Whether you drive an EV or not, you probably know that public charging sucks. There are a variety of reasons why, between the plethora of poorly designed payment platforms and distance between stations, depending on where you live. But the chargers themselves are all too often disabled. A story published by Bloomberg on Thursday delved into companies’ efforts to keep those terminals online.
ChargePoint, for example, has gone so far as to create a sort of hell for EV chargers in a laboratory, subjecting them to the worst possible conditions to see if they can withstand the abuse. All manner of natural disasters are recreated within the company’s walls, from extreme temperatures and precipitation, to even simulated “dust storms and earthquakes.”
And yet, the gauntlet of misery must still pale in comparison to what chargers face in the real world, because they keep failing. And there are oh so many ways a charger can fail, as Bloomberg’s David R. Baker explains:
There isn’t a single reason for EV charger failures. Some of the problems, particularly with older machines, can be chalked up to a new technology going through the usual learning curve of improvements, all while sitting outside, exposed to the weather. There have been cycles of needed upgrades, such as replacing modems to deal with 5G wireless internet service. The myriad networks, retail outlets and garage owners who own the machines don’t always stay on top of maintenance. And chargers must communicate with a rapidly expanding variety of cars.
Thieves will steal the cables too, which isn’t terribly surprising at a time when no SUV’s catalytic converter is safe. But external factors only tell part of the story, because it’s taken makers of public chargers quite a while to achieve even the current modicum of reliability, as Blink founder Michael Farkas admitted:
Farkas is particularly critical of the first few generations of “DC fast chargers,” which can top off an EV battery far faster than more common “level 2” chargers. “Complete garbage,” he said. “Lots of maintenance required. Offline all the time. We stopped deploying them until we were satisfied the issues were resolved.”
One of the solutions is to create new chargers in a modular fashion, where aspects of them can be upgraded piecemeal as needed, rather than wasting lots of time and spending lots of money to replace the entire structure whenever something goes wrong. Charging stations aren’t handheld devices that need to be compact or sleek, so I don’t know what you’d construct them any other way — but then, I don’t run an EV charging company.
Either way, the likes of ChargePoint, Blink and Electrify America will be held to standards of “97-percent uptime reliability” if they want to receive some of the $2.5 billion the White House has earmarked for EV charging. That’s the sort of encouragement the supposedly self-correcting free market needs from time to time.