DoT throws cash at charger reliability

Confidence in working chargers to support for long-distance travel a key hurdle to clear for EV adoption

DoT throws cash at charger reliability
The US has a public charger reliability problem

The US Department of Transportation (DoT) will provide $100mn in funding to repair or replace the country’s defective EV chargers, in an attempt to boost consumer confidence in public charging infrastructure.

As EV adoption reaches a c.7pc share of new light passenger vehicle sales — and with vehicles handling urban travel with relative ease — concerns still linger about the viability of electric long-distance travel, given poor availability and reliability records across public highway charging.

According to a recent report from consultancy JD Power, consumer satisfaction with public EV charging is at its lowest level since its study began in 2021, with public DC fast charging receiving the lowest satisfaction ratings.

“The declining customer satisfaction scores for public charging should be concerning to automakers and, more broadly, to public charging stakeholders," says Brent Gruber, the firm’s director of EV practice.

According to live data from the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC), there are currently 3,893 Level 2 and DC station locations classed as temporarily unavailable in the US, amounting to 7,267 public and private charge posts.

This equals 6pc of all public and private stations in the US needing whole or partial repair or replacement. But the government estimates that the pledged $100mn will be enough to fix or replace all chargers that are eligible for the funds — which is only those that can be used by the public without restriction.

However, independent industry expert Brad Templeton believes that the measures do not target the root cause of why so many chargers are faulty in the first place.

“Many of these broken stations were put in with subsidies, and almost all of them were put in without a significant business reason. Very few of them are a viable business,” he says.

As such, Templeton believes that owner-operators of chargers do not have compelling reason to spend time and money on maintenance of public charging.

In contrast, US OEM Tesla, market leader in terms of customer satisfaction, has a brand name to protect. Until its recent slew of deals to share their superchargers with rival OEMs, it was also a selling point for their EVs for customers to have exclusive access to a reliable network.

And, to some extent, the proof is in the pudding. OEMs have jumped into bed with a competitor precisely because of its network’s superior performance, whatever potential misgivings they might have about exposing their customers to the Tesla ecosystem. According to the same AFDC data, the Tesla supercharger network can boast that, out of its 31,500 US ports, only 12 are currently unavailable. 

Government plans

The Biden administration has several targets for EV charging infrastructure, including the aim of 500,000 public chargers by 2030, of which around 140,000 are in operation today. But a recent report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says that the US is on track to far outstrip that by building 1.2mn charging ports, including 1mn Level 2 charging ports and 200,000 DC fast chargers.

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