Innovative Program Quickly Puts Destination Charging Stations in the Field

By Paul Gipe

Hotels and motels in North America offer free Wifi, parking, pools, exercise rooms, and now breakfast as enticements to lodge with them. Unfortunately, very few provide EV charging, free or otherwise.

Experienced EV drivers know it’s best to start a road trip with a full charge. And the easiest way to get a full charge is to charge at a Level 2 station at the place where you’re spending the night—like at home. This is especially important in rural areas where there’s a dearth of DC fast charging stations.

As with many things electric, Tesla saw the need—and the opportunity–early on. They led the way with their Tesla Destination Charging program for hotels, resorts, restaurants, and parking garages by providing free Level 2 EVSEs (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) for the asking. In later years, Tesla provided both Tesla wall chargers and a J1772, typically ClipperCreek, for non-Tesla vehicles. (Imagine GM or VW doing something similar with a Tesla connector.) Tesla alone is responsible for 4,500 destination chargers in North America, about half of those at hotels and motels.

Unfortunately, Tesla has apparently abandoned the very program they pioneered. If a hotel wants a destination charger, they have to pay for it just like everyone else. Tesla’s leaving a large void.

However, a small Canadian non-profit may have found another way to quickly get destination chargers into the hands of hotel operators.

Small, Local, Nimble

Glen Estill drives a Tesla Model 3 in the Canadian province of Ontario. He’s not your average Tesla driver. He’s famous for building some of Canada’s earliest wind and solar farms—not an easy task in Canada’s Byzantine utility sector. He’s a man who knows how to get things done. And if he can’t do it himself, he knows who to talk to.

Like many renewable energy pioneers, Estill has turned his attention to cleaning up transportation and in doing so he’s become an EV evangelist. He saw the need for destination charging in his remote community and took action through a local non-profit.

Estill lives on the Bruce Peninsula, a popular tourist destination some 250 km (150 miles) north of Toronto, the provincial capital and the largest city in Canada. He’s also a board member of the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association, an organization dedicated to doing something about climate change in their own community.

The northern Bruce Peninsula has some 4,000 hardy residents but draws a much larger summer population especially from the Golden Horseshoe or greater Toronto area.

Tourists driving an EV have no problems getting to the Bruce Peninsula and enjoying their visit, but they need a charge before returning to Toronto.

When Estill conceived of emulating Tesla’s destination charging program locally, there were only two Level 2 EVSEs on the Bruce Peninsula. The next nearest charging stations—of any kind—were 125 km (75 miles) away.

Unusually, the region has no corporate chain hotels. All the accommodations are locally owned and operated. Thus, decision-making is also local. In a place where everyone knows everyone else, local contacts can quickly reach decision makers, facilitating quick and simple agreements.

Like the Tesla program, the Biosphere association would provide a Level 2 EVSE and the cost of installation. Unlike the Tesla program, the association would proactively reach out to motel operators.

To pay for the program, Estill contacted the M.H. Brigham foundation. Mike Brigham is a fellow solar pioneer in Ontario and he too drives a Model 3. Estill and Brigham’s objectives align when it comes to EVs.

Dual EVSEs installed at a motel in Ontario, Canada.

Estill then identified 60 locations where an EVSE could be used. Subsequently, the Biosphere association offered lodging operators a free Grizzl-e from United Chargers, a Level 2 EVSE manufactured in Ontario, and up to $1,000 CAD ($750 USD) for installation. If a host wanted another brand, the program provided $500 CAD ($375 USD) towards the purchase.

The Grizzl-e can be adapted to circuits from 20 amp to 50 amp through internal dip switches. Like its competitor in California, ClipperCreek, the Grizzl-e is simple and rugged with no Wifi, timer, or networking functions. It’s simply plug in and charge.

All participants opted for the Canadian product.

Altogether the program awarded 33 EVSEs at 27 different locations, representing 667 rooms or campsites, an uptake of nearly 50% of those contacted.

The program was conceived, launched, and completed within three months. The longest delay—as everywhere in North America—was getting an electrician to install the EVSE.

Adopt a Charger

Adopt a Charger operates a similar program in the United States, though it doesn’t target hotels and other accommodations specifically. The non-profit fields queries for Level 2 EVSEs and then tries to find the funds to pay for them. They apply for foundation grants and government programs. For example, they’ve done a number of state parks in California and the Gus Hess park in Lee Vining. (See Lee Vining’s Pioneer Pavilion Small Step for a Big Idea–Solar EV Charging at the Eastern Gateway to Yosemite).

While Adopt a Charger has installations in only nine states, they’ve funded five stations in EV unfriendly Indiana, including the Drakes Ridge Rustic Nudist Resort. Unsurprisingly, that’s a restricted station with only a few photos on PlugShare.

Their greatest success has been in an equally unlikely place, Kentucky. There Adopt a Charger has funded the installation 80 EVSEs at 35 locations mostly in the Louisville and Lexington urban centers.

Like the Biosphere program in Ontario, the Adopt a Charger installations in Kentucky were developed by EV advocates, EvolveKy, not the state or province. Similar to other Adopt a Charger installations, a proprietor selects a site and submits an application. EvolveKy then finds the funds.

Keep it Simple

Both Adopt a Charger in the USA and Estill’s Biosphere program in Ontario are nimble and can move quickly once the money’s in place. As NGOs, they don’t have to wade through endless public meetings, appropriations, solicitations, and then contract oversight with lengthy appeals when things go wrong. (See Recargo’s DCFC Station Contract on 101 in Central California has expired  on what can go wrong in large state-funded programs.)

According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center there are 44,000 Level 2 stations at hotels, malls, shopping centers and the like in the USA and Canada. However, there are less than 3,000 hotels with destination chargers either Tesla or J1772 connectors. That hardly scratches the surface of the 100,000 motels and hotels in North America, leaving a large market untapped.

Estill estimates that a similar program to that in Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula could provide Level 2 EVSEs at all hotels and motels in Canada for only $13 million CAD ($10 million USD). That doesn’t include money for administration. The Ontario program used all their foundation money to put EVSEs in the ground not pay for staff. Estill is a volunteer.

For possibly as little as $100 million, we could install a Level 2 charging station at every hotel, motel, and resort in North America. And if we could do it through a network of Adopt a Charger or Ontario style programs we could do it quickly with little overheard and fuss. As public charging programs go, the three months from idea to putting an EVSE in the hands of a lodging operator must be a record. Imagine what could be done with more money and more volunteers.

We have a long ways to go.