Noel Adams - Charging Ahead

Public Charger Protocol

Sep 29, 2014

The number of plug-in cars is growing at a much faster pace than the number of public charging stations so there is growing completion for the limited supply. To facilitate the use of these charging stations we need to have some guidelines so we can avoid conflict and maximize electric miles driven.

When you drive a plug-in car like the Prius Plug-in that only gives you 11 miles of all electric range you find yourself making a lot of use of public charging so it’s frustrating when you get to a charger and you can’t use it, not because there are other Plug-in cars charging but for other reasons.

In the past it used to be ICE cars that would park in the charging spots but recently I have been seeing EV drivers blocking the spots. Last week on two occasions I saw all 4 charging spaces occupied at a location in Beverly Hills but both times only 1 car was actually connected to a charger.

I thought it was time to put down my thoughts on Public Charger sharing protocol so here are my rules for sharing public charging.

1. It is never OK for a car to park in a public charging space when you are not charging. It doesn’t matter if it is an ICE car or a Plug-in, these spaces are there to allow people to charge and should never be treated as convenient parking spaces. If you don’t need the charge, or the charger is incompatible with your car, don’t take the space.

2. Move your car as soon as you can after the car is done charging. Cars that sit fully charged for hours at a public charging station are just as bad as cars that are parked and not charging. The exception to this is long term parking at places like airports, train stations, and park and ride lots where people are expected to park for long periods of time.

3. It is never OK to use the vehicle’s timer to delay the start of charging. If you don’t want to charge your car immediately leave the space for someone who does. The same thing applies to parking the car in an EV space then returning to the car later to plug in instead of plugging in right away.

4 In California and Washington it is never OK to unplug another car as these two states have laws that allow for ticketing or towing cars that are parked without being connected to a charger. In other states it is generally accepted that cars that are full may be unplugged. If you do unplug another car please leave a note saying why you unplugged it. Also be sure you know that the car is full before unplugging. Each car has its own indicator that shows it is full so unless you know how the car displays full don’t assume and unplug the car.

5. If you arrive at a charging station that is in use and want to get a charge and you can find a space close enough that the cable will reach your charge port then park your car in the space and leave the charge port door open. It might also be worth leaving a note on the other person’s car especially if the open charge port is not easily visible from the EV charging spaces. If you see a car with the charge port open plug it in when you are done charging. The exception to this rule is fee based chargers. You should not expect another driver to pay for your charging so leave a cell phone number in this case.

6. Public charging is on a first come first served basis. Just because you have a pure EV (BEV) doesn’t mean that you have a right to the charger. However if a BEV driver and a PHEV driver arrive at the same time then the two drivers should figure out who needs the charge the most. If the BEV driver needs to charge to get home then the PHEV driver should let them use the charger even if they were there first. If the BEV driver can get home with their available charge then the first come first served rule should apply. Remember, the idea of public charging is not to act as a lifeline for those who stray beyond their vehicles range but to maximize the number of electric miles travelled.

7. It is never OK to plug in to outlets in parking structures or parking lots without permission. I’m not referring to parking spaces that are marked for public charging but to those outlets that you find around parking structures or in mini mall, hotel, apartment, or condo parking lots. For starters these circuits may not be rated for the current required to charge a car so you may end up tripping a breaker. The bottom line is that taking electricity without permission is stealing, so don’t do it. When you ask for permission to plug-in it is also good practice to offer to pay for the electricity you use. Most companies will decline payment but it is nice to offer and you are more likely to get a positive answer.

It’s nice to have public charging available but the number of chargers being installed is dwarfed by the number of new plug-in cars hitting the roads, especially here in Southern California. In this area we have had about 36 chargers added this year whereas we are putting around 1,000 new plug-in cars per month on the streets.

The current infrastructure is starting to age too. Of the three public chargers I use the most all of them currently have had at least 1 charger out of service in the last few months. Getting these chargers repaired is slow. One of the Chargepoint chargers in Beverly Hills was stuck in its holster for at least three months.

It is inevitable that there are going to be issues with public charging as more and more drivers try to use a small and possibly diminishing pool of chargers, but by following the rules above we can make better use of the charging opportunities we have.

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