Should I take off my shoes? Is it OK if I grab a beer? Can I plug in my phone somewhere?
When you entertain guests, those questions are inevitable. Now, with electric vehicle sales increasing by 85 percent in just the past year, and expectations that the growth will continue into the foreseeable future, you should get ready for a new one: Can I plug in my car?
Adriana Porter Felt, a director of engineering for Chrome, recently raised that question by tweeting, “What’s the etiquette on car chargers? Do you offer house guests to charge their cars? Is it rude to ask someone if you can charge there while visiting?”
My answers to those questions are: It’s evolving. Yes. And no.
If you’re nervous about letting a guest plug in, here’s what you need to know.
First things first: If someone rolls up in their EV and asks to borrow some electrons, you might not be sure if you even have that capability. Well, the answer is likely “yes” if you have a garage and an accessible power outlet. Your guest will simply need to plug in the portable charger that comes with most electric vehicles; no special equipment needed on your end.
You’re also probably worrying about how much it will cost. The good news is that it’s likely far less than you realize, but first there are some assumptions we need to make, such as car battery size, percentage of battery that needs to be charged, and the cost of electricity (per kilowatt hour). It seems unlikely that your guests will come coasting down the hill to your house with a completely empty battery (unless you have some very daring friends). So, let’s assume that they arrive with 20 percent of a fairly standard 70kWh battery and you can charge at the national average of 11 cents per kWh. In that case, it will cost you less than $7 to completely charge their car.
But the cost could be much lower or higher than that. Many utilities offer discounted rates to charge at night. For example, if you are traveling to Phoenix in the winter—which is a great time to travel to Phoenix—you can charge during the “Super Off-Peak” hours for only 3 cents per kWh. This means the total charge would be only $1.68, about the price of a slice of pizza. On the other hand, if you’re in Hawaii, the average cost per kWh is 28 cents, bringing our total cost to $15.68. That is, of course, an extreme example.
But there’s something nice about the fact that we have to dig a little bit to come up with those numbers. After all, we don’t calculate the water usage, food consumption, and electricity used by each guest (and if you do tabulate those things, well, hosting might not be your thing).
And there are a few reasons why we don’t do this. There is a general, unspoken quid pro quo agreement that exists for most guests. You don’t charge someone to come and stay in your bedroom, and they in turn repay the favor down the road. That’s just the way it is. And I’m glad. The invisibility of expense will help to catalyze the normalcy of letting someone charge their car at your home. And the normalcy of charging is going to lead to an era of improved road trips.
Electric vehicles save a significant amount of time in daily driving; one second to plug in at home is significantly faster than spending 10 minutes to stop and fill up with gasoline. It’s possible that long road trips can take more time in an EV, but the difference disappears quickly if you are driving with kids or like to partake in such extravagances as eating or going to the bathroom. What rarely gets discussed is the significant advantage that EVs have on short road trips.
When we hear “road trip” we think about long days of driving and multiple stops to fill up with gas. In reality, 78 percent of road trips are 50 to 249 miles one way. If you hop in a gasoline-powered car and drive 150 miles one way, it is likely that you will still need to stop for gas on the way home. But most new electric vehicles thrive at this distance, and as long as you can charge at your destination, you won’t have to stop at all. I am not speaking about this in a hypothetical sense. I am speaking from experience.
Our family has made the 140-mile trek from Scottsdale to Oro Valley, Arizona, countless times over the past 15 years. For most of those years we drove in a gas car, and we stopped at a gas station on every single one of those trips. Now, you might be thinking: Didn’t your car have more than 280 miles of range? Of course. But it was unlikely that we started with close to a full tank of gas, which means that our range was always less than the maximum.
The process is much simpler in our electric vehicle: We start the trip with a full battery. Plug in when we get there. Spend the day or night. Then drive home. No unnecessary stops along the way. No wasted time.
We’re fortunate that when we arrive in Oro Valley the garage door is open, and my wife’s grandfather is anxiously waiting to help us plug in. It might seem like a simple thing, but the ability to charge at our destination noticeably improves the experience of our road trip. We don’t need to stop anywhere on the way home. There’s no waiting around. The car is ready to go when we are, and the ability to “plug-in as guests” is what makes this possible.
And on the flip side, I encourage other EV drivers to feel comfortable asking their friends and families to let them plug in. You might have to give them a quick rundown on the expenses and the equipment needed, but hopefully they’ll just say “Yeah, go for it.” A societal norm surrounding mutual charging is something that will improve travel for millions of Americans.
The expense will be insubstantial for most homeowners, and you may not even notice the increase in your power bill. But most importantly: A world where we let each other plug in on road trips is a world where road trips are just that much easier and more fun. Who doesn’t want that? Unless you don’t want more guests dropping by, of course.