'Charge rage' shocks Silicon Valley enviros

by David Sonju
Posted 1/31/14, 09:30 am

In California’s Silicon Valley, drivers of electric cars are finding it increasingly difficult to access car-charging stations at work. The growing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) is in many cases outpacing the number of charging ports that companies are willing to install for their employees. The soaring demand for charging ports is leading to incidents of “charge rage” at some companies, and giving rise to a new sphere of  workplace etiquette issues.

George Betak learned the hard way about the hazards of charging etiquette. Betak told the San Jose Mercury News about his experiences scrambling for one of the limited charging spots available to the 100 employees driving EVs at Yahoo’s Sunnyvale headquarters. “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 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.” 

Peter Graf, chief sustainability officer for German software company SAP, said the company’s 16 charging stations are now not nearly enough for the 61 employees who drive electric cars.

“Cars are getting unplugged while they are actively charging, and that’s a problem,” he said. Employees are calling and messaging each other, saying, ‘I see you’re fully charged, can you please move your car?”

SAP, like other companies, is drafting guidelines for EV-driving employees.

While only about 20,000 electric cars now drive California roads, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. expects 800,000 by the year 2020. If projections are correct, it could create an extraordinary demand for charging stations. Currently there are only 5,000 in California and 20,000 nationwide.

ChargePoint, which operates a large EV-charging network, says companies should provide one charging port for every two EV’s. “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 scale it,” said Pat Romano, ChargePoint’s CEO.

Adding chargers is expensive and many companies do not want to invest in permanent EV-charging infrastructure in leased office space.

Some Silicone Valley companies are taking creative steps to alleviate charge rage in the workplace. Infoblox only has six charging stations for its nearly 30 employees who drive EV’s. So, the company set up a shared calendar for EV charging stations. “You can only book for a two-hour window,” said David Gee, the company’s executive vice president of marketing. “But Rule No. 1 is: No one touches anyone else’s car without permission.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

David Sonju

David recently earned a Ph.D. in theology from the University of St. Andrews. He lives near Binghamton, N.Y., with his wife Joy and their two young children.

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