Silicon Valley's workplace perks are legendary: corporate chefs, on-site massages, stock options. Now several prominent valley companies are adding a new one -- electric-vehicle charging stations for their employees.
The Bay Area, with its culture of tech-savvy "early adopters," is expected to be a leading market for electric cars, and owners will need a reliable place for daily charging. Besides home, workplace parking lots are where cars spend most of their time.
Netflix already has two charging stations in the garage of its Los Gatos headquarters, and powerhouse law firm Fenwick & West, which has a large cleantech practice, installed two charging stations at its Mountain View campus in June. Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices plans to install charging stations in the spring, and several other Silicon Valley companies that don't want to be identified have them or are planning to get them.
The largest workplace installation is under way at SAP's Palo Alto campus. The German commercial software company is putting 16 charging stations into its parking lot and will offer all employees free charging through 2011.
"We will get a home charger, but I really appreciate that SAP is doing this," said employee Anne Hardy, 42, who ordered an electric Nissan Leaf that is scheduled to arrive in April. "It's a strong statement from SAP, and it's exciting to work for a company that is doing this."
SAP is currently undertaking several
That inspired SAP to order 25 electric cars for the campus. Five will be reserved for company use, and 20 will be leased to employees. The charging stations, which are being installed this week, will be unveiled today as part of a larger "Energy Efficiency Showcase" that SAP is hosting.
"Sustainability makes great sense from a business perspective, and our employees are really excited about it," said Peter Graf, SAP's chief sustainability officer. "It's important for people to see us do this, and it makes us attractive as an employer."
Graf said SAP owns 17,000 company cars globally and has an economic as well as environmental reason to support electric vehicles. "We are interested in the savings opportunities, because EVs are easier to maintain," he said.
Demand for charging stations also is hot right now because federal tax credits -- equal to 50 percent of the cost of charging stations, or up to $2,000 for individuals and $50,000 for businesses -- are set to expire Dec. 31.
The advocacy group Plug In America is urging its supporters nationwide to pressure Congress and President Barack Obama to extend the credits for an additional three or more years.
"These tax credits are directly stimulating our economy by creating installation jobs for electricians and construction workers in cities across America," said Jay Friedland, Plug In America's legislative director.
Most charging stations going into Silicon Valley workplaces are made by Coulomb Technologies, a Campbell startup that is leading the race to create EV infrastructure. Coulomb's "ChargePoint Network" allows drivers to sign up for monthly passes and swipe a credit card to pay for charging sessions.
"Forty percent of the people in the United States live in apartments and condominiums, and for a lot of people it's more convenient to charge at work," said Coulomb CEO Richard Lowenthal.
Julie O'Loughlin, Fenwick & West's senior director of facilities and operations, said the law firm decided to install charging stations because so many employees plan to drive electric vehicles.
"We have a couple of people here who drive Tesla Roadsters, and a whole bunch of people who are on the waiting list to get a Nissan Leaf," she said. "We put the charging stations in early because we have to buy into this -- if there aren't enough places to charge, then it hinders the whole technology."
PG&E expects to see 219,000 to 845,000 electric vehicles on the road within its Northern California territory by the end of 2020. The utility says the Bay Area will be "ground zero" for EVs, and has identified the Peninsula, East Bay, Marin and Sonoma counties as hot spots of early electric-vehicle adoption. It is stepping up efforts to educate customers about the new technology, and its website now offers information about charging locations, times and costs.
The first wave of electric Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts are hitting local dealerships this month, and virtually every major automaker has electric vehicles in the pipeline.
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.
Valley companies that have charging stations or plan to install them: