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Special Report: Is 99% EV charger reliability possible?
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Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a weekly British EV newsletter.
In today's bumper edition…a special report on whether 99% charger reliability is possible, including data from Zap-Map and expert insights.
Elsewhere and further below… ubitiricty launches smart charging lampposts, motor manufacturing returns to Scotland, and Elon Musk reveals his Semi – and it’s huge!
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Special Report: Is 99% reliability possible?
There are currently around 17 EVs for each public EV charger. And if you think that sounds quite high, when you filter that down to solely rapid devices, it rockets to 90 cars per station.
This isn’t necessarily a problem. Two-thirds of motorists have driveways which will mean most drivers can recharge at home and may only use public networks sparingly. But a third – millions of people in flats, terraced housing, or urban centres – will need to rely on public charging all the time.
With this challenge growing in the front window, it was welcome that in March 2022 the UK government made a bold commitment that rapid chargers – those delivering speeds of 50kW or more – will need to meet 99% minimum reliability standards by the end of 2023.
It sounds great, but everyone from owners to networks are still stuck on what it means in reality. And, more importantly, whether it is achievable. So, today we’re going to try and answer the big question… is 99% possible?
The state of reliability
Before we even begin to answer such an expansive question, we need to understand our starting point. And thanks to data provided to The Fast Charge by Zap-Map, it seems that we may not be as far away from 99% as we believe.
Based on Zap-Map’s analysis, which uses data from chargepoint operators and does not include user updates, in September this year across their devices they observed 6.10% being out of service – that’s a reduction of 8.37% in June. This potentially means we are only 5% away from hitting the government’s ambition.
However, it’s when you compare the reliability of EV chargers before and after 2021 that the pictures get more interesting.
As you might expect, chargers installed pre-2021 are not as reliable as those installed more recently. In September, Zap-Map recorded the number of older devices (those pre-2021) out of service at 8.98%, this is compared to those installed in 2021 or later which stood at 3.91%.
Since 2021, nearly 14,000 EV chargers have been installed – meaning around 20,000 were put into the ground before 2021.
Melanie Shufflebotham, COO and Co founder of Zap-Map, commented: “While it is certainly a challenge for charge point operators to keep device downtime to a minimum, the latest reliability results from Zap-Map clearly show that charging devices installed before 2021 pose the biggest problem for operators.”
The data from Zap-Map suggests operators of older devices are improving though. While those out of service pre-2021 stood at nearly 9% in September, looking back three months earlier it was nearly 12% – a large improvement.
Maintaining the network
One of the challenges chargepoint operators face is how to maintain all their chargers at scale against the increasing tidal wave of new EV drivers. Especially as those using public funding via the Office of Zero Emission Vehicles are required to keep their devices maintained – otherwise the funding can be clawed back.
Based on networks I’ve spoken to and heard from, literally every operator manages it differently. Some collate problems together and then send out an engineer to fix a load in one fell swoop, others deliver fixes more immediately using mechanics on standby.
But this assumes physical issues, whereas increasingly operators can sort fixes remotely. Given each rapid charger has enough electronics to fill three computers as well as two sim cards, a lot of the time problems lie in the back end.
One charging network often applauded for being extremely reliable is Tesla’s Superchargers– the largest rapid network in the UK with 967 devices. What people may be surprised to know is it’s only serviced by a small team of engineers – operating out of five retrofitted Model Xs. And they don’t just cover Blighty, they are responsible for the entire Europe infrastructure - a whole 10,000 devices.
This perhaps underlines how software problems, rather than hardware, is shaping the future of EV charger reliability. But perhaps that might change as EV’s become more prevalent.
John Dyson, Development Manager at DC power supply and EV charger specialists, Advance Product Services, told me his team has noted a rise in human-caused problems at rapid chargers.
"Damage and vandalism of chargers is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. We're seeing smashed screens and a massive increase in cable theft,” explains John, though adds that, “some of it is accidental, such as someone driving over a loose cable."
The missing pieces
When you encounter an error with an EV charger, the first place people are going to direct their blame is on the network. As I am all too guilty, it’s easy to shower criticism for broken chargers at the brand you see on the device.
Though these networks are responsible, the actual charging devices they use are built by manufacturers like ChargePoint, KemPower, EVBox, Tritium, etc. And these companies, much like in other industries, are in the throes of a supply crisis.
While it’s easy to blame a shortage of semiconductors, according to people I’ve spoken to it’s also sometimes a case that a piece needed to fix a device in the UK sits in warehouses abroad.
So, whenever a fix is needed or uptick in demand for parts, it is currently taking weeks for engineers to receive them – meaning in the interim networks can do nothing but sit on their hands taking hurtful comments from people like yours truly.
"It's often the case that networks would send an engineer tomorrow, but if there are no parts there is no point,” says John from APS. “At the moment, it can take anything from 2 days to 2 weeks or even a month to receive parts - it's a very common problem.”
John adds, “I don't want to say the 'B' word, but Brexit hasn't helped."
During my conversation with John about parts supply, he told me that pre-pandemic some chargepoint makers based in Europe would send engineers over to the UK by plane with a backpack full of parts. It’s for this reason that his company now keeps its own store of reserves just in case.
The supply of parts is just one of two big challenges for the reliability of devices, the other lies in the small print (literally).
Under the current government guidance, chargepoint manufacturers in the UK are required to have “an on-site 3-year warranty on parts and installation.” Additionally, “all chargepoints must have a minimum operational life of 3 years.”
However, is three years of operational life (and support from its maker) sustainable for a piece of critical infrastructure?
Those in the sector don’t seem to think so, with several people suggesting there were already a growing number of ‘orphan chargers’ – those which are out of warranty and have essentially been left to rot by cash-poor or uninterested operators.
I can understand a company not wanting to commit to serving its buyers for years and years. However, the OZEV advice that the life of a charger should only be a minimum of three years seems unhelpful.
With the industry potentially on the cusp of having hundreds of thousands more chargers rolled out, surely OZEV should look to lift that minimum to raise the quality. Naturally, I’m sure most devices on the market today will last beyond three years, but we only need to look at those figures from Zap-Map above to see that having chargers that don’t age well will bring down overall reliability long-term.
So is it achievable?
Despite promising regulations in Summer, the details of the government’s standards remain under wraps. The only recent detail we’ve had is that live data from chargers may be key – both for government and consumer monitoring. Though, this isn’t always reliable.
As an example, a couple of months ago BBC Scotland reported that one in four chargers (23.5%) were unavailable. However, an analysis shared by Calum Edmunds and Ryan Sims from the University of Strathclyde showed that over half of those the BBC judged as being unavailable (13.6%) had simply lost communication – aka no longer sending live data to the operator – which doesn’t mean it’s not working.
“The government’s legislation for 99% uptime on rapid devices – which will require compliance in 2024 – will be difficult to meet without improvements to reporting, maintenance and replacement of devices, particularly those installed pre 2021,” believes Melanie of Zap-Map.
“There should of course be a focus on getting new devices into the ground. But if the UK's charging infrastructure is to be fit for purpose, and meet the needs of a growing population of EV drivers, there also needs to be significant investment to ensure chargers remain in excellent working condition moving forward."
Of the sector, John at APS believes there is "will to achieve" the 99% ambition, but that there's "a long way to go and we're moving in the right direction"
The UK’s charging landscape evidently has significant challenges ahead. However, to me, it is totally in the realm of possibility to reach 99% reliability. Now the government needs to show its hand.
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In the last week…
BIG SEMI: Tesla has unveiled its first production versions of its HGV (called the Semi) which are being delivered to PepsiCo. The Semi was first mooted in 2017 and Elon Musk revealed last week his HGV will come with 500 miles of range, even when loaded with over 36 tonnes. What’s utterly mad is that it apparently charges 0-70% in 30 minutes – using a 1-megawatt charger. It will cost initially $150k for a 300 mile version and $180k for the 500 mile one. If you want to learn all about the Tesla Semi then read this deep dive – written by my friend and fellow newsletter writer Jaan of the EV universe – whose insights caught the attention of Musk himself not once, but twice last week.
SMARTER CHARGING: ubitricity, the largest charging network in the UK, last week revealed new pricing and launched lamppost smart charging. The standard rate for using ubitricity has lowered to 45p per kWh from 49p per kWh. However, the network has introduced peak pricing of 79p per kWh that will apply from 4pm until 7pm each day. That is a high amount, which is why ubitricity has also announced new smart charging. In short, drivers who plug in from 12:00PM (midday) will be given the option to automatically schedule their charge to start after the peak window has finished (from 7pm). The new smart charging initially launched with 1,000 lampposts but it’s expected to be rolled out to 90% of its network by mid-December. Toby Butler, UK Managing Director of ubitiricty, said, “the launch of our Smart charging feature gives customers the option to skip peak charges between 4-7pm. This feature will save customers money whilst also encouraging a reduction in peak pressure on the grid.” Learn more.
NEW MILESTONE: Speaking of smart charging, the firm Ohme has revealed its installed more than 5000 EV chargers for Motability Scheme drivers, an initiative led by Motability – which enables people with disabilities to lease wheelchair-accessible vehicles. According to Motability Operations, the number of customers swapping to an EV has more than tripled in the last year. Read more.
LATEST FIGURES: Positive data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Trades yesterday revealed the new car market grew for the fourth month in a row in November. All-electric vehicles made up one in five new registrations, the largest monthly share this year. Additionally, the Tesla Model Y was the 2nd best seller last month. Read more. Elsewhere, SMMT unveiled electric van registrations grew by 15% last month compared to the same time in 2021, with 15,039 delivered so far this year. It’s all coming up Milhouse.
SCOTTISH MOTOR: Speaking of sunshine, some great news for EV manufacturing in the UK. A start-up called Munro Vehicles, based in Scotland, yesterday unveiled its all-electric 4x4. It’s supremely great to see. I first wrote about Munro’s plans in March last year, and the ambitions of the two founders – Russell Peterson and Ross Anderson – seem to have fully come to reality. Even the starting price of £50,000 is the same as they said in 2021. The Munro Mk_1 has been designed from the ground up with off-roading, long service, and ease of repair in mind. The company expects sales in sectors such as mining, construction, and agriculture. In 2024, Munro will expand from its current headquarters in East Kilbride to a new purpose-built factory in central Scotland, where production will scale to more than 250 units per year initially, leading to the creation of 300 new jobs. The Munro is the first light vehicle to enter production in Scotland in more than four decades. Bravo! Read more.
MOTORING ON: In other good news, UK Export Finance last week announced they’d guaranteed a £600m loan to Ford to double down on its commitment to manufacturing electric powertrains in Essex and Merseyside. Read more.
SCHOOL SCOOTERS: In not-so-good news, new statistics from the Department for Transport suggests e-scooter accidents are still overwhelmingly prevalent in teenagers. The chart below shows the reported casualties up to June 2022 – the latest figures.
As I have said before, most collisions involving e-scooters is occurring over school start/finish times (see graph below). The problem is private e-scooters – which are totally unpoliced but illegal on public highways – are freely sold. No doubt a popular gift at Christmas. Meanwhile, shareable e-scooters are highly regulated. It’s estimated 429 seriously injured were seriously injured in the 12 months to June – an increase of 49%. Meanwhile, 12 people were killed.
UPCOMING EVENT: I hope everyone who attended had a good time at the London EV Show last week. As a reminder, at the start of next week is the annual EV Summit in Oxford. I’m not going but please do drop me a line with any gossip if you are.
By Tom Riley | Check my Linktree for LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter