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December 8, 2015
Paul Gipe

PlugShare—Where to Charge When You’re on the Road


When you drive an Electric Vehicle (EV), most of the time you charge at home. For those times when you don’t, you need to know where you can charge. The pre-eminent choice among drivers is Plugshare, a crowd-sourced app that identifies both public and private charge stations.

As the name implies, Plugshare was built around the concept of sharing your home charge station with other drivers. However, it’s much more than that. It shows the location of commercial networks, DC fast charge stations, and Tesla’s supercharger network. It let’s you know if a charger is available or being used, and allows you to add stations as well as comment on others.

Plugshare.com is a web site that works on various platforms. I use it with Firefox on my notebook when planning trips out of town. It’s most helpful when you’re on the road and you call it up on your smart phone. The free app is available for both I-phones and those running Android. It even works on my BlackBerry Z10, though BlackBerry users must side load it.

Features

Plugshare’s desktop version includes a useful trip planning function that merges seamlessly with Google maps. This is helpful when using Tony Williams’ Range Chart and to check estimates in EV Trip Planner. I use Plugshare’s route planning feature in conjunction with GPS Visualizer to weigh the terrain’s impact on range—the ascent and descent necessary for each leg.

As someone who tracks the growth of charging stations, I frequently use Plugshare to monitor nearby “activity” on the network. This is a valuable feature to follow the use of particular stations or the problems other drivers are encountering, for example, with the high failure rate of DC Fast Chargers.

The apps most powerful feature is that Plugshare allows those charging to “check in”. The app automatically finds the station using the phone’s built-in GPS. Checking-in alerts other drivers that the charge station is occupied. Plugshare makes the “Check-in” as simple as pressing an onscreen button.

Drivers can “Add Stations” themselves that are not already on Plugshare. This is especially useful for home charging stations, RV parks, and others that are not part of a commercial charging network.

The app also allows for users to make comments. This is another powerful feature, because users can advise or warn other users about the station’s peculiarities. By reading through the comments you can quickly gain a sense how reliable the station is and the likelihood it will be up and running when you get there.

You can filter out stations that are not applicable to your EV. For us, that means we filter out Tesla’s superchargers since we drive a Nissan Leaf. We also can’t use the Combined Charging System (CCS) that’s used on American and German cars. The filtering function allows you to see only those stations that work with your car.

Plugshare also includes a messaging function that sends a notice to your email. This is helpful if you need to contact someone who has been to a station before you and you need further information.

Use It or Lose It

Unfortunately, the overall effectiveness of Plugshare is a function of the level of participation. It’s a case of “use it or lose it.” While commercial charge networks continue to add stations to Plugshare, the real power in the crowd sourcing model is user participation. As EVs become more commonplace, usage is likely to slip, as is Plugshare’s effectiveness.

In our experience, quite a few EV owners don’t know about Plugshare. Some we came across could care less. And we found that most of the drivers who charge at a station don’t “check-in.” We noted this on road trips when we would stop at a busy station and check Plugshare. There wouldn’t be any entries even though there were cars charging a head of us.

This is surprising, but I guess most drivers come to EVs differently than we did. We plugged (pun intended) into a local group of owners at an EV open house before we ever bought the car and the locals were quick to share their experiences, and sources of information. This included the usefulness of Plugshare and how we could use it to best advantage. Because Plugshare has been invaluable to us on our road trips we contribute to it by adding stations, checking in, correcting some entries, and commenting where appropriate.

Most Comprehensive Coverage

Plugshare, because it both uses crowd sourcing and commercial networks, is a more comprehensive resource than the web sites of commercial charging networks. Through Plugshare, a driver has access to all the networks as well as those who offer their home charge station for emergency use.

Limitations

No Controls on Users

Because it is crowd sourced, Plugshare falls prey to all the foibles common on public message boards. Some users are not well informed. Some are rude. Some are wacky. (Some may be trolls.) Consider the screen name of one user: “Lawn Sausage.” Yep, just what you think it is. And his posts are just as off-the-wall as his screen name. He’s rude, inconsiderate, and self-important—the type of user that is the bane of message boards.

One way to address this is for Plugshare to limit screen names to the full name of participants. I use my real name and you can find my name at stations where we've "checked-in." You can also find my name at stations I've added to network on routes Nancy and I have pioneered out of Bakersfield. I always use my real name on message board--as here on this web site--and I expect others to do the same. Plugshare should also follow this principle.

No Differentiation of L1 & L2

Plugshare doesn’t differentiate between sites offering L1—trickle-charging—and sites offering L2. You have to drill down to find that out. You can filter out L1s but when you do you sometimes also filter out L2s that have been misidentified. For example, the site at the Flying J truck stop in Lebec, California. If you filter out L1s, the site doesn’t show up even though you can use it as an L2—and many of us do.

That Plugshare could make such a differentiation is clear. They already differentiate Tesla specific charge stations and DC Fast Charging.

Little Policing of Site Info

And now with such a now huge number of sites, they don’t do much policing of sites. They are fairly prompt when you bring something to their attention, but users have to edit entries themselves or call something to their attention.

For example, someone had put up a fast charging site, possibly NRG themselves, in the wrong location. We’d been expecting a fast charger in that location and when it popped up I immediately checked it out. The name and address were for a site down south not here in the San Joaquin Valley. I sent Plugshare a message and they took it down the next day.

In another case, Jim Getzinger’s site at the Independence Inn in Independence, California gets a plug score of 9 for its NEMA 14-50 receptacle. The only people who can get to Independence in an EV are those in Teslas so Getzinger pitched it as such on Plugshare. However, anyone with a portable EVSE cable and NEMA 14-50 connector can use the outlet and charge at 220 volts, but Getzinger, who doesn’t drive an EV, doesn’t know that. Some Plugshare denizens have criticized him for that and posted less than helpful comments asking why he’s discriminating against other EVs at his motel. He’s not. He’s just trying to be helpful and drum up some business. We know Getzinger. We stop at his motel a few times per year. We hope to get there in our Leaf some day and we know we'll be welcome.

 

Plugshare could help Getzinger by contacting him and then editing his entry, or simply editing the entry directly. It’s obvious what he intended when you read the entry. Instead, Plugshare relies on users to do so and as we all know some people are not very diplomatic—to say the least—and take to criticizing the information rather than simply changing it.

Trust but Verify

Plugshare is good, but not foolproof. As President Reagan famously said, “Trust but verify.” Read Plugshare closely and drill down through the various levels. If a few days ago a user said a new DC Fast Charging station wasn’t yet functional, it’s unlikely to be functional when you get there.

Also, don’t believe everything you read on Plugshare. Plugshare is crowd sourced or community created. As such it has “the” most extensive list of EVSEs and places to plug in of any network. But it’s only as accurate as the information posted by users. Most are very knowledgeable, and most information is accurate as can be. But there are anomalies.

There’s an entry for William Morris Chevrolet in Filmore, California. This could be a very useful stop for those of us from the San Joaquin Valley who drive to Ventura, eliminating a stop in Valencia. On the surface it would seem that with Chevrolet in the name that the EVSE would be limited only to Volts. Yet the entry notes that the EVSE is on the side of a “café” attached to the dealership and suggested it was likely open to other vehicles.

We stopped to check it out. No go. The café is part of the dealership and the dealership management very clearly said to us that the station was only for Volts. We updated the entry as a result, setting off a small flame war by other Plugshare users that swore the station is for everyone. It may be, but we stopped, asked, and was told no. So we have no plans to stop again. And we have no plans to change the Plugshare entry further.

Sharing

The idea behind Plugshare is that those with their own charge stations can “share” their stations with other EV drivers. We’ve been listed on Plugshare.com since we installed our charge system over a year ago.

Since we put our location on Plugshare we have had several inquiries but only one driver has actually used it, and that is a story unto itself. (See Good Neighbors Make Plugshare Work.)

How to Use the PlugShare EV Charging Station Tool by Brad Berman, September 03, 2014.

Electric Vehicle Charging Etiquette by Brad Berman, July 16, 2014.

 

 

 


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