“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 every day 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?

Featured image by Ivan Radic |  CC BY 2.0