Reliable Public EV Charging Has a Long Way to Go

Public chargers are often out of commission or unavailable, which can make longer EV trips more complicated.

June 20, 2023

James Cobb, an EV driver who lives in Owasso, Oklahoma, told USA Today that infrastructure for EV charging “is just too sparse and unreliable.”

“Honestly, [public charging] has got a long way to go. It's far from as reliable as it needs to be,” he said.

Cobb told USA Today that smaller trips are easy due to his ability to charge at home. It’s the longer hauls that are difficult, including a recent trip he took to the University of Oklahoma, which was 150 miles away from his home.

Cobb usually stops at a charging station in Moore, Oklahoma, but during this trip, one of the four chargers wasn't working and another only delivered a limited number of kilowatts. He had to wait for three other vehicles to charge up before he could use one of the remaining chargers, making what is typically a 30-minute detour drag on more than an hour.

USA Today reports that public EV charging has been an issue for EV drivers across the country, especially drivers who can’t use Tesla's expansive Supercharger network. A recent J.D. Power report found that 20.8% of EV drivers using public charging stations through the end of the first quarter experienced charging failures or equipment malfunctions that left them unable to charge their vehicles.

“Public charging is by far the least satisfying aspect of owning an electric vehicle,” said Brent Gruber, executive director of global automotive research for J.D. Power.

There are numerous reasons why an EV charger can be rendered unavailable, including anything from broken screens, plugs and/or cords to payment system and network failures.

"Over time, you've had the output and the type of stations increase and dramatically change," Brendan Jones, CEO of EV charging company Blink, told USA Today. "With that, there's been more complexity. And more complexity brings in more points of failure."

Charging woes are considerably higher in the Pacific region than the rest of the country at just over 25% compared to less than 21% nationally, according to Gruber with J.D. Power. Another 2022 report found about a quarter of public fast chargers were broken in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"In any nascent industry, there's a technology learning curve," Ken Tennyson, charging company Electrify America's senior director of quality and conformance, told USA Today. But "we're rapidly transitioning over to hardware that has capitalized on everything we've learned over the last five-plus years."

"The whole industry has to step up," Jonathan Levy, chief commercial officer of EV charger company EVgo, told USA Today. "Some of that starts with the equipment. Some of it's the networking. Some of it is the vehicles, and some of it is consumer education. And I think all of that needs to tie together to make a great charging experience."

Also, lack of maintenance has been an issue with chargers, says Gruber. Some public charging companies do not own and operate the chargers, and site owners are then responsible for maintenance once they purchase the chargers. However, Gruber said some property owners have little incentive to pay for upkeep.

“If they don't want to pay for that maintenance, then the maintenance doesn't occur,” Gruber told USA Today. “They fall into a state of disrepair.”

Blink has changed its contracts to deal with this issue. If Blink sells a charging station to a business, Blink will shut down the charger if it’s not maintained, and it won’t appear on online charging maps.

“We're taking that aggressive step on a move-forward basis so customers don't go to broken chargers,” Jones said.

NACS offers the EV Charging Calculator, which allows retailers to assess the cost and profitability of offering EV chargers at their sites. The calculator focuses on what retailer utility costs associated with EV recharging are and what the corresponding revenue must be to recover those costs after allowing for potential ancillary in-store visits and purchase profitability.