PlugShare: charging electric cars takes a village

Would you share your electricity with a stranger? What if they were an electric car owner? California start-up Xatori Inc. aims to build a community of EV enthusiasts who aren't stingy with their power.

Would you share your electricity with a stranger? What if they were an electric car owner?

New software aims to relieve EV range anxiety by locating potential fill-up spots—not just public charging stations, but those behind garage doors. Released yesterday by start-up Xatori, Inc., the free PlugShare app for iPhones and iPads allows EV owners to crowd source their charges from a community of private outlets.

So you're driving your Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt and realize you might not have enough power to get home. You open PlugShare (hopefully your phone battery isn't dying, too), find a nearby charging option, contact a volunteer homeowner, and hope they invite you over. Voila! Your car gets a boost. And who knows maybe you get some free lemonade with your electricity (not sure if the social etiquette for this occasion has been established).

The software developers, however, don't expect EV drivers to be hanging out in PlugSharers' driveways for the duration of a full fill-up, which varies depending on the type of charger. The price for an hour or two's worth of electricity will also depend on location. In the Bay Area, they estimate the homeowner's burden at around 15 cents, which they would retrieve one day when they knock on the door of another PlugSharer.

The New York Times quotes Xatori co-founder Armen Petrosian:

We want to break down that barrier in people’s minds about where it’s acceptable to charge. We think the infrastructure to charge is everywhere...

This is more like a backup network, like A.A.A. Most of the time you’ll drive on energy from your own house. If you miscalculate, you can rely on the community.

At this stage in the industry, the EV community is an intimate one. I downloaded the app myself last night. Coating the map of the eastern and western coasts are icons designating public stations, EV plugs and standard outlets. A smattering of charging options dot the Midwest, but it's still early.

Take a tour of the app (one for Android users is in the works) below.

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