Reliability of electric vehicle charging infrastructure: Assessing a critical factor in the transition to sustainable mobility.

Reliability-of-electric-vehicle-charging-infrastructure-Assessing-a-cr-1 Electric-vehicles

The transition from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs) is important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. However, this transition is highly dependent on the availability of reliable public charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

A recent Electric Vehicle Charging Data Performance & Reporting study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, evaluated the functionality of public direct current fast charging (DCFC) stations in the San Francisco Bay Area using empirical on-site assessments.

The results show a significant gap between reported and actual charging reliability, highlighting the need to address the reliability of EV infrastructure. This report summarizes the methodology and key findings of the study, analyzes the main thesis of the gap between claimed and verified charger reliability, and reveals the implications of unreliable charging for drivers, businesses, and the transition to sustainable transportation.

Study Summary.

The study evaluated all 181 publicly available DCFC charging stations in the greater Bay Area that included 657 combined CCS connectors. At each station, researchers attempted to initiate a charging session at each working CCS connector. A connector was considered serviceable if it charged a test EV for at least two minutes. The study found that only 72.5% of the 657 CCS plugs were serviceable, indicating a charger reliability of 72.5%. When you consider that the uptime claimed by EV service providers (EVSPs) is 95-98%, this is a significant shortcoming.

The researchers attributed the failed connectors to hardware and software failures, payment system failures, initialization failures, network connectivity issues, and connector damage. Subsequent evaluation showed little improvement in overall functionality, indicating inconsistent maintenance and problem resolution at DCFC public stations. The findings highlight the need for accurate uptime, reliable third-party verification, and increased transparency on the reliability of public electric vehicle charging stations.

Thesis Analysis.

The main thesis emerging from this study is that advertised EV charging uptime does not match actual reliability, which negatively impacts the experience of EV drivers. EVSPs claim 95-98% uptime for their networks, however, only 72.5% of plugs were found to be operational. This shows a discrepancy between the claimed and actual reliability of the chargers.

Several factors are likely contributing to this discrepancy. First, EVSPs may rely on internal diagnostics rather than empirical estimates, which can lead to missing hardware faults. Failures in the payment system may not be recorded as downtime. Temporary software failures that are resolved automatically are not counted in uptime metrics. Communication problems affecting payment initiation may not be recorded. Only sustained, system-detected failures can affect the reported uptime.

In addition, there is no universal definition of uptime or verification methodology. Metrics appear to focus on reported system failures rather than faults affecting the customer. Vague terminology such as “uptime” and inconsistent calculations allow EVSPs to report unrealistic reliability numbers. Without third-party validation, the reported uptime remains unreliable from the EV driver’s perspective.

In summary, the study revealed an alarming discrepancy between claimed and validated charger functionality, which is due to inadequate definitions, measurement approaches, transparency, and data validation. Addressing this problem requires accurate uptime standards, mandatory third-party audits, improved diagnostics and reporting, and changes in maintenance practices. Above all, charger reliability metrics must be aligned with the capabilities of EV users.

Consequences of unreliable charging infrastructure.

The unreliability of public charging infrastructure identified in this study has troubling implications on several fronts. First, drivers may experience range anxiety, the risk of grounding, and the inconvenience of faulty chargers, undermining confidence in electric vehicles. Second, businesses are increasingly relying on public chargers to serve customers and employees. Unreliable chargers create liabilities and discourage EV adoption. Third, unpaid charging caused by faults results in lost revenue for charger suppliers. Finally, charger defects lead to wasted electricity and slow emissions reductions. Together, these consequences emphasize the urgent need to improve the reliability of infrastructure for electric vehicles.

For drivers, failed charging attempts increase fears of running out of charge on the road. The industry recommends maintaining public charger reliability above 95% to ensure the reliability of long-distance electric vehicle travel. The 72.5% reliability rate found in this study could leave drivers stranded, making electric vehicle trips impractical. Moreover, unreliable charging delays stop times, causing delays and frustration. Such negative experiences create distrust of electric vehicles and discourage their mass adoption.

Businesses offering public charging also need high reliability. Office buildings, retail stores, and other locations install chargers to serve customers and employees. Faulty chargers lead to negative experiences and deprive businesses of benefits. Some establishments provide free chargers as a bonus, accepting the cost of wasted electricity use due to non-functioning devices. Unreliable equipment also incurs maintenance costs. These financial losses and customer inconveniences discourage businesses from supporting charging infrastructure.

At the same time, charging service providers lose revenue from unpaid sessions caused by technical and billing issues. Hardware malfunctions also incur hardware replacement and maintenance costs. Loss of electricity due to charger malfunctions represents an inefficient power supply, which is contrary to sustainability goals. From an environmental perspective, poor charger performance delays significant reductions in transportation emissions.

Overall, the consequences of poor charger reliability are multifaceted and affect key stakeholders in the EV ecosystem, as well as hinder the achievement of economic and environmental goals. Therefore, improving the reliability of public charging infrastructure is imperative.

Strategies to improve charger reliability.

The transition to reliable consumer-oriented charging networks requires a concerted effort by all stakeholders on several fronts. First, accurate consensus standards are needed to define and measure uptime from the EV user’s perspective. Second, mandatory third-party verification of uptime claims through on-site functional assessments will ensure accuracy. Third, charging networks should prioritize maintenance, problem solving, and infrastructure upgrades to maximize uptime. Fourth, advanced diagnostics and data analytics will proactively identify issues. Lastly, transparency and performance reporting will increase public confidence.

Commonly accepted uptime definitions based on successful customer charging, appropriate diagnostic customization, and regular external audits are important starting points for improving reliability. Charger suppliers should also optimize maintenance procedures and response times, minimizing station downtime. Challenges such as payment system failures should not be overlooked. Ongoing investment in infrastructure should improve resilience in both hardware and software.

Sophisticated monitoring, predictive analytics using artificial intelligence, and early detection of anomalies will further increase uptime. Transparency is equally important. Regular public reporting of performance that supports policymakers’ decisions is necessary for stakeholders to assess progress. With concerted efforts to implement these key strategies, electric vehicle charging networks will be able to achieve the high levels of reliability required for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

In conclusion, this study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, objectively assessed the reliability of chargers in the San Francisco Bay Area and found a significant gap between claimed and actual uptime. This indicates that the claimed reliability metrics do not match the actual functionality that impacts drivers.

Unreliable charging infrastructure is fraught with negative consequences

For confidence in electric vehicles, businesses providing charging services, charging network revenues and costs, electricity efficiency and progress in reducing emissions. Methodological improvements in uptime, measurement, transparency, diagnostics, and maintenance are needed for the transition to electric vehicles.

With coordinated efforts to develop specific strategies, electric vehicle charging infrastructure can achieve the high reliability performance required by the electrified transportation of the future.

This empirical study provides a valuable objective assessment of the current state of reliability, emphasizing the importance of accurate measurement and transparency along with technical improvements to realize the promise of seamless and sustainable electric mobility.

Daniel Davenport is an Atlanta-based automotive expert specializing in software-defined vehicles, connected mobility ecosystems, and smart manufacturing. With nearly three decades of experience, he is currently a Hybrid Network and Cloud Solutions Specialist at NTT and is an AWS Certified Cloud Specialist.

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