Modern times call for modern problems. The Gurus of Global Warming convinced many of their acolytes that the way to enlightenment and global salvation lay in abandoning the internal combustion engine for an electric car. (Cue the cute, little, three eyed aliens from Toy Story: "Oooooh!") And it was good.
And a handful of far sighted individuals bought electric cars and a handful of far sighted employers built a handful of charging stations for their employees. And it was good.
And then, they started to be plagued by their success.
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."
Sixty one electric cars and sixteen chargers? What could possibly happen?
"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?'"
Unlike road rage, these people will not try to force you off the road, or shoot you, but they might send out a nasty email blast!
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.
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) estimates about 20,000 electric cars being used in northern California today, and expects 800,000 by the end of 2020. I'm sure that the wonderful people who brought you Solyndra will have figured out a solution by then!
Until then, let's be careful out there!
Original art by John Cox. More at John Cox Art
Cross posted at Proof Positive