Saturday, September 1, 2012

Finding a Place to Stay with an Electric Vehicle

The final piece of planning was probably one of the more time consuming parts of the trip. Where to stay with an electric car while away from home? With an electric car, your home becomes your home base. It's not only where you reside, but where you fill up.

At our house we have a 240V 30 amp level 2 charger. This charges the car in about 3 hours. We also use the "virtuous circle". Not only do we have a charger at home, we also participate in our utilities time of use rate, we also lease a SolarCity solar panel Photo Voltaic (PV) System to generate our own power. During the day we produce power and power our home and whatever we do not use, we push back into the grid charging our power generation back to the utility. We then use time of use rates and program the car to charge after midnight and buy the power back at a significantly lower rate. The system is too new for me to quote the net effect, but we currently buy the power after midnight for the car at about 5 cents a kilowatt hour, meaning it takes about 80 cents to recharge the car. The beauty of owning an electric car is not only the low cost, but the convenience of coming home, plugging in and returning to a fully charged car. I never have to divert my commute to find a gas station and face ever fluctuating prices.

When travelling,just like how a hotel provides a place to rest, I will need to have my hotel work as my home base for the EV as well. One of the requirements is that the hotel I am staying have an EVSE that I can charge the car overnight.  Unfortunately, travel and hotel websites do not yet offer this search option. Many are taking the right approach. Marriott installed over 30 EVSE stations last year. I did attempt to try several websites to see if they gave an option to search by EVSE. I tried Hotwire, Kayak, Travelocity, Expedia and None offer a search criteria, amenity filter or description that includes electric vehicle secondary equipment or EV charging listings. I also checked hotel sites directly. My hotel preferences are usually Intercontinental Hotel Group, Marriott Hilton and a funky little boutique hotel that my company gets a good rate, The Belamar in Manhattan Beach. Again, none of these sites allowed a search for EVSE, provided amenity filters or descriptions showing you could charge an electric vehicle at their locations. I did send an email to the Belamar asking if they had a charger or facilities to let me charge there. They were quick to respond that there was a Walgreen's 12 blocks away.Not really a viable option.

So back to my old trusty friend, the Recargo website. Although they do not provide a search by type of business, they do provide the business names on the map. The disadvantage is that you have to search in Recargo by a community and not by business type or brand name (Searching on Holiday Inn took me to EVSE locations in Turkey). The community at a time search does not work very well at my destination. Since Los Angeles starts somewhere in New Mexico. It required several searches around communities where I wanted to be based to find a hotel that I wanted to stay. I decided to make the airport area my base and searched communities I was familiar with around there. I managed to find an Embassy Suites and Renaissance hotel on the Recargo site.

So this was promising, these hotels are usually nice and the rooms were not too expensive, around $120 a night just for the lodging. I went back to the Hotel's websites and I found no mention of their chargers at these specific locations, but I did find other sites that confirmed that there were chargers at these locations along with the status data on Recargo.

The problem now was the price to park and charge. Although the chargers were free, it was $23-$25 a night to park at these locations. Trying to keep this trip on the cheap, this was an issue for me, so I decided to keep looking. I continued sweeping the communities in the area for other possibilities. Then I found the Holiday Inn in Torrance, CA. Recargo listed this as an operational charger, I have tons of points from my consulting days where I had platinum status with IHG and the hotel was recently renovated earlier this year. No problem. I called the hotel and they confirmed they had a charge and it was operational (again, nothing noted on the web site description) and they did not charge for parking. So, I wound up getting a free place to stay on points, free parking and free charging. It's a little bit of a commute at 19 miles from the reunion I am going to, but the cost makes it worth it.

So it was quite a bit of effort but the travel industry is starting to see the advantage to catering to electric vehicle drivers. Hotel executives are seeing the potential of adding chargers to their locations as noted in Andy Kincaid's Hotel Business Review article on ECO-Friendly practices. Not only is it an inexpensive way to promote their properties as green and environmentally conscious, but when a car is charging, you have a captive customer. They will be compelled to check in, use the amenities and shop. If hotels did a little better job making the information available about their chargers, it would improve their utilization as more people adopt electric vehicles and integrate their use into their travel activities.

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