Supercharging makes car tourism possible — and is necessary for non-stop “get there” driving — but it still requires you suffer some compromises compared to gasoline life. But to enjoy an electric car, I think it is ideal to not think of it as a very-slow-filling car, but instead one that fills while you do the necessities of life: Sleep, eat or use the toilet. A car that charges while you sleep takes zero time and nothing, not even gasoline, can beat that. There is an option coming which might offer little compromise.
Why Hotel Charging?
At two hotels on the trip, we discovered regular level 2 chargers at the hotels which were free to guests. Such chargers can provide you with 240 or more miles in a typical overnight stay, which is usually all you need. This is greatly superior to supercharging if you can get it:
- You now can dine where you want, choosing the restaurant only for the food, just as you would in a gasoline car.
- Your car will be full in the morning, not losing the miles between the supercharger and your hotel.
- Slower charging is better for your battery health.
- When it works, it is low hassle, just like charging at home, the way it should be.
- For now, many hotels seem to offer electricity free.
Today, though, there are some downsides, though most of them, at their worst, just mean you use the superchargers instead.
- There are only a few hotels that do this, so right now it may not be doable, or severely limits your hotel choice.
- There is no easy way to shop for hotels which offer charging.
- All hotels have only a few spaces, so you need to work to assure you will get a slot. In reality, many spaces are rarely used, because electric road trips are rare today, and some hotels will also reserve one for you. (The bigger problem occurs when gasoline cars park in the electric spots, known as “ICEing” by electric car drivers.)
- Some chargers might be too slow to completely refill a large battery car like the Tesla model X from near empty. (If a building has 3-phase power, its chargers work 15% more slowly.)
- In the future, free charging may end, as this can be around $10 worth of electricity for long-range cars. They might also surcharge that a lot — most pay chargers price at double or even four times household rates. Hotels are notorious for markup as well.
Right now, use of hotel chargers is modest, so chances are you will find an available charger. In the future, with contention, there needs to be a way to reserve them. Not getting a charger if you are depending on it can be a problem, though there are usually the following backup plans which are not convenient, tolerable if you don’t use them very often:
- In towns with a supercharger, just use it.
- There will usually be some other charger within a mile or two. Go there and take Uber/Lyft/Taxi or even a hotel shuttle back.
- Travel with a small folding scooter or bicycle, and use it to get to/from charging.
- In the event that just 10-15kwh will make the difference, bring a 25′ 12/3 extension cord. Most hotels can find a regular plug that’s suitable.
Note that I mostly refer to car tourism when I say “road trip,” not “drive nonstop” long-haul travel. Most tourists don’t drive more than 4 hours per day. Nonstop drivers of course must use superchargers in between stops, as well as other solutions. My style of road tourism is unplanned — you decide where you will stay by where you are at the end of the day.
Tesla offers a map of hotels with “destination charging.” Tesla has been installing these charging stations for free, though most of the hotels are more upscale destination hotels, not road-trip motels, at least for now. Tesla requires the hotels provide the electricity free to guests. (Owners of non-Tesla cars can also purchase a $240 adapter that lets them use these free destination chargers.)
As electric cars grow in popularity, I expect a large variety of non-urban motels to offer charging, and reservations. Once it gets to the level that most locations offer a hotel in your price class with that amenity, this should become the more common way to do electric car road trips, with fast chargers only used for rare days where you drive all day. Some hotels will overprice the electricity, but others may continue to offer it for free.
There is a market, in fact, for EVSE (charger) companies to make special EVSEs for use in hotels. Amongst the features such EVSEs would have would be:
- A small display to indicate the name or license plate of the guest who has reserved the station.
- The ability to authenticate the guest, with a PIN code, or a camera recognizing their license plate, so nobody else can change there, and the guest can charge by just plugging in.
- The ability to reserve partial time, so that a guest can only charge during their time and must leave afterward for the next guest.
- The ability for hotel staff to enable and disable chargers for guests easily (from an app or the web.)
- Automatic interface with hotel systems to integrate reservation and billing for charging stations.
- Interface between the car and hotel reservation apps to allow the car to tell the hotel just how much energy it needs and updates to predicted arrival time.
- Notifications to staff to go out to the charging stations and unplug one car and plug in the next (if that’s possible.)
Of course, hotels can and do already install chargers in the existing charging networks that can be activated with an app or card.
The goal should always be friction-less charging for the guest, similar to what they do at home. The guest will reserve a room, then drive up to the station which has their name on the screen and plug in. Most cords should reach two parking spaces. Hotel staff could switch cables between the two when one is full if the cars allow it, or guests might be alerted to do that if during their waking hours. In the morning you would just unplug and leave, fully charged.
One option would be a charging station with 4 cords (to reach 4 parking spaces) which would share its power among the 4 cars. This would eliminate the need for a valet to swap plugs. A 100 amp circuit can deliver almost 250 kwh during the typical night parking time at a hotel from 8pm to 9am. If each car can communicate its charge needs with the hotel reservation, or the owner tells them at check-in, the unit could manage how to share the power.
Will electricity stay free? Unlike gasoline, which is fiercely competitive, charging stations prices vary hugely today. Sometimes it’s free, or free with parking or a room. At home, people pay residential rates, averaging 11 cents/kwh, sometimes less at night. Tesla’s superchargers are free to older cars, but today cost around 25 cents/kwh, which starts to approach the price of gasoline for a Toyota Prius. Private parking lot stations bill out 25 to 50 cents, but some are even more, or charge an hourly rate that’s not good.
One Tesla sits alone in the giant 40 station supercharger in Baker, CA
As the penetration of electric cars grows, this means a major increase in the electrical service at hotels which meet this demand. That is, until the vehicles have robocar functions, including the ability to drive off in the night and find charging. Robocars will charge in charging centers, using a special connection designed for cars that can position themselves perfectly, or human staff who swap the plugs. For them, the charging rate should be higher than an overnight charger — that needs too much real estate — but not as fast as a supercharger which degrades the battery. The charging stations built at hotels may very well be converted to this function since the power is there.
How to find such hotels today
Right now, the only way to find these hotels that I have seen is to use the Plugshare web page. It lets you specify what type of chargers you can use, and it has an “amenity” setting so you can ask to show only chargers with hotels. Do this, and you can quickly note what local hotels have charging near them. Then you can go into your regular hotel search tool and see if the prices and other features of those hotels are suitable for you. Hotel charging is nice, but you are not going to want to pay $40 more for a similar room just for charging if you have supercharging as your backup.
In the future, I hope that hotel search apps will proudly let you say you want to see only hotels with chargers, or at least see it prominently featured. Before booking, you may wish to call to be sure you can reserve the charger. The Plugshare mobile app does not let you do this. They plan to fix that in a future release. Article written by Brad Templeton.