Electric Car Owners Plug In

March 22nd, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

A new app lets EV owners share outlets and overcome “range anxiety.”

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With oil and gas prices on the rise, plugging in your car at the end of the day certainly sounds like a relief, doesn’t it? More all-electric cars are on the way: Ford unveiled its Ford Focus Electric at the Consumer Electronics Show this year; the new Chevrolet Volt travels 25 to 50 miles on battery power before a gas-powered generator kicks in; Nissan has already taken 20,000 reservations for its LEAF, which claims a range of 100 miles, for its nationwide rollout in the fall.

But outlets are hardly ubiquitous yet, and with stories like this USA Today piece about stranded LEAF drivers who say Nissan’s range claims were optimistic, it’s natural some drivers would have “range anxiety.”

A new service by Palo Alto startup Xatori aims to combat such concerns with the application PlugShare, free on iPhone and iPad as of last week. The app shows a map of all the public charging stations and uses GPS to locate the nearest one and give directions. “In other words, think of PlugShare as a combination of Facebook and Foursquare, the location-based service, for electric car owners and their supporters,” The New York Times’ Todd Woody reported about the new service. It also lets users share their personal charging stations by inputting their address.

But as AOL’s TechCrunch asked, why would anyone want to offer their outlet and electricity to EV drivers for free? PlugShare CEO Forrest North, a former Tesla engineer, said that while people might be motivated by concern for the environment, plug sharing could also be good for business: “Mom and pop shops along a route where there are a lot of people [driving] and not a lot of places to charge could say we want to support EVs, become part of the charging network and draw customers. Electricity costs about 15 cents an hour in most of the U.S. now, so it’s not much of an expense to do this.”

One PlugShare tester, Glenn Nunez, a woodworker who lives in Piedmont, Calif., told the Times he wasn’t worried that sharing his power outlet will inflate his electricity bill too much. “Someone will come here and use it for a half-hour or an hour and that’s 20 cents worth of electricity and then I’ll pay it forward and go to someone and use their charger,” he said. “It’s democratizing the electric car.”

What do you think? Would a better network provide the extra impetus for you to go EV?