“Free” electricity?

I’ve always been an ICE (internal combustion engine) guy. I grew up riding motorcycles, tubing behind jet skis, and getting muddy on four wheelers. But it wasn’t until I bought my first car – and realized my morning commute was averaging 16 miles to the gallon – that I thought about transportation without ICE.

For the past two years I have been challenging myself as a “jack-of-all-trades” designer to design, engineer, and build an electric one-wheeled vehicle. Taking what I’ve learned from that project, I’m now considering building an electric scooter or bike that could get me to the office on a single charge. So, of course, I’ve wondered more than once about the possibilities of charging my EV (electric vehicles) projects at the office – and wondered whether that would be frowned upon by management? I sometimes charge my personal computer here and have charged my personal cell phone everyday for 3 years with no one questioning it; but what about charging a one wheeled vehicle? Where is the line?

I’m not the only one asking these questions. A parent was recently arrested on theft charges because he plugged his Nissan Leaf EV into a public school’s outlet. While there may have been other reasons that influenced the arrest, it appears that “stealing” $0.05 of electricity for an EV is thought of by many as going too far. But my cell phone draws a nickel’s worth of electricity each month from work and I don’t get written up. Is it different when it’s a vehicle? Or was it that it was drawing electricity from a tax-funded school? What if you plugged your EV in at Starbucks while you bought a coffee from them? Is that theft? Or is that good business (I spend $3 on a cup of coffee and get 5¢ worth of electricity)? They already let me plug in my laptop while I drink my coffee…

In this rapidly evolving technological era, developing products and services before the ethics of the public are in place is nothing new; consider the cases of stem cells, GPS-enabled cell phones, 3D-printed guns, etc.. I’m surprised that the Nissan Leaf story is the first such story I’ve heard. But on the other side of the coin there are many EV friendly people willing to lend their outlets – check out Plugshare, a cool community driven website (and app) that allows EV drivers to locate charging stations. With outlets everywhere and new EVs popping up each day, are we in for a crackdown on all “free” electricity? What will be the backlash?