Where’s The Juice?

How electric cars are changing the workplace. You got to work at what time?


Driving to work in an electric car is cool. Finding an available plug these days is not.

A year ago, before the surge (no pun intended) in electric vehicle popularity, it used to be relatively easy to find a parking spot and a plug at most high-tech companies. In fact, sometimes it was the only available spot. In recent months that’s changed. It’s getting harder and much more stressful. Getting to work on time isn’t the problem. Being assured you can get home is, particularly for vehicles that have a maximum range that isn’t significantly higher than your daily commute.

This is particularly true of the less expensive models, even though all of them are relatively costly. While in theory an electric vehicle will cover the number of miles listed in the owner’s manual, that number varies according to temperature, how you drive the vehicle, and the age of the batteries. According to Nissan, the battery pack in a Leaf will retain 70% to 80% of its capacity over 10 years, but that number will vary depending on how often fast charging is used as well as other factors. Tesla, meanwhile, guarantees its batteries will last 8 to 10 years.

But unlike smart phones or tablets, sleep state on most features isn’t an option with electric cars—at least for the biggest consumers of power. State changes from sleep to fully on have safety implications. You can turn off the radio, but you can’t turn off the collision warning systems or seat belt monitors. That means everything has to be as low power as possible, but it has to function in low power mode rather than shifting from one state to the next. The time it takes a smart phone screen to come on when you move it away from your head is way too long for many automotive systems.

As a result, no matter how conservatively you drive an electric vehicle, it will eat up its charge. And if you like to feel the torque of an electric vehicle’s acceleration, you’d better know the impact on battery life. Some new options are being considered, such as a battery swap out at recharging stations. And while that will no doubt be attractive for electric car owners, the short-term impact is that there is a race to the plug.

Most major companies offer plugs for electric vehicles. But there is growing competition for a spot in front of the charger. Companies have added more plugs, but even those are being taken. And employees are showing up earlier just to be assured of getting one. The next step will be people hooking in three-way adapters and extension cords—and much bigger electricity bills for companies that now are subsidizing the commuting costs of their employees.

For engineers working on low-power chips of all sorts, this sounds like full employment for years to come. For engineers who drive electric cars to work, it sounds like full employment starting much earlier in the day. And for those who still drive gasoline cars to work, you may want to consider the impact on your job if your colleagues arrive at their job four hours earlier than you.

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