By Matt Hersh I liked the idea for a long time. electric vehicles and first rented it Hyundai Ionic in 2020. He even set up a charger near the driveway to his home in suburban Boston, where he spends most of his life. refill. But lately, the relationship has begun to deteriorate.
Sometimes he makes longer trips, forcing him to use several apps and websites to carefully plan charging stations on his journey so that he doesn’t get caught without charge. One frequent trip to his brother’s home in New York often takes him to an Electrify America operated station in Chicopee, Massachusetts, where he often finds some, if not all, of the four available plugs broken.
It’s an embarrassing situation for Hirsch, and he worries about the impact broken and slow chargers will have on the nationwide electrification project. “It’s hard to convince someone to change their behavior if [the alternative] much easier and much cheaper,” he says. Now this is not always true for electric vehicles. Anxiety in range, fear of getting stuck somewhere without recharging prevented some americans from seriously considering electric vehicles as a viable option. They worry that a charging error will leave them on the side of the road.
More than a quarter of US greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation industry. Politicians argue that the mass adoption of electric vehicles will be vital to combating climate change. Last summer, the Biden administration set a national goal of having an electric vehicle account. 40% of all car sales by 2030. But if the US moves to electric cars and other greener vehicles, it will need many more charging stations. The vast majority of EV drivers charge at home today, and there are about 46,500 public fast-charging stations across the country that can typically charge the battery in 20 to 30 minutes to fill the gaps. But by 2030, it will take 180,000 of them to cover most of the US, predicts International Clean Transport Council. Plus another 856,000 “level 2” chargers, which are cheaper to install but take longer to charge the car.
US governments — states, municipalities, and most of all, the federal government — seem willing to spend tons of money to make this happen. California, whose governor promised by 2035 stop selling gas-powered cars, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to build its network of chargers. New York has allocated almost a billion dollars for this. BUT federal infrastructure billpassed last year allocated $5 billion for a network of half a million chargers along interstate highways.
But judging by their track record, it’s not clear if any of these new chargers will last as long as they need to. It’s hard to find accurate data on the maintenance of public electric vehicle chargers or how today’s chargers perform in the wild. Charger companies typically say they have a 95 to 98 percent “uptime” across the country, an industry term that means the technology is charging or ready to charge. But talk to an EV owner for a while and you’ll likely hear complaints about slow or broken chargers.
BUT recent poll of 181 public charging stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, funded in part by the nonprofit Cool the Earth, suggests that 23 percent of them may be “down” at any given time due to broken screens, poor-quality credit cards or payment systems, glitches network connection. or damaged plugs. Only half of the functional chargers tested by the research team successfully completed a payment transaction with just one swipe of a credit card. “A 50 percent success rate in any other retail deal would not be considered acceptable, and it shouldn’t be here,” said Patty Monahan, Commissioner of the California Energy Commission, in industry meeting earlier this month. BUT electric vehicle driver survey one California agency found that more than a third of them, and almost 60 percent of those who said they used public chargers, experienced non-working chargers. Sixteen percent experienced payment problems. Nearly half of them had to call customer support about problems with the charger.
While the folks who build and maintain electric vehicle chargers say the problems aren’t as widespread as anecdotes suggest, some admit that bugs happen with any new technology. Charger issues are “a first-generation issue that was industry-wide,” says Michael Farkas, CEO of Blink Charging, which owns and operates charging equipment. “I don’t think it’s that common today.”
But when it comes to charging equipment, a lot can go wrong and many different people, institutions or companies can be held responsible. First, the power electronics must be functional, and the utilities must supply electricity to the charging station. The station then needs to maintain a stable internet and mobile phone connection so that the charging company’s software can keep track of what’s going on. And automakers need to make sure their car software can talk to all types of chargers on the market. Charging companies such as Electrify America and EVGo have their own test labs so that car manufacturers can make sure their vehicles work with their charging equipment. But sometimes mistakes slip through the cracks, says Rob Barrosa, senior director of sales, business development and marketing at Electrify America. He says the question comes up less frequently than it did two or three years ago.
Even when the charging points are working, there can be payment issues, which car owners say can be the most frustrating part of the whole experience. Credit card machines break or screens become illegible in strong sunlight. Many companies require drivers to create a login to use their stations and encourage drivers to use touch-enabled membership cards or download proprietary apps to facilitate the transaction. But they may also fail to connect.
Sometimes drivers make mistakes themselves because they don’t know how their new cars work and can accidentally damage spark plugs by pulling or pushing them too hard if they don’t have the right adapter. Others come to the chargers and find that they are not compatible with their vehicles. TeslaFor example, Supercharger’s Supercharger network is one of the most extensive in the US, but its stations are only compatible with Tesla vehicles. Even if stations are serviced regularly, nature sometimes intervenes: A charger repair technician working for ChargerHelp recently discovered a hornet’s nest nestled against the charger’s electronic innards, the company’s co-founder said at a recent industry event.
Dan Woodward runs Legwork Local Delivery, a small all-electric delivery company in Portland, Oregon. The business is mission-driven first and foremost, motivated by Woodward’s “huge concern about climate change,” he says. But his work was hampered by low-quality, public Level 2 chargers, including those marked as working on online maps but not plugged in when his team arrived, and others that were vandalized with their plugs ripped open. He says that being stuck without a charger “can be not only frustrating, but also a bit scary.” So the company has invested in building its own network of mini chargers throughout the city: one at headquarters, one at Woodward’s own home, and another, he laughingly admits, at his parents’ home. Facing broken chargers is “very discouraging,” he says, “because if someone who is driving an electric car for the first time has charging problems, I really think that experience can really leave a negative mark and discourage someone desire to buy an electric car. ”
Diagnosing a broken charger can be a challenge. First, it can be difficult for charging companies to tell from a distance whether a charger is broken or just not being used as often—a common quandary as Americans are slow to adapt to new technology.
What’s more, not all early U.S. charging station projects allocated funds for regular inspections or maintenance, Thomas Ashley, vice president of policy and market development at Shell Recharge Solutions, said in an email to WIRED. Some early designs didn’t require companies installing or managing chargers to maintain a certain level of reliability or uptime, he said. Even in today’s charging infrastructure contracts, “where there are uptime or reliability requirements, they tend not to be strong enough to meet driver expectations and don’t allocate enough budget for long-term maintenance needs,” says Ashley.
Some state governments are trying to get smarter about making chargers work. The California Energy Commission, which oversees the state’s charging policy, is now requiring companies to track and report how often their equipment is offline. California is also working with other states to develop nationwide maintenance standards, although the process has just begun. The US Departments of Transportation and Energy are working together to set standards for federal infrastructure funding – the $5 billion is for electric vehicle chargers, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration said.
Repairing the charger is a separate issue. More than half of charger problems can be solved with a remote reset, says Lance Szabo, senior vice president of service for the Americas at ABB, a Swedish-Swiss company that builds and operates charger networks. But other issues need to be considered personally. Charging companies say they are still building their networks of employees and subcontractors who know how to diagnose and repair chargers and that many more workers will be needed. “Part of the problem is that this is a really young industry,” Szabo says. He notes that his company has only been in space for about a decade. But if one wants to meet climate targets, charging must rise quickly.
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