By on June 6, 2022

Researchers with the University of California, Berkeley, are pouring cold water of the premise that electric vehicle charging stations will require less maintenance than traditional fueling solutions. The study, which examined 657 individual connectors between 181 public fast-charging stations in the San Francisco Bay area found that about 23 percent were nonfunctional.

That seems quite a bit higher than the number of fuel pumps that might be down at any given station, though the pertinent question is why those EV charging points were inoperable. 

Unlike your local gas station, which is likely to include a manned store, EV charging points are often dotted around parking lots and highway exits without much daily oversight.

Your author once stayed at swanky hotel in downtown Seattle and found that four out of six parking spaces equipped with chargers were out of service in its underground garage. Curious, I inquired with the front desk who was responsible for their upkeep and was told by numerous employees that they weren’t sure. Eventually I was informed it was down to the company originally contracted to install them. But that it only sent a person out once every other month unless they schedule some additional servicing. They apologized profusely for any inconvenience this may have caused me and offered to help me locate a nearby charger — unnecessary because I had arrived in a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

It wasn’t an isolated incident and my curiosity persisted. I began to notice that a lot of the places I would find EV chargers often had at least one bay that was wholly inoperable. But the situation never seemed all that serious because I was rarely driving a plug-in vehicle and there was typically a spot open regardless of how many others were down. Upon questioning acquaintances that daily drove EVs, they said that a bum charger did occasionally cause them trouble. However it didn’t seem to vex them in the slightest unless the incident took place far from home.

Still, having a bunch of out-of-order signs hanging on the latest automotive technologies hardly seems like the best way to spur adoption.

“Chargers need to be working well, and functionality needs to be at a high level for there to be large-scale EV adoption,” David Rempel, one of the Berkley professors that authored the study, told Automotive News. “Do you really expect EV drivers to go to one charger, call the 1-800 number because it’s not working, and then spend 45 minutes going from one charger to the next — and be happy with that? No.”

My assumption that EV chargers simply aren’t getting sufficient maintenance is just one possible explanation. The Berkley study seemed to suggest that at least some charging points don’t offer the kind of longevity their providers have suggested. It’s something the researchers said needed to be looked into as the U.S. government is poised to shower the industry with additional subsidies, including some $5 billion earmarked to expand that nation’s charging network.

From Automotive News:

The Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, established to distribute those funds to states, is expected to issue minimum standards and requirements for EV chargers in the coming days or weeks. States have until Aug. 1 to submit EV infrastructure plans to the office, which will begin approving plans by Sept. 30 and start to distribute funds, according to a government website.

“The next few months are really critical for the whole process of building a reliable EV infrastructure,” Rempel said. “The auto OEMs should be very aware of this process and ensure that reliability is high, and know that there is a system there to ensure that happens.”

It is not yet clear what standards the joint office, created by the U.S. Energy and Transportation departments following the passage of last year’s infrastructure bill, will adopt.

Rempel said any contracts that states enter into with charging providers should include “good, quality service agreements” that require chargers to be repaired rapidly.

Considering this is a newly created branch of the government that has yet to establish any guidelines for what constitutes an acceptable charging station, something has me worried that the funds might not be used responsibly. So many of these government initiatives seem to backfire (e.g. Cash4Clunkers, Paycheck Protection Program, banking regulations) that it’s hard to feel confident about one that seems to be flying more or less by the seat of its pants.

“The money that’s handed out should be handed out in chunks, and the final piece shouldn’t be handed out to the service providers or owners of the system until it’s shown that all of the chargers work well,” said Rempel.

That sounds like it could be a tall order based on the study — which reported that 73 percent of DC fast charging points checked around San Francisco (between February and March) were considered functional, while 23 percent were deemed “not functional.” A modest but meaningful 5 percent was also considered to have a critical design flaw that made it impossible for the test vehicle to use the station due to the charging cable being too short or otherwise incompatible with the port.

Additional studies, such as the one issued by Plug In America in February, have reported that inoperable chargers were a concern for at least a third of EV owners. Almost as many said the distance between charging stations was also a problem. However, complaints actually declined among Tesla drivers, who didn’t seem to notice broken charging stations. Only 3 percent cited them as a serious concern.

“Out of the box, we need to make sure EV infrastructure works well so it’s not something people point to and say, ‘I’ll wait to move to an EV until the system is better.’ We need to get the infrastructure right from the start, and we shouldn’t be dumping a lot of money into infrastructure that leads to a poor system,” suggested Rempel. “I believe in competition, and to have a competitive system, the whole thing needs to work well. Public chargers need to work well, in addition to the Tesla system.”

[Images: guteksk7/Shutterstock; U.S. Department of Transportation]

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45 Comments on “Study Claims EV Charging Reliability Is a Problem...”


  • avatar
    jkross22

    Can’t imagine going on a road trip with any EV – anything more than 1/2 of the car’s range would be considered a road trip.

    It’s not just the non-functioning chargers. It’s that the ones that are working have lines to use.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Well of course. This is not new information. Everyone knows our charging infrastructure is a complete joke. The only one worth a damn is Teslas and even that is extremely small scale. But that goes to show how private business is better at pretty much everything.

    The EV boondoggle continues…..

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      That’s my brief experience as I toyed around with public charging when I first got the Pacifica Hybrid. “Hey, let’s see how this whole charging thing works,” I said. I got a couple apps to find stations, and went out into the wild.

      Very quickly I got the experience described. If this is how public charging works…

      I’m sure it’s a matter of how everybody high-fives and parties when planning and installing all these chargers, sending out press releases and whatnot, and after the cameras are gone ignores them like a crack house across the tracks.

      It’s one thing for a gas station to manage several pumps. They’re all in one place and people are in and out all the time. When one breaks, you know it right away–and you get it fixed. Meantime, the other pumps work.

      But a few staggered charge stations? A couple in the parking lot–sounded like a good idea at the time–that no longer work and the building owner or tenant really doesn’t care and knows there’s zero consequences to not caring, THAT’S the reality.

      Start building dedicated charging venues and watch what happens. Oh, wait–a gas station can get what, 10 cars per hour through each pump? 8 pumps, that’s 80 cars per hour throughput. Now tell me how large a charging venue would have to be to come close to that. I’m not talking about fast charging; I’m talking about it takes an hour to charge, now I need 80 slots.

      Won’t happen.

      Outside of Tesla there isn’t the EV equivalent of a gas station owner who cares about fueling cars for his livelihood. All we have are ignored, broken down stations here and there that will never get fixed.

      “Seemed like a great idea at the time…”

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        “ I’m sure it’s a matter of how everybody high-fives and parties when planning and installing all these chargers, sending out press releases and whatnot, and after the cameras are gone ignores them like a crack house across the tracks.”

        So true. Which backs up that this whole EV push is just virtue signaling. Very expensive virtue signaling though.

        It also really boosts the argument for PHEVs. You can get the first 50 miles electric only which is less than most people need each day. And when you run out, you have a fuel sipping hybrid. Heck with a no compromise PHEV, and a 50% hit to range when towing, I could get to the boat launch and back on EV only (with one mile to spare though).

        Hybrids and PHEVs are the way to go. Pure EVs are a boondoggle. We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the infrastructure, and we shouldn’t be doing that much damage to the planet. So, the question needs to be asked, what politicians are getting rich off of EVs?

  • avatar
    jack4x

    “So many of these government initiatives seem to backfire, e.g. Cash4Clunkers”

    There’s plenty of examples of government f-ups to go around, but Cash 4 Clunkers wasn’t one of them. For some reason it has a terrible rap among enthusiasts, seemingly all across the political spectrum, but it accomplished exactly what it set out to do.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Agree somewhat on Cash Clunkers in that it did accomplish its purpose. The EV charging structure has a ways to go along with the cost and range of batteries. It will probably be be ironed out but that will take years.

    • 0 avatar
      ramhemi

      I can speak from a dealer perspective on Cash 4 CLUNKERS, all it did was run us out of vehicles in about 30 to 45 days, then we went with no vehicles to sell for a few months while waiting for more vehicle to come in, short spike in sales then big void, net result was no additional sales, some of the old vehicles needed to be replaced, many though, had to be scrapped needlessly, some with new rebuilt motors, once again showing private sector will always work better than government programs

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Posky

        This backs up the sales data from the time. But I would also make the argument that encouraging people to maintain whatever vehicle they currently have (assuming it’s still functional) is always more environmentally friendly than having the industry produce a new one. Cash4Clunkers seemed to do little more than help the industry boost sales in the short term. But they also framed it as green, despite there being little hard evidence to support the claim.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          “Cash4Clunkers seemed to do little more than help the industry boost sales in the short term.”

          Green rhetoric aside, this was basically the point. Inject some money into the economy during a recession. In that regard, it was a success. Long term, it probably did save us some oil imports, overall environmental friendliness depends on how you measure it I suppose.

          I agree with Jeff that while we remember the notable stuff being crushed, the vast majority really was junk that no one should miss.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        I was going around to the dealers with a friend of mine who was looking at getting a new car during the time of Cash for Clunkers. I saw the places where dealers were storing the Clunkers and most of those vehicles were either badly rusted or they looked like they were literally on their last leg. Few of those vehicles were in good enough shape to be rescued. I talked with a few people that bought new cars and traded in their vehicles and the only reason they bought a new car was because they got more than they could normally otherwise they were going to run the wheels off of there old cars which they admitted were hoopties. At the time of Cash for Clunkers you could not clunker a vehicle older than 1985. I have heard there were some nice vehicles clunkered but maybe its where I live but most of the ones I saw were banged up and rusted out not even good enough for parts.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      The goal for Cash4Clunkers was to spend money until it was gone.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This is a structural problem which will work itself out over time.

    When there were very few EVs, many if not most chargers were installed using government funds and then maintained by organizations that had little incentive to care about them.

    Now, with many more EVs, chargers are used far more, they are becoming profit centers, and the financial consequences of bad maintenance will start to bite. There will also be far more backup options if one particular charger is out of commission.

    • 0 avatar
      haze3

      Pretty much this.

      There are plenty of chargers that are just attractor add-ons, like early adopter hotels or Whole Foods or some employers. These are not intended as direct profit centers but are conveniences and are seldom cutting edge chargers in the first place. If they aren’t working, it’s not great (hotels will care) but it’s not a deal breaker. If pumps are not working at a gas station, it’s the money maker and it will get fixed.

      Tesla is pretty far along on super chargers but they are mainly operated as a feature of ownership. They enable and enhance the brand. These stations are not offered to the rest of the world b/c the analysis does not yet suggest that charger profitability exceeds brand enabling value. I assure, Tesla have spreadsheets at work and won’t let other EV’s in until it’s a net positive for Tesla, as is their right. Elon isn’t in it for you.

      As EV’s keep moving, there will be serious charger players that will run serious businesses. However, the situation is dynamic in tech (barely past connector standardization) and in market size, so there is a balance between wanting to be 1st in and risking being too early with your capex.

      Big gas station chains and wannabees (restaurant chains) are watching closely, doing math. It’ll happen but unevenly. Heck, the process is probably even being put off by global supply chain issues… they are affecting far more staid businesses.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      One of the points everyone conveniently forgets when comparing EV refueling to ICE refueling, with the former constantly coming up short regarding facilities, is that ICE refueling has something like a 96 year head start. First gas station was in 1915 (prior to that you went to the drugstore for gasoline), first public EV stations somewhere about 2011 (synonymous with the introduction of the Leaf).

      • 0 avatar
        285exp

        It doesn’t matter why there aren’t enough chargers, just that there aren’t and that many of the non-Tesla ones don’t work. It’s not much consolation to know that they’ll have plenty in 10 years if you need a charge now. If they want to push the adoption of EVs as quickly as they seem determined to do, they’re going to have to build the infrastructure, both the generation and charging stations, and standardize them. It’s stupid to have multiple standards, all I have to do is drive up to any gas station and they all fit and fill at about the same rate.

  • avatar
    aja8888

    I have visions of old AT&T broken phone booths everywhere when enough charging stations get built in the wild.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      When I visited the UK, I noticed a lot of the old phone booths in London had been converted to defibrillator stations. Maybe tech savvy homeless can use chargers for HVAC supply for their dwellings, maybe a little arc welding biz on the side.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “Chargers need to be working well, and functionality needs to be at a high level for there to be large-scale EV adoption,” David Rempel, one of the Berkley professors that authored the study, told Automotive News. “Do you really expect EV drivers to go to one charger, call the 1-800 number because it’s not working, and then spend 45 minutes going from one charger to the next — and be happy with that? No.”

    Back in my day, Berkeley professors loved Mother Earth — when did that change? As for me, I would happily spend 45 minutes to save the planet, and another 45 minutes after that… as far as you know.

    Berkeley is the school.
    Berkley will get you some fishing equipment (possibly cheaper than buying beef).
    Berkey will sell you a fine water filter (helpful if you live in Flint).
    Berky will sell you a boat – but no one wants a boat.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      That’s all well and good but it’s not abundantly clear that EVs are better for the environment. There are so many little factors that get ignored in the promotional narrative (e.g. how the energy is produced or where the raw materials for the EV came from) and the entire transition seems to be coming at the expense of affordable energy, disproportionally impacting low-income households.

  • avatar
    285exp

    We don’t need no stinking public chargers anyway, everybody is going to charge at home every night and nobody needs more than 300 miles of range.

  • avatar
    stuki

    There’d be a lot of non functioning gas pumps as well, if gas car range and time-to-fill were such that you’d have to have pumps at every grocery store and restaurant to make it through the day.

    Overnight home charging is the killer app for BEVs. For usage patterns beyond suitability for that, you’re down to varying degrees of clusterF. Dragging around a ICE and generator, aka PHEV, likely being the least “clustered.”

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The charging infrastructure and battery range and cost are definitely concerns of mine to not get an EV anytime soon. Overtime this might be rectified but now especially with a vehicle shortage and having bought 1 new vehicle I can wait. Tesla might have a better charging network but their service stinks. Having to wait for parts, being serviced for the most part by only Tesla, and no roadside assistance makes Tesla not an option. A comparison appliance wise is LG and Samsung which are hard to get parts for, expensive, and for the most part can only be serviced by a trained and certified repairman specific to those brands. Bought an LG dishwasher years ago and went thru that and not being able to get parts. I am not against EVs they just need to evolve more and become more affordable and practical for most of us and I believe that will happen over time.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      “LG and Samsung which are hard to get parts for, expensive, and for the most part can only be serviced by a trained and certified repairman specific to those brands.”

      Youtube is your friend. I have given up on ‘certified repair techs’ that cost $150-200 to show up and then more if they fix anything.

      As for parts, all you can do is raise holy hell with the mfg. At least until they’re compelled to offer parts as a result of right to repair legislation.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        Even then they might show a part for sale but then it is on back order. Agree with you on the Right to Repair legislation but doesn’t seem to apply to Tesla, John Deere, LG, and Samsung. The best thing to do is to avoid those manufacturers and others that are not allowing the right to repair and make it hard to get replacement parts.

  • avatar

    In my suburban enclave, I see charges (charge America ?) in the local government building parking lots, here and there. I see a lot more Tesla chargers, but aren’t those Tesla electrons only ?

    You are still back to “must have driveway you own next to electricity you also own” to go EV…I’m making sure a garage I’m building has an EV line, but beyond that, you are still mostly tethered to home or if on a trip, you have to be very specific as to charge points.

    This will change…but not by 2022.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    And now there’s an environmental problem in the Mojave desert, where they’re locating giant solar panel arrays. During the preparation process, the ground under the panels is denuded of any vegetation (like Joshua trees), leaving only sand. Dust storms previously weren’t a big problem around places like Rosamond, and Edwards AFB, but now any time the wind blows, there’s dust. There’s even an illness called “Valley Fever”, some kind of fungal lung infection, apparently (in this case) related to the dust. Long-term mitigation could be as simple as raising the panels higher off the desert floor (in the short term, dust would still be a problem), so that vegetation under the panels might recover.

    https://www.kcet.org/redefine/uh-oh-valley-fever-outbreak-linked-to-solar-development

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      This is very interesting to me. My gripe about solar fields always came down to where the raw materials were being sourced and which countries (China) had a monopoly on production. I didn’t even think about what would happen to a natural environment when you cover it with panels that draw in massive amounts of heat but block sunlight.

  • avatar
    Dartdude

    Unless you are the one who happen to owned one of the models that were scrapped. Your supply source for used parts was reduced and the ones that available now more costly. Cash for clunkers should have had the vehicles stripped and salvageable parts available to sell.

  • avatar
    browneof

    This seems strange to me. I drive from Pittsburgh to Houston several times a year in my Model 3 and have never encountered a supercharger that was not working. One time all 8 chargers were occupied but I only had to wait a couple of minutes for one to become available. Could it be that Tesla has done a good job providing chargers whereas others have some catching up to do?

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Tesla has done a better job on charging stations. There should be uniform standards for chargers and charger cables which would make it easier to own and operate an EV.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        “There should be uniform standards for chargers and charger cables which would make it easier to own and operate an EV.”

        There is. It’s CCS.
        https://electrek.co/2022/05/10/tesla-add-ccs-connectors-supercharger-stations-us-elon-musk/

        For MegaWatt charging, it’s the new MCS :^) standard:
        https://www.charin.global/technology/mcs/

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          When the MCS standard is combined with battery technology that can handle it, we’ll have charging speeds as fast as fossil refueling.

          • 0 avatar
            285exp

            mcs, So now you’re down to just 2 standards plus the other legacy plugs for the chargers to be able to handle all the different EVS. And I’m sure that those batteries able to handle those fossil fuel like refuel times are just around the corner, and that those chargers won’t need some serious (read expensive) electrical system upgrades to handle those current flows.
            Congratulations on getting the MCS standard named in your honor, your tireless efforts in promoting the EV religion have not gone unnoticed.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @285exp: For heavy trucks, the technology is here now and chargers are either being installed or have already been installed eg. Frito Lay in CA.

            MCS charging is downward compatible with CCS BTW, so it’s just an extension of CCS. As for other standards, it’s Tesla and ChaDEmo. For Tesla, just get a Tesla to CCS adapter.

            https://insideevs.com/news/535918/megawatt-charging-system-ev-trucks/

            For passenger cars, battery tech that could handle the stress megawatt plus charging is in production in 2023. QuantumScape could probably do it and production for their cells is 2025. SolidPower and CATL will have batteries that can do it in production in 2023. Tesla 4680 has silicon anodes and is going to be used in megacharging applications and is in production now.

            Normal setup Solid State batteries will take a 90% charge in about 10 minutes. There are faster technologies on the way. There is a technique that I currently use that can cut the charging time in half or even more. What I do is split the pack and charge in parallel. So, doing that, you could cut charging in half. I’m doing that with current battery technology, so it could be done with a solid-state battery pack. It essentially multiplies the miles/minute of range put into a car. I think 10 minutes will be fine for most people, but you’ll see the pack splitting in racing applications. I think I’ve even seen a Ford patent for truck applications.

            BTW, It’s not a religion. It’s a great technology that, no matter how hard the little old ladies on this obscure little site clutch their pearls or how tight they get their little pink panties in a twist, is going to take over. Get used to it.

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          Are all the manufacturers using the exact same charging system and the exact same charging cord? I have not heard of that yet. If and when everything is uniform like our electric outlets and plugs in our homes then there will be wider acceptance. Most of us would welcome more uniformity and better and wider spread charging. I will wait till then but I am putting in the 220 in my new home’s garage so that when that happens I will be ready.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            “everything is uniform like our electric outlets and plugs in our homes”

            I would like to track down all the electricians who are installing residential 120 volt duplex outlets upside-down.

          • 0 avatar
            TR4

            @ToolGuy: I looked that up once and there is no standard for this in the National Electric Code. Most common seems to be ground down (so it “smiles” at you). Many electricians will reverse any outlet that is connected to a wall switch.

  • avatar
    TR4

    Never heard of RVers complaining about non-functioning electric hook ups at the campground. I wonder if the difference is who owns the cord? The EV charge points include the cord which is permanently attached to the charge point and plugs into the vehicle. Modeled after a gasoline fuel pump no doubt. RVers OTOH supply their own cord which plugs into the box at the campground. If it breaks they will be immediately aware of it and repair or replace it. Plus since they own the cord they will likely take care of it better than a public EV charging cord.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    I’ve seen EV stations sprout up all over the place. I towed a car trailer 1,400km round trip a week ago and was amazed.
    Several stations I’ve seen have been damaged by thieves stealing components.

    With fuel around 1.98/litre – 2.25/litre, I’ve seen more EV’s on the road. I’m surprised by the number of full sized pickups still on the road hauling sailboat fuel.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      I am surprised as well on how many large pickups are still being driven hauling nothing but 1 or 2 passengers. Prices of gas around me are not as bad as in Canada or other parts of the USA but they are over $5 a gallon and I have heard people complaining at the pump. Glad I got my Maverick I have been averaging 40 to 50 mpg in regular driving just following the speed limit. I set it on cruise on the interstate at 65 mph for 20 miles and got 51 mpg (longer distance the mpgs would be in the 30s because the regenerative braking recharges the battery and if you don’t use the brakes enough then it runs more on gas).

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Random EV Tipping Point Analysis:

    We have a dozen fresh eggs delivered each week (from a few streets over). In the past the eggs arrived via a newish well-maintained full size SUV (which may or may not have an EPA city fuel economy rating of 14 mpg).

    • Observation: Today’s delivery arrived in a very shiny very new EV.

    • Inductive Conclusion (Sherlock Holmes style): Rich people have Choices, know how to adapt, and will not hesitate to do so.

    [Big Oil, you have been warned.]

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Proletariat-Level Follow-On:

      • Schlubs like me will pay what it costs for petroleum, but as we watch the numbers on the display accumulate, our psyches are registering deep resentment which we might just recollect the next time we are presented with a choice of propulsion methods for our next ride.

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