Majority of charging points left ‘out of service’ for months

The latest news from the world of EVs

Good morning and welcome back to The Fast Charge, the electric motoring newsletter. My name is Tom Riley and I’ll be your host.

In today’s edition, the world’s first on-demand charging point gets a boost and I review the maintenance* of the UK’s infrastructure.

*Correction. Perhaps I should say ‘unmaintained’, as it seems broken charging stations are being left to fester for months.

If you do find The Fast Charge interesting, please do share it or feel free to drop me an email at tomrileylondon@gmail.com if you have any questions or comments.

In the news…

RISE UP: Private registrations of pure-electric vehicles surged by 53.3% nationwide in the 12 months to September 2020, the RAC has found. The RAC has also undertaken a review of registrations for different regions, their numbers show the south and east of England are the highest for EV registrations, which tallies with the higher rate of EV breakdowns attended by their emergency patrols in those regions. 

PORTABLE VOLTS: The US company SparkCharge - self-proclaimed as being the world’s very first on-demand and mobile electric vehicle charging network - has announced new partnerships with companies Allstate, Spiffy and Mark Cuban (of Shark Tank fame) to launch their mobile charging network. The company has developed a device called ‘Roadie’ which is essentially an electric jerry can. Their service means motorists can request a charge using their BoostEV service and the ‘Roadie’ will be brought to them. SparkCharge is thought to be about to raise $5 million for its rollout in the US. I’m torn on whether I think this is utterly stupid or a stroke of genius. According to one report, this service has reached Manchester in the UK - perhaps for breakdown coverage though.

SUPPLY RISK: Elon Musk and Tesla have become technical advisers to a nickel mine in New Caledonia in a move to secure its supply of the battery metal. Musk has called the supply Tesla’s “biggest concern” according to the FT. Nickel has risen in price by 26% in the last year as EVs have surged around the world. Generally in the motoring market, there are concerns by manufacturers about the availability of parts - the shortage of chips globally is still impacting many. Read more.

FRESH BOOST: Even though China is probably the most advanced electrified motoring nation in the world, a senior minister in China has vowed this week they will encourage “steady increases” in spending on cars and “abolish excessive restrictions” on the sale of used vehicles in order propel EV sales further.

PRE-OWNED: It’s not just China that wants to see a growing market for used electric cars, Tom Barnard, editor in chief of Electrifying.com, has suggested buyers should get access to interest-free loans to buy used EVs. In Scotland, this is the case where motorists can get up to £20,000. “Being able to access funding interest-free for five years would make low-emission cars price-comparable with a petrol or diesel for many motorists, even before the lower running costs are taken into account,” Barnard told Car Dealer magazine. Read more.

OLYMPIC EFFORT: The car mag Autocar has done a really nice analysis of the state of charging in the UK. Essentially teasing out how do we get ready for 2030. It includes quotes from BP Pulse, Instavolt but very interestingly Sir John Armitt, chairman of the UK National Infrastructure Commission. He was the guy that prepared the UK for the Olympics in 2012. Armitt suggested that without the industry working together with regulators/lawmakers, “by the time we get to 2030, the government will need to back off its policy or extend the expiry date on new petrol and diesel car sales.” Great read.

NEW TAYCAN: Porsche has revealed a new Cross Turismo off-road estate version of its popular EV the Taycan. The new model is a little bit higher - should you need to cross speed bumps or a kerb - and comes with 1,200 litres of load space - should you want to start bootlegging. The best model you can buy of the new version comes packed with 751 horses in its motor but a range of just 260 miles. The slightly good news is it can charge up to 80% in about 23 minutes, should you come across Thor at your petrol station. Read more.

Out of service charging points, part 1

If you have ever been on the charging point finder ZapMap, you’ll increasingly notice the hundreds of red labelled markers scattered across the UK.

These red points indicate a charging station is out of service - either because a supplier has told ZapMap or a user has reported it.

Given the increasingly fast rollout of EVs across the UK, I thought I’d take look at how well our public infrastructure is being maintained. The results were alarming, which is why I’m splitting this story into two parts!

First off, to work out if there is an issue I did a random survey of 100 public charging points on ZapMap listed as ‘out of service’ to see how long they had been left unfixed, the outcome:

  • 71 were out of order for over 1 month

  • 45 of those for over 3 months; and

  • 26 were bust for over half a year!

Of the 100 I reviewed, only 20 charging stations had been reported as out of order in the last week. Perhaps most distressing of all, 14 in my 100 had been left unfixed for more than 1 year.

I know you might think my review could be biased, but honest to the almighty, I encourage anyone to take a look at ZapMap and just click on the first few out of service stations you find.

My survey covered 100 broken charging points from across the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). You can see a full list of my results here.

All points selected were chosen totally randomly.

Though my review is only a survey of 100 broken charging points - and there are many, many more listed - it is reflective of a real problem: maintenance of charging infrastructure is faltering.

And it’s not just cowboy operators who are leaving their stations to fester. The provider which came up in my review repeatedly was BP Pulse. 

Likewise, the issue of poorly maintained chargers seems to impact non-London towns most. This is because London is now swamped with lamp-post charging points, so even though there may be a lot broken, there’s often some alternatives nearby.

However, the same can’t be said for other major towns.

Towns cut off

Here are just a few examples of the UK towns struggling to maintain their network.

First up, Newcastle. There are around 73 charging points listed on ZapMap in the city. Of those, 18 are broken - that’s 1 in 4.

Further up the road in Edinburgh, it’s a similar story. There are about 50 points listed of which 9 are broken. And even down South in eco-friendly Brighton where there are a whopping 230 or so charging points listed, there are still about 30 broken.

Even Oxford, a city at the centre of trailing blazing EV trials has 1 in 5 charging stations listed as out of service. And God help any Russians planning to visit Salisbury in an EV, 7 of their 15 are offline.

What’s so strange is the number of broken ones is often very low. However, because these towns don’t have many charging points yet at all, it only takes a few to break for people to be cable-tied.

We can’t let charging points, which are going to be key for us transitioning to a green nation, to become the new ‘pot holes’ of this country. As more and more stations get installed by councils up and down the UK, there needs to be tougher action on suppliers to keep the public stations working.

BUT, enforcement rules should already be in place.

According to Transport for London’s ‘Electric Vehicle Charge Point Installation Guidance’ (December 2019) - which is and has been used by councils delivering schemes - on the topic of supplier maintenance they suggest:

“Maintenance is crucial for ensuring charge points are in good working order to build user trust in the facilities and also to encourage more future users.

There should be a maintenance agreement between the charge point manufacturer and the borough or private customer; this will need to be agreed as part of the procurement process. A maintenance plan should include regular checks and an agreement for timely necessary repairs by maintenance crews.”

So, the good news is that councils will have, as part of their deals with charging point operators, defined agreements on the upkeep of their infrastructure.

However, from what I can see, urgency around fixing broken stations certainly doesn’t seem to be at the top of operators minds. Either that’s because their agreement offers lenient timeframes - which would be mad - or operators are just failing.

If it’s the latter, the good news is TFL had a suggestion for enforcement:

“Contracts could include penalties or fines to ensure charge points are fixed within an acceptable timeframe.”

Kabang! The maintenance agreements councils have with operators might include penalties if they fail to fix in time. Although, it doesn’t read as though it’s a definite certainty - but surely strange not too.

I now have just two questions:

  1. What maintenance agreements do councils have?

  2. How many fines have been issued?

And that’s why I’m spending today sending FOIs to London councils. Hopefully, in a few weeks, we’ll know a bit more for part 2 of this story.

For now, though, the UK remains with an increasing number of festering charging points.

By Tom Riley