Portable EVSE’s and adapter cords can help you take longer trips in an electric car

Want to own an electric vehicle, but feel constrained by the short distance?  While it’s true that most people drive 40 miles or less per day, we all take those longer trips from time to time.  While Tesla Motors understands this, and builds long distance travel into their electric cars, very few of us can afford a $100,000+ car.  For the rest of us, do we own two cars (one gas one electric), or do we rent a gas car for the longer trips, or what?

Most of the public charging infrastructure is in cities, and doesn’t cover the area between cities.  But if you look using a service like PlugShare (that shows much more than the official public charging network) you’ll see markers pop up between the cities.  Many of them are at RV parks, or truck stops with a truck stop electrification service run by ShorePower.

RV Parks and ShorePower – 240 volts in the countryside

Many RV parks have 240 volt 50 amp power outlets available.  You probably have to call ahead for access, and they may charge a fee.  But 240 volts 50 amps is a hefty amount of power, enough to run a normal EVSE.   There are several available EVSE’s that are small/light enough to carry in the car, while providing a full 6 kilowatt charging rate.  I’ll go over choosing and adapting a 6+ kilowatt EVSE in a minute.

What’s an EVSE?  That acronym means “Electric Vehicle Service Equipment” – and is what we commonly call a “Charging Station”.   Normally these get installed to a fixed location, with the effect of limiting where your electric car can be charged.  But, what if you could take the EVSE (Charging Station) with you and charge anywhere?

The ShorePower network

ShorePower is an interesting service that I’m just now taking a look at.  The company is pursuing the Truck Stop Electrification line of business, and they’re busily setting up a network of electricity access posts at truck stops across the U.S.

Truck Stop Electrification is a way to let truckers shut off the truck engine while they’re parked at a truck stop.  Truckers leave trucks idling while parked, to watch television (etc) in the truck, or run the refrigeration unit on the trailer.  This way the truck isn’t idling, and the trucker still has electricity.

The ShorePower network is expanding across the U.S., and is following where the trucks tend to go.  I haven’t visited any of the locations, but what I see on the map is they’re located at “truck stops”.  It’s a trucker oriented service, after all.  To use the service, first find one of ShorePower’s locations, drive there, find where the power pedestal’s are located, select one (you’re going to be amongst big rigs).  At that point I’m not clear what to do, but they claim it’s easy to use the service at the pedestal.

The ShorePower website lets you search for EVSE’s for electric cars.  At the moment making just that selection results in zero choices, but it implies ShorePower is planning to directly support electric car owners.

Electric vehicle owners can use both services in the same way.  Both provide 240 volt outlets with a high enough amperage capacity to run an EVSE at full power.

Portable EVSE’s and adapter cords required

Electric cars cannot use regular power outlets – because the powers-that-be deemed it would be Unsafe for to just plug electric cars into regular power outlets.  Instead we have to plug into charging stations, a.k.a. EVSE’s.

That means carrying a light and small EVSE, supporting a fast enough recharge time to be useful.  This is a solution for those of us who aren’t rich enough to afford a Tesla Model S.  For the rest of us, electric cars are typically limited to a 6 kilowatt charge rate and the rule of thumb states this gives 20-25 miles of range per hour of charging.

First – here are a few small/light EVSE’s

The Bosch EL-51253 Power Max 30 Amp Electric Vehicle Charging Station with 18′ Cord is an example of a light-weight EVSE (about 14 lbs) that’s capable of a 6 kilowatt charge rate.  It comes with a cord to which one can easily attach a NEMA 14-50 plug.  Once an EVSE has a plug, it can be unplugged from one power outlet and plugged into another power outlet.  Most of the EVSE’s are meant to be hard wired to your house power system (for safety) but that fact has the side effect that you can’t take the EVSE with you on trips.  Add a plug to your EVSE, and it can be taken on trips.

The Leviton EVB40-5PT Level 2 40-Amp Evr-Green Flush Mount Electric Vehicle Charging Station is an interesting option because it can support up to 9.6 kilowatts charge rate.  That’s important to those electric car owners whose car supports a 40 amp charge rate, such as the Gen2 Toyota RAV4 EV.  The AV TurboCord 240 Volt Plug-in EV Charger is much smaller than those two, because it’s designed specifically to be small/light enough to be carried all the time, while supporting a higher charging rate than 120 volt 12 amps.  It supports 240 volts 20 amps, making it less powerful than the other two, but still useful enough.

Once you’ve selected an EVSE, you need to adapt it to use a regular power plug so the EVSE can plug into regular power outlets.  This is where terms like NEMA 14-50 come in.

What did I mean by NEMA 14-50 etc?  The U.S. has a nonsensical system for 240 volt power outlets, with a dizzying array of plug formats.  NEMA 14-50 is a four pin plug/socket standard that supports 240 volts at up to 50 amps.  On my car, I use 14-50 as the common socket, and build adapters to convert from various power sockets to NEMA 14-50.

I see on the ShorePower site they support both 120 volt 20 amp and 240 volt 30 amps power outlets.  According to PlugShare’s listing of ShorePower sites, that means various plugs like NEMA 14-30 or the TT-30.

The first step is attaching a plug to the EVSE.  In the case of the AV TurboCord, that was already done for you, but for the others you must do it yourself.  The manufacturers mean for these EVSE’s to be bolted to the wall of your garage but as I said earlier, adding a plug to the EVSE means you can unplug it and take it with you.

The EVSE’s have a power cord that ends without a plug.  You simply strip the insulation off, revealing either 3 or 4 bare wires.  You simply insert the bare wires into the power plug – making sure to do so in the correct order.  Usually it just requires an electricians wire stripping tool, and a screwdriver, to do the job.  Specific instructions will come with the EVSE and the power plug

What do you do once you have a 6+ kilowatt EVSE with a plug?

You learn how to make adapter cords, that’s what you do.  It’s not that hard and once you make the first one it’s pretty obvious how to go about it.  In fact, adding a power plug to your EVSE already showed you the required steps.

I’ve written, on VisForVoltage, a resource page about using extension cords and power adapters for recharging electric cars.  The page lists parts required to build the adapters, and in some cases you’ll be able to find prebuilt adapter cords.

Once you have a portablized EVSE and a few power adapter cords, your electric car will have much more freedom.  You’ll be able to drive up to “any” power outlet, and by selecting the correct adapter cord plug in and start charging.  Oh, and ask for permission first.

If all electric cars supported fast charging, we wouldn’t have to go through this effort.  We’d just pull up to the fast charging station, plug in, and be charged in a jiffy.  Unfortunately that isn’t the case, and instead we have to make do with guerrilla charging methods like this.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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