Charger Reliability: The Greatest Threat to EV Adoption

Dec. 22, 2023
Despite increased availability, J.D. Power reported that customer satisfaction with EV chargers continues to decline, as one out of every five sessions ends without charging

The introduction of electric vehicles ushered in a new era, giving consumers across the United States a way to actively participate in transitioning the transportation sector, which the Environmental Protection Agency says “is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with light-duty vehicles contributing more than half of the sector’s emissions.”

This movement has been so effective that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, EV sales in the U.S. could reach 40% of total passenger car sales by 2030.

But, to achieve these results, a major consumer concern must be addressed – EV charging.

For years, hesitations revolved around charger availability, but through massive private and government investments, the U.S. has committed to building a robust charging infrastructure to address these concerns.

However, despite increased availability, J.D. Power reported that customer satisfaction with both Level 2 charging and direct current fast chargers continues to decline.

The leading culprit? Charger reliability.

Surprisingly (and frustratingly), one out of every five visits reportedly ends without charging. According to the Electrification Institute, based on network data from across the U.S., the most common reasons for failed EV charging sessions include:

  • Station Connectivity (55%) – Failing to connect to the network for authentication.
  • Internal Station Faults or Errors (38%) – Any failure with the software and some hardware features.
  • Charging Connector or Cable (4%)

Although the broader failure category is known, the exact reason the failure occurred isn’t always easily identifiable.

“It’s not always easy to tell why a charging session failed. The software and hardware just aren’t there yet. Error codes aren’t on a standard, and they’re not all delivered in the same way. That makes it hard to narrow in on the problem,” said Dan O’Shea, Vice President of Business Development at ABB E-Mobility.  

Developing a national standard for reporting and recording failures is the first step that must be taken to correct these persistent issues. Once a standard is developed, EV charger owners and operators must realize that simply getting the machine in the ground and connected to grid power is not sufficient; there must be accountability for how the charger operates on a daily basis.

To start, the way chargers are maintained must be reevaluated regularly in order to prevent a failure from occurring.

“Once the charger is in the ground, we must make sure to have a scheduled preventive maintenance program, which involves providing a list of known parts that fail. For example, if the charger is in the desert, the filters will need to be replaced more often. With preventive maintenance, the wear and tear on a part is known, and when that part gets to a certain point, the system will let you know it needs replacing,” said O’Shea.

However, even with the best preventive maintenance program in place, failures can still occur, and when they do, efficient technician response is critical. Charger owners need around-the-clock access to trained, certified warranty technicians.

But not every charger owner can keep enough trained technicians on their payroll. In this case, the owners need to establish a service-level agreement with the hardware manufacturer, which experts say is a largely underutilized practice.

When a failure occurs, the charger owner gives the end user an estimated response time. But, if there isn’t a service-level agreement in place and the owner doesn’t have any available technicians, they have no way to fix the machine. These agreements ensure that charger owners can quickly resolve technical issues and maintain the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure standard of 97% uptime  a requirement for all EV charging infrastructures utilizing Federal funding. 

As the world races towards net zero, it will require a collaborative and forward-thinking mindset to create an infrastructure that can support the transition to electric vehicles. By developing a system focused on maintaining and improving charger reliability, consumer confidence can be regained, and the transition to e-mobility will be supported by a system ready to meet the growing demands of the industry. 

About the Author

Breanna Sandridge, Senior Editor

Breanna Sandridge is senior editor for EnergyTech and Microgrid Knowledge, both part of the energy group at Endeavor Business Media.

Prior to that, Breanna was managing editor for Machinery Lubrication and Reliable Plant magazines, both part of Noria Corp. She has two years experience covering the industrial sector.

She also is a 2021 graduate of Northeastern State University (Oklahoma) with a Bachelor's in English.