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Understanding EV Charging Station Failures: What’s Going Wrong?

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Hello again, EV enthusiasts and curious minds! Your tech-savvy electrician and blogger from the vibrant San Francisco Bay Area here to shed some light on a growing concern for EV drivers in North America: what’s causing issues with public EV charging stations?

The Rise of EVs and the Charging Challenge

With electric vehicle sales on the upswing, the reliability of public charging networks is becoming increasingly important. This is especially true when comparing the robustness of Tesla’s Supercharger network to other networks, which often present a less seamless experience for users due to varying authentication methods, pricing, and user interfaces.

Charging Anxiety: The New Hurdle

Ford CEO Jim Farley aptly summarized the sentiment of many EV consumers: it’s not about range anxiety anymore; it’s charging anxiety. The frustration of arriving at a public charging station only to find it inoperative is a significant deterrent for potential EV buyers.

The Stats: Highlighting the Issue

A J.D. Power report from early 2023 highlighted that 20.8% of EV drivers using public chargers experienced failures or malfunctions. A study in the San Francisco Bay Area found that almost a quarter of chargers were non-functional due to various issues like screen or payment system failures, charge initiation problems, network failures, or broken connectors.

Pinpointing the Problems

A new study by the Electrification Institute, produced by Qmerit, offers detailed insights into why public charging stations fail. The top reasons for charging failures across the United States include:

  1. Station Connectivity (55%): More than half of all failures stem from stations being unable to connect to their network for authentication, often due to reliance on cellular links.
  2. Internal Station Faults or Errors (38%): This category covers software and some hardware failures, including stations freezing during reboots.
  3. Other Causes (7%): Issues with charging connectors or cables, credit-card readers, and display screens constitute a smaller fraction of the problems.

The Solutions and Industry Response

For connectivity issues, the best practice is allowing free charging during lost connectivity. Some networks like Electrify America are implementing this. Hard-wired communication cables are another solution, albeit more expensive. Addressing internal faults requires tackling various software and hardware issues across different stations and manufacturers.

The Role of Regulation and Automaker Initiatives

California regulators are stepping up, with new standards for record-keeping and reporting by charging operators, set to be detailed by the California Energy Commission. This move could set a precedent for other states.

Automakers are also responding. Ford, GM, and several others announced plans to charge at Tesla’s Supercharger stations and adopt Tesla’s connector standard. Additionally, seven automakers have formed a joint venture to establish a new network of over 30,000 fast-charging stations, aiming to enhance the recharging experience.

Conclusion: The Path Forward

Knowing the reasons behind charging station failures is a step forward, but the real change will come from networks prioritizing maintenance, oversight, and response times, much like Tesla’s approach with its Supercharger network. For EV adoption to continue its upward trajectory, reliable and user-friendly charging infrastructure is not just desirable – it’s essential. As technology and regulations evolve, so too must the networks that power our electric future.

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