Electric Cars and the Kindness of Strangers

Guest blog by Cara Miale
March 23, 2011

As if we don’t have enough phobias already, now there is range anxiety, a malady brought on by the electric car. But it’s okay; there is a cure, or rather an app for that.

Studies indicate that many electric car drivers – and those considering joining the ranks – suffer the fear of running out of power and being stranded with a dead battery. A little planning ahead could take the pressure off; there are an estimated 1,400 vehicle charging stations in the United States today and the number is growing. Even though most people drive less than the 100 miles a day allowed by many EV’s, range anxiety remains a logistical – and largely psychological – impediment to widespread electric vehicle adoption by consumers.  One 2010 study showed range anxiety even caused EV drivers to modify their driving behaviors, decreasing the travel range and limiting most trips to no more than 25 miles.

Several companies have stepped up to ease the pain. The navigation system in the new electric Ford Focus finds electrical charging stations nearby and can help the driver conserve power by suggesting turning off the A/C or taking a more leisurely route. Google Maps, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently added electric vehicle charging stations to its popular platform, allowing users to search for and pinpoint more than 600 charging stations.

PlugShare, a new free app from Xatori, goes one step further with a personal touch: users can find home charging stations close by, and even list their own as a safe-haven for range-anxious drivers. PlugShare works with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, and you don’t need an EV or a special outlet to join. Accounts are customizable; those who wish to share can list their name, number and address as well as what types of energy they have available and where to find it (like the garage). The integrated app uses handy icons to identify private and public standard outlets, EV plugs and charging stations. With just a few clicks, you can identify the nearest charging station, call or text the person who listed it, and get directions. PlugShare hopes to launch a study of the app’s impact on the environment so users can celebrate the positive impact they’re making, not unlike other resource-sharing models like Denver B-cycle (members can track their miles ridden, calories burned, carbon off-set and money saved – and compare their stats to other members of the B-cycle community).

PlugShare’s website even encourages those without EVs to join the community: “Sooner or later an EV owner may ask to charge at your outlet, and you’ll be able to talk to a real person (not a dealer or a salesman) to find out if an EV is right for you!”

With President Obama’s goal to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, community-building applications like PlugShare may bring the unintended benefits: more folks who get to know their neighbors. And, it could mean the end of the EV car salesman as we know him.

Cara Miale is a freelance writer in Denver.

This blog is open source & copyright free. Please credit www.RealEnergyWriters.com.

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