Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Guerrilla charging: theft or public service?

So you've finally got your electric car. You're going out of town for a few days and recall a few spots at the airport parking lot that have a regular 110-volt electric outlet on the wall. Do you plug in your Tesla (or Nissan LEAF or Chevy Volt)? Are you "stealing" power?

Solar Dave thinks you are. And he is taunting the authorities in Denver to fine the owner of the Tesla he found plugged in at the airport. He raises a question that should be settled quickly. And he points out one place where public charging solutions will be easier and cheaper to install than I first thought.

First let's dispel the notion that there are any serious financial implications for the garage. Solar Dave writes: "My first thought was, “hey that is not fair” and that is why is (sic) costs so much to park at DIA." As if. John Voelker at ran the numbers and found that if the Tesla arrived on empty and slowly, completely refilled the battery over the next few days, it would cost $4.50. Parking costs the driver $18 per day. And if I want to get nit-picky, I'd point out that the garage doesn't incur the expense for cleaning up after the electric car's leaking oil nor the electricity to power the fans to exhaust the exhaust.

When we consider the question of public access to electricity for plug-in cars, we have to consider the social benefit. If plugging in at the airport (or work or some parking garage or mall) allows you take your electric car rather than a gasoline car, we all benefit from reduced emissions and petroleum consumption. These shared benefits are great enough to establish "rules of the road" that encourage access to power for cars. This is not new, actually. In our far northern states, one often finds free power available in parking lots to plug in engine block warmers. Given the low cost of the electricity and the social benefits, we should encourage a positive attitude about granting access to power for plug-in cars. If solar advocates such as Solar Dave don't get it, we've got our work cut out for us.

Dave inadvertently does point us toward a good policy as public infrastructure is installed this year. Airport long-term parking is one place where fast charging, even conventional Level II 240-volt 30 amp service, is faster than necessary. The cost to install 110-volt 20-amp outlets would likely be 10% the cost of purchasing and installing chargers (J1772-compliant EVSEs, in the parlance of the industry). Installing parking spaces with 110-volt power for plug-ins at airport long-term parking should be considered by metropolitan areas as they roll out public charging infrastructure.