Campgrounds: The Forgotten EV Infrastructure

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While writing a piece on the Tesla Roadster last summer, a Tesla representative mentioned that Roadster owners could recharge the all-electric vehicle at campgrounds and that the entire country was already outfitted with this rudimentary recharging infrastructure.

The idea sounded quaint at the time, with the mental image of a $100,000 sports car sitting amongst RVs for hours. Apparently, campground EV charging is already happening in Maryland where several campgrounds have reported electric-vehicle owners stopping to recharge their vehicles. All these sites are outfitted with 50-amp/240-volt electric pedestals for RVs, which means EVs can recharge in about four hours.

“At this point, I know of five sites that are doing it,” said Deb Carter, executive director of the Maryland Association of Campgrounds. “Evidently, it’s people planning their trips. The campgrounds have a flat rate, and they take the four hours and wander around the park or use the wireless.”

The rate varies, but most campgrounds seem to have a flat rate around $10 for a full charge, and with gas prices hurtling toward an average of $4 a gallon nationally, it’s easy to see the appeal of that price scheme. Spending four hours recharging in a campground wouldn’t work for a commute, but for a long-distance trip, it could serve as a nice way to break up a drive.

“It started, I want to say, about a year-and-a-half ago,” said Mike Gurevich, manager and owner of Cherry Hill Park campgrounds in College Park, Md. “The first one was this guy from the University of Delaware on his way to D.C. He asked if he could charge his car, and I was like, ‘Sure.’ ”

Gurevich was happy to find another way to support environmental concerns, which is the ethos at Cherry Hill Park — winner of the campground industry’s Green Award. In addition to having a recycling program before recycling was the norm, Gurevich recently had 44 solar panels installed, providing a third of the power for the campground’s office and store.

While Maryland gets 60% of its energy from coal, Cherry Hill Park purchases wind power from farms in the western part of the state and southern Pennsylvania so that it gets 100% of its power from renewable sources. This means that drivers who stop to plug-in at Cherry Hill Park don’t contribute a single pound of carbon to the atmosphere.

Gurevich foresees the trend growing, especially now that plug-in vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt have hit the market.

“It was only a few times last season, but we already had a couple people plug-in about two weeks ago,” he said. “I’m expecting to see it a lot more as the season progresses, but I guess it’s up to us to get the word out.”

Carter admits that using campgrounds to support electric vehicles was not something her association saw coming, but they’re diving in with enthusiasm now. She says they’re in talks with national electric suppliers and has made contact with her counterparts in Canada. Ideas include a website and a smartphone app that would direct drivers to plug-in-friendly campgrounds.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner,” she said. “It’s such an appealing idea that we’ve only just scratched the surface of.”

Laughing, she continues, “I kind of feel about electric cars and this trend the same way I did about the internet. When I first heard of it, I said to myself, ‘Well, who’s ever going to use that?’ ”

Comments 

Anonymous

Lets extend this to Rest areas as well. But there it should be fast charging, since people may spend only around 30 mts.

pdxlurker

What's so funny about this? The people at those RV parks probably invested $100,000 on their truck and trailer.

Dan

Brilliant!

Glenn

Wow, why didn't I think of this?

Chad, Redmond WA

In April 2010 I took a 3,000 mile trip in my EV. There are now charging stations along the whole route (Seattle to San Diego), but at the time there was nothing North of San Francisco.

Campgrounds worked out OK. You are limited to pulling 40A (although that is better than a lot of 30A charging stations being installed now!), and even then you have to find a place with 240V/50A 14-50 outlets. Be sure to ask for "50 amp" service, as when I mentioned 240V a lot of park employees got confused.

Be careful, though--a lot of secluded older parks, while picturesque, have really bad wiring so it's easy to pop a fuse. Newer places, or ones close to the freeway that cater to big rigs, are fine.

In addition to campgrounds, you might find 14-50 outlets at hotels, laundromats, restaurants, fire/police/range stations, fairgrounds, and appliance stores.

William Korthof

I started taking long distance trips with my first electric car back in 1998, and saw the value of RV parks right away. Since then, I've taken at least two dozen road trips around the west coast and twice across the country. RV parks have been been very friendly and helpful for me on every trip.
Battery-electric cars are obviously matched for the daily commuting, not lengthy road trips... but it is an option that some people will chose as more electric cars hit the roads.

This is a wonderful idea. I was actually considering having an electric car but since charging stations aren't as common and I cannot travel without a car with the kids, I opted for a fueled car.

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