the whole system would be very much smoother. This might even be cheaper than putting together some kind of system with extension cords and cameras and such.
posted by Scientist at 5:28 PM on October 14, 2013

Official Green Charging Stickers, that let you charge on a fixed day of the week. Open season at noon.
posted by tintexas at 6:34 PM on October 14, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for the answers so far! I like the comparison to the laundromat dilemma, hadn't thought of it that way. A few bits of other info:

- the cords on the chargers can reach across multiple spots. The location of the current chargers has a hard limit to the number of spots that can be reached, though - it is along the side of a building with barriers on either end of the row. The company will need to add chargers elsewhere for future growth, and hopefully we can lobby to make spot accessibility better.

- This might vary from car to car, but in my personal car the charger is locked in while charging. You can toggle a setting so that it is released and can be removed after the charge is full, but as far as I know you can't allow it to be removed while charging is in progress (this might vary across car types, I don't know for sure). So one issue with the moving things around on someone else's car idea is that you might need the other person (or at least their key fob) to be able to remove the charger - unless the charge is full, but that goes against the idea of only charging as much as you minimally need.

I think human intervention is definitely needed at some level. Maybe we could have an EV Captain of the Day and spread the responsibility around.

I really wish the timer thing was somehow enforceable from the charging station itself. I am going to open a support ticket with the company and see if it's a feature we don't know about or if we can open a feature request.
posted by handful of rain at 7:04 PM on October 14, 2013

Best answer: The EV community has thought long and hard on this for a long time.

Most important: use the EV charging etiquette card.

Print it double sided on cardstock. In fact, print out 20 of them and distribute them to everyone at your job. Make sure they fill out their phone number, so they can be contacted if there's an issue.

Second, make sure that Volt owners have disabled the cord-removed alarm feature, and that LEaf owners have set their charge port to either "unlocked" or "auto" (locks during charging but unlocks when done). This will allow others to move the cords around if the above EV etiquette card on your dash says it's OK.

Third, this is a good reason to make the charger NOT be free. They should cost some small amount, say $1 per hour, but then that rate should jack way up after four hours or so. Four hours of charging should be plenty for anyone commuting in an EV.

Finally, encourage the workplace to offer regular wall outlets (aka "Level 1") for charging. That slow charging rate (1.44 kW, ~4 miles of range per hour charged) is usually enough for most people who are parked there for 8+ hours.

Can you tell I'm an EV activist?
posted by intermod at 7:40 PM on October 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Also, you said:

"This might vary from car to car, but in my personal car the charger is locked in while charging. You can toggle a setting so that it is released and can be removed after the charge is full ..."

It sounds like you have a Leaf. You can set it to simply be unlocked, especially if you don't really NEED a charge.

"... but as far as I know you can't allow it to be removed while charging is in progress (this might vary across car types, I don't know for sure)."

I do know for sure, and that's not true. The SAE J1772 plug standard allows for you to simply yank the cord out any time -- power will stop flowing, and there is no danger in doing this. Of course, you'll only be able to unplug it if the car hasn't locked the plug in. Personally I think the Leaf's locking feature is unsafe and I'm surprised the Feds allowed it.
posted by intermod at 7:46 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you use Exchange in your office? Ask your IT people to create an equipment mailbox for each charger to do the scheduling, then you can use it like booking a meeting room. If people are using Outlook this is a convenient way for everyone to see what the availability is.

If you have any developer resource available, a pretty easy thing to do on top of that would be to write a bot that notifies people when their time is up so they can move their cars. Email, text, IM, tweet, IRC or all of the above depending on how your company works.

You could also create a simple internal website with the schedule and a webcam pointed at the chargers. Maybe put that up on a TV in a common area like the kitchen. That would save people having to go outside to check if it's free.
posted by tracert at 3:13 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

3 chargers rotate between normal users on a weekly basis. 1 charger is an emergency spare if you really really have to charge to get home.
posted by miyabo at 6:22 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about some sort of physical locking cover on each charger: something that blocks access to that charger without signing out a key. A driver would sign out a charger-cover key with the date AND TIME noted in a log; the key would be signed back in with the date and time it was returned.

This requires someone (a receptionist?) to man that log; I would NOT suggest the honor system, because if that worked you wouldn't be having trouble now with some drivers hogging the chargers. Even better: make that log visible online to all employees, although ONLY the receptionist or their backup (NOT any of the electric car drivers) would be able to make entries. And while this wouldn't unplug those charger hogs, it would make it easier to document who they are --- and yeah, sometimes a little bit of public shaming is what it takes.
posted by easily confused at 2:44 AM on October 16, 2013

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