It’s terrible enough that you have range anxiety. Even when they find a station, though, drivers frequently encounter broken equipment.
Matt Hirsch has long been a fan of electric vehicles and leased his Hyundai Ioniq for the first time in 2020. He even built a charger directly next to his suburban Boston home’s driveway, where he does the most of his charging. However, the relationship has recently begun to sour.
He occasionally takes longer excursions, which necessitates the use of numerous applications and websites to precisely plan out the charging stations along his route so he doesn’t run out of juice. One of his frequent drives, to a brother’s home in New York, brings him through an Electrify America station in Chicopee, Massachusetts, where he frequently finds some, if not all, of the four accessible plugs broken.
Hirsch is troubled by the situation, and he is concerned about the impact that broken and slow chargers will have on the country’s larger electrification endeavour. “It’s difficult to persuade someones to change their behaviour unless the alternative is significantly easier and less expensive,” he says. That isn’t necessarily the cases with electric vehicles right now. Range anxiety, or the dread of being stranded without a charge, has stuck some Americans from fully considering electric vehicles as a viable alternative. They are concerned that a charging mishap will leave them stuck on the side of the road.
“I discourage those experiences can make a lasting impression and deter someone from buying an electric vehicle.”
Legwork Local Delivery, Dan Woodward
The transportation industry is responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Electric vehicles, according to policymakers, will be critical in mitigating climate change. The Biden administration set a national goal last summer of having electric vehicles account for 40% of all car sales by 2030. However, the United States will require a large lot of charging stations if it is to make the shift to electric automobiles and other greener modes of transportation. To fill in the gaps, the vast majority of electric vehicle drivers charge at home, and the country has almost 46,500 public fast chargers, which can charge a battery in 20 to 30 minutes on average. However, the International Council on Clean Transportation projects that by 2030, 180,000 of them would be required to cover more of the United States. There will also be 856,000 additional “level 2” chargers, which are less expensive to install but take longer to charge a car.
States, towns, and, most all, the federal government in the United States appear eager to spend a lot of money to get there. California has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in building its charger network, with the governor promising to phase out gas-powered vehicle sales by 2035. New York has pledged over a billion dollars to the cause. Last year, Congress enacted a law allocating $5 billion to a network of half a million chargers along interstate routes.
However, based on their past performance, it’s unclear whether any of the new chargers will last as long as they should. It’s difficult to acquire reliable information about public electric vehicle charger maintenance or how current chargers are operating in the field. Charger manufacturers typically claim a nationwide “uptime” of 95 to 98 percent, which refers to whether the technology is charging or ready to charge. However, if you chat to an electric vehicle owner long enough, you’ll hear complaints about slow or broken chargers.
According to a recent survey of 181 public charging stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, which was partially funded by the nonprofit Cool the Earth, 23 percent of them are “nonfunctioning” at any given time, owing to broken screens, shoddy credit card or payment systems, network connection failures, or damaged plugs. With just one swipe of an credit card, just half of the functional chargers evaluated by the research team were able to complete a payment transaction. “In any other retail transaction, a 50 percent success rate would not be considered acceptable,” said Patty Monahan, a California Energy Commission commissioner, during an industry meeting earlier this month. More than a third of EV drivers, and over 60% of those who indicated they used public chargers, reported they had met nonfunctioning ones, according to a poll conducted by a California organisation. Sixteen percent had come into financial difficulties. A charger-related issue has needed nearly half of the respondents to contact customer assistance.
While those who design and maintain electric vehicle chargers claim that people aren’t as common as the anecdotes suggest, some admit that mistakes are inevitable with any new technology. According to Michael Farkas, CEO of Blink Charging, which owns and runs charging infrastructure, charger issues are a “first-generation item that was industrywide.” “I don’t believe it’s as common today.”
However, when it comes to charging equipment, a lot may go wrong—and a lot of people, organisations, or companies could be to blame. First, the power electronics must function, and electricity must be delivered to the charging station by utility companies. The station must then maintain a steady internet and phone connection so that the charging company’s software can keep track of what’s going on. Additionally, automakers must make that their vehicles’ software can “talk” to any type of charger available. Charging companies such as Electrify America and EVGo have their own test facilities to guarantee that cars work with their charging infrastructure. However, problems can creep through the cracks, according to Rob Barrosa, Electrify America’s senior director of sales, business development, and marketing. He says that the issue arises less frequently now than it did two or three years ago.
Even when charging stations work well, payment complications can arise, which car owners say is the most aggravating aspect of the entire experience. Under bright sunlight, credit card machines break or the screens become illegible. To make the transaction go more smoothly, many companies need drivers to create a login in order to use their stations, and they urge them to use tap-enabled membership cards or download proprietary apps. However, these can also go wrong.
Drivers make mistakes because they don’t understand how their new automobiles work, and they can do physical damage to plugs by tugging or shoving too hard if they don’t have the proper adapter. Others arrive at charging stations only to discover that they are incompatible with their automobiles. Tesla’s Supercharger network, for example, is one of the most extensive in the United States, but its stations are exclusively compatible with Teslas. Even if stations are serviced on a regular basis, Mother Nature can get in the way: During a recent industry event, a ChargerHelp charger repair expert discovered a wasp’s nest nestled within the electronic guts of a charger, according to the company’s cofounder.
Legwork Local Delivery, a tiny, all-electric delivery company in Portland, Oregon, is run by Dan Woodward. Above all, the company is mission-driven, driven by Woodward’s “abundance of angst about climate change,” as he says it. However, substandard Level 2 public chargers have stymied his efforts, including ones that were marked as working on internet maps but didn’t connect when his crew arrived, as well as others that were vandalised and had their connectors destroyed. He says being stuck without a charge as “not just frustrating but also a little frightening.” As a result, the company has spent in building its own tiny charging network throughout the city: one at its home, one at Woodward’s house, and one, he admits, at his parents’ house. “I do think those experiences may really make a negative impact and discourage someone from buying an electric vehicle,” he says, “because if somebody who is driving an EV for the first time has problems charging,” he says.
Diagnosing a broken charger can be a difficult challenge in and of itself. For one thing, it might be difficult for charging companies to tell whether a charger is broken or simply not being used enough—a situation that is becoming increasingly common as Americans adjust to new tech.
Furthermore, according to Thomas Ashley, vice president of policy and market development at Shell Recharge Solutions, not all early US charging station initiatives set aside cash for regular check-ins or maintenance. According to him, several early initiatives did not require the companies installing or maintaining the chargers to maintain a certain degree of uptime or reliability. “Where uptime or reliability criteria exist in today’s charging infrastructure contracts, they’re often not strong enough to match driver expectations, and they’re not provided sufficient funding for longer-term maintenance needs,” Ashley says.
Some state governments are attempting to improve their charging infrastructure. The California Energy Commission, which is in charge of charging rules in the state, has mandated that companies track and report on how often their equipment is offline. California is also working with other states to develop national maintenance requirements, but the process is still in its early stages. According to a Federal Highway Administration representative, the US Departments of Transportation and Energy are collaborating to develop guidelines for federal infrastructure spending, including the $5 billion set aside for the installation of electric vehicle chargers.
Repairing a charger is a separate issue. According to Lance Sabo, senior vice president of service for the Americas at ABB, a Swedish–Swiss company that constructs and runs charger networks, more than half of charger problems may be addressed with a remote reset. Other issues, on the other hand, must be addressed in person. Charging companies claim that they are still building their networks of personnel and subcontractors who can diagnose and repair chargers, and that many more workers will be needed. “Part of the challenge is that it’s such a young industry,” Sabo says. He points out that his company has only been in the space for roughly a decade. However, if anyone hopes to fulfil climate objectives, charging will need to mature quickly.