As the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) continues to accelerate, charging stations of all manner and size will become more prevalent in day-to-day life. And while some areas remain underserved by the number of stations available to drivers, those EV drivers who reside in areas with adequate charging infrastructure are becoming less concerned with finding a charge and more concerned with the station being operational when they arrive. This is charger anxiety, and it is among the largest barriers to the continued adoption of electric vehicles in North America.
Let’s talk about charger anxiety.
Today’s EV drivers are better equipped than ever to get where they need to go and find out where they can find a charge along the way. Increasing battery sizes, vehicle ranges, and the increasing efforts from both private and public stakeholders to deploy publicly available stations (approximately 32,000 charging ports across North America) are helping make range anxiety a less daunting challenge for drivers eager to make the transition to electric. The importance of continuing to expand the number of stations across North America is becoming better understood and cannot be overstated; however, EV drivers and the charging infrastructure providers and network operators who serve them are raising a second and equally important topic for consideration: ensuring that those charging stations are online and operational for drivers when they pull up to charge.
For example, imagine a driver is on their way to visit relatives in a city that is several hours away, and they intend to stop at a DC Fast Charger; however, when they do, they find that the charger is not operational. Maybe the station has malfunctioned, or maybe the cable attaching the station to the vehicle has been vandalized; whatever the case, station unavailability, called downtime, is a significant issue for everyone involved in the charging ecosystem, from the driver, to the site host to the station manufacturer. Downtime is the ultimate cause of charger anxiety, and this phenomenon is in large part responsible for the growing interest in the reliability of charging infrastructure.
“Charging anxiety is becoming a significant barrier to the acceleration of EV adoption in North America,” says Travis Allan, VP of Policy and Public Affairs at FLO. “If we expect the general population to transition to a more sustainable form of transportation, we need to ensure that the infrastructure that facilitates that transition is reliable, easy to use, and operational when drivers arrive.”
EV infrastructure providers, network operators and site hosts are all key stakeholders in accelerating the transition to electric vehicles and, as such, they need to work together to ensure they are providing the best possible charging experience to drivers. The first step in this process is to protect drivers from the charger anxiety caused by downtime and as an industry, this can be done by identifying and adhering to a set of industry standard quality of service metrics that measure uptime.
Transparency and consistency are the keys to quality.
Uptime is a key performance metric by which many leading charging infrastructure providers measure their quality of service. Is the public charging station operational when the user needs it? And while uptime is an easy thing to understand from a driver's perspective, there is significant progress to be made in the industry when it comes to standardizing the concept. How should we measure uptime? Who should be responsible for measuring it, and how should it be reported? Do we measure the average time between failures, or maybe the average time to repair after an issue is identified? What about things like vandalism or power outages? Should they be quantified and accounted for as part of the uptime calculation for manufacturers and network operators, or are those factors outside of their control excluded?
These questions all have merit, and there is no simple answer. However, raising awareness around the issue of charger uptime can help ensure the industry is working towards a positive charging experience for EV drivers and, in doing so, could help ease and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.
“Finding a transparent and consistent way to measure and report uptime is a key step in alleviating charger anxiety and, in turn, supporting the continued adoption of EVs” says Allan. “Even a miniscule fall in uptime figures can amount to a significant disruption in the EV charging experience. For example, at the recommended service standard of 98% uptime, a charging station would be operational for approximately 358 days of the year, give or take a few hours; however, if you drop that percentage just a few points to 95%, it works out to about 347 days a year. That’s eleven extra days of frustrated or potentially even stranded EV drivers, which makes these early conversations around station and network reliability so important.”
Everyone in the charging ecosystem is accountable for optimal uptime.
Establishing an understanding of what an optimal uptime is, and how that constitutes reliability in an EV charging experience, is the first step towards standardizing that experience. Choosing high quality stations, scheduling regular preventative maintenance, and streamlining communication channels between service providers and EV drivers (for example, via downtime notices on popular station-finding apps) are just a few of the steps that need to be taken before drivers can feel comfortable expecting their charge to be there when they need it. That, according to EV advocate and ChargeHub Executive Advisor Benoit Marcoux, is what really matters to drivers.
“From the EV driver perspective, certain things are more important than others,” says Marcoux, “an easy way to find a charge, a streamlined charging experience, responding to service issues quickly, and knowing station downtime in advance are the kinds of things that are going to ensure that current EV drivers are satisfied with public charging, and that future drivers are willing to make the transition to an electric vehicle. At the end of the day, utilities and governments are in the people business, and electromobility shouldn’t be any different. If you start putting the consumer first, the electric vehicle sales will follow.”
While the conversation around charger anxiety is relatively new as compared to range anxiety, it represents an important step for the EV charging industry. By working in concert to standardize uptime calculations and reporting across the industry, EV charging stakeholders have a chance to build a better, more reliable charging experience for drivers, and subsequently accelerate EV adoption across North America.