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Electric car battery charging challenges even at Google

January 30, 2013
A Level 1 Charging station is essentially a 120 volt household outlet.

A Level 1 Charging station is essentially a 120 volt household outlet.

Driving a fully electric car in Silicon Valley has its perks, or at least that is what you would think, right? Today, my husband’s route looked like easy street. His first stop was Google headquarters in Mountain View, California,  the second a prestigious law firm in Palo Alto, California: the heart of Silicon Valley’s high tech venture capitalism.

He emailed Google in advance to ask where the best place would be to charge his all-electric Nissan Leaf.  The Googler responded “You are in luck. ”  The company had just installed six new ChargePoint chargers in front of the building he was at Googleplex. Last June, in this news article Google was cited as having the largest collection of electric vehicle charging stations of any workplace in the nation. ChargePoint installed at least 70 of them there. ( If you want your employer to install an electric vehicle charging station, here’s some suggestions from ChargePoint.)

No worries, right?

There were chargers available in the Google parking lot when my husband arrived. He pulled out his brand new ChargePoint card and tapped it on the charger. In the time it would take for him to finish his appointment, he could refill the Leaf to almost full power with this charger. But this would not be so.  An error message appeared: it said “not authorized.”

With time ticking before his meeting, he dialed up the ChargePoint phone number, only to wait and wait.  He gave up,  found another parking space and went to his appointment. Inside, the Googlers were nice about it. They said they thought the stations were open to everyone.

Was my husband doing something wrong or was something wrong with the chargers at Google? Or are they only open to employees? We still don’t know.

Surely, at his next appointment, electric currents would flow. This time, it was not the charger that was the issue. It was charging station etiquette which I blogged about.  earlier this month. This is another great story about the issue. Parked at the charger was a Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid, which can make it home, charging station or not. That is why it is so popular as reported here.  Feeling a little more desperate for a charge because now, there was less margin for error, my husband checked with the receptionist.  The Volt belonged to a lawyer, who apparently, had been told previously  to park in the employee lot.  This space was for visitors such as my husband.  Someone would ask him to move.

Well, you know how that turned out. High-powered attorney vs. my husband?  His secretary reported that the lawyer did not want to move the car. My husband stopped pressing, but with “range anxiety”  building, he looked around and noticed a level one charging station nearby. He pulled out his charging cable – which he is never without since our little weekend episode a couple weeks back – and hooked up  for a slow charge: 4.5 miles per hour.

Being among the few who are brave enough to go all-electric in America, is not always easy. My husband is finding that he has to build extra time into his ever-busy schedule to deal with charging matters.  Even so, it gives him something fun to talk about with others. In fact, it turns out that the lawyer he visited with had just put down a deposit on a Tesla Model S. What would make an electric car appeal to the masses? Here is what Time has to say about that question.

Have you ever faced the “not authorized” message on a charging station? What does it mean?

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5 Comments
  1. Yes, (most?) Google stations are restricted for employees only, but the receptionist should be able to lend you a visitor card to start your session.

  2. Mark Renburke permalink

    Regarding the outlet pictured aka “Level 1 charging point” to avoid the need for “No more than one car should be plugged in…” note on the outlet, it would be best to swap it for an inexpensive (~$30) single outlet with a light, such as the Leviton T7591. Level 1 outlets and charge connectors should be the first priority to use or install at workplaces, not L2 charging stations. L1 cost is at least 10 times less, therefore can service 10 times as many vehicles and provide 40+ miles of range for a return commute during a typical 8 to 9 hour work day.

    • This is an interesting concept, which I had not thought of, to have Level 1 stations at workplaces since people are at work for at least 8 hours and therefore do not need a fast charge. I am unsure what you mean, however, about how the Leviton would avoid the warning about one vehicle. Can you elaborate ?

      • The Leviton product has only one outlet and an automatic “nite light”, so it’s not possible to plug in more than one vehicle (preventing any risk of electric overload)

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