Ask the Experts: What Can be Done to Improve the EV Charging Experience
Here’s the problem:
While EV sales have been growing exponentially year-over-year, EV charging infrastructure has not kept pace. As a result, EV owners are becoming increasingly unhappy with the existing charging framework. But, while a lot has been written about the critical need for more charging stations across the country, that’s not the only issue with EV drivers.
A recent study conducted by JD Power shows that EV owners are dissatisfied with several aspects of public charging—especially the reliability of public chargers, the speed of charging, safety while charging, and the availability of things to do while waiting for their vehicle to reach full power.
Finding the Solution
We sat down with Josh Veblen, the COO of ABS, and Farhan Sheikh, ABS’s Energy Engineer, to discuss what can be done to create a more positive EV charging experience. Here’s what we learned.
Question: Inoperable chargers are clearly a major annoyance for EV drivers. The JD Power report found that one in every five charging station visits ends without charging. Why are there so many malfunctioning chargers around?
Josh: “Well, while some chargers fail because of vandalism, many fail simply because they’re old and operating on outdated technology. EV charging has been around for a long time. GE actually produced the first public charger (the Electrant) in 1914. The first Tesla Supercharger opened in California in 2012.
Like any rapidly growing industry, EV charging has gone through a technology learning curve. Charger manufacturers have learned a lot over the past five years, and they’re using that knowledge to develop more reliable technology.”
Question: What can be done?
Josh: “Most of the major EV charging networks are working to replace older chargers with newer machines. Many of these new machines are equipped with components that can be swapped out quickly in the field if they malfunction. That will greatly reduce downtime. Beyond that, the obvious solution is 24/7 system monitoring combined with routine maintenance.
There are several EV charging management software options available now.
These programs help operators identify any charger issue before it becomes a major problem. Most include things like:
Real-time monitoring to track charging station status, energy consumption, and remaining charging time.
Scheduling and reservations programs so drivers can pre-book charging stations.
Online payment options.
Analytics such as usage data, peak times, and revenue generated.”
Farhan: “But the software can’t do everything. Proactive routine maintenance is critical. In addition to reducing downtime, proactive routine maintenance will increase charger lifespan. It should happen quarterly at a minimum and include:
Checking the power supply (connections, fuses, circuit breakers, etc.) to be sure they’re functioning correctly.
Inspecting electric cables and connections, charge ports, and cables to be sure they’re in good condition.
Checking for any physical damage resulting from extreme weather or vandalism
Checking the battery (if applicable)
Updating software as needed.
Replacing any defective parts.
Cleaning equipment and the area around the chargers.”
Power outages resulting from extreme weather events are the new normal. What can be done to ensure EV charging stations continue to operate when the grid fails?
Josh: “We recommend including renewable energy, like solar, combined with battery storage either as a primary energy source or as a backup. Not only does that ensure constant, reliable energy for the station, it’s better for the grid. And, once bidirectional charging becomes more widespread, solar + storage + chargers can actually support the grid.”
Safety and security while at EV charging stations is clearly another issue for EV drivers. A recent HeyCar survey found that 80.3% of respondents felt vulnerable when charging their EV. Farhan, what safety measures do you recommend should be included when constructing an EV charging station?
Farhan: “There’s a lot that can be done to improve safety at charging stations. The first, of course, would be installing optimal lighting. Currently, most public charging stations are located in parking lots, rest stops, or along rural highways that are often poorly lit after hours. Installing motion-censored lighting has proven to improve user experience. We also recommend that customers install surveillance cameras to boost safety and deter vandalism.
All charging stations should be equipped with fire extinguishers and emergency shut-off switches to handle any battery-related incidents. There should also be clear and visible signage indicating safety instructions and emergency contact numbers, especially if the station is unmanned.”
Josh: “Charger placement can also improve safety. For example, you don’t want chargers placed behind buildings or in an empty corner of a mall parking lot.
We always recommend placing chargers in highly visible places, regardless of the time of day.”
What can be done to reduce the time it takes to charge an EV while away from home?
Farhan: “We hear a lot about that. Of course, the time it takes to charge an EV depends on the depth of the battery that’s onboard the vehicle and the type and speed of charger used. Direct current fast chargers (DCFC) can charge a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) to 80% in 20 to 60 minutes. Currently, DCFCs are most commonly found along heavy traffic corridors. Level 2 chargers, like the ones usually found in retail and office locations, can take anywhere from 4 to 10 hours to get to 80%. So, if you decide to install Level 2 chargers, you should install several so that drivers don’t have to wait in line for access.
Josh: “Manufacturers are working constantly to improve EV battery performance and range. At the same time, new technology, such as battery swapping and wireless charging, promise to dramatically reduce charging times.”
What else does ABS normally recommend when designing a public charging station?
Josh: “There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Charging station design depends a lot upon location—and the amenities already available at that location. But, in addition to the safety and security amenities Farhan discussed, charging stations should include weather protection, like canopies, restrooms, cleaning supplies, trash and recycling bins, Wi-Fi access, and air for tires. Ideally, if they’re stand-alone locations, they should provide the same amenities as refueling stations/convenience stores do now.
At ABS, we always have the end-user in mind when we design and construct an EV charging station. If you create a better, safer, more reliable charging experience, EV drivers will become loyal, repeat customers to that location. And loyal customers are what our customers are looking for."