I recently wrote an article sharing how EV charging operators need to take women’s safety seriously and have gotten some good feedback from that article. It also led me to Kate Tyrrell, who founded ChargeSafe. Kate and I had a lovely conversation and she shared her own horror story, which led to her creating a solution that would help not just women, but everyone, feel safe while charging. It could help EV charging operators to keep their customers safe. It should be noted that landlords of EV charging sites should hold some responsibility for keeping their customers safe.
The Creation Of ChargeSafe
In our chat, Kate shared why she created ChargeSafe — starting with her story. Also, please note that any reference to the term charge point is for charging ports at charging stations, not the company ChargePoint. There are several EV charging providers that she referred to during the interview.
“I was given an EV in September 2020. It was a huge gift and I’m very grateful. I think I was the only one of my friends to have an electric vehicle because it came with my job, so I had no idea what to expect. Before that, I’d driven a diesel car. I felt very guilty going to my job interview.”
Kate explained that the company she worked for, MyEnergi, gave her a Hyundai Kona EV, which has a 64-kilowatt battery. She’s able to get, on average, 240 miles of range when it’s fully charged.
Although she founded ChargeSafe, Kate also works as the events and relationship manager for MyEnergi, so she has to do a lot of traveling. She charges her EV with a Zappi, which comes in handy at various charging stations. The Zappi is an EV charger that includes an optional charging mode to utilize 100% clean energy generated from wind and solar.
Kate explained that while charging on the go, she’s had some sketchy experiences where she was in a situation that wasn’t so safe. These situations included charging in locations where there was no lighting, the charger was tucked away in the bushes yet exposed her to being robbed, and the arrangement of the charger left her car fully exposed while she had to focus her attention on paying and setting up the charger. There were several instances where the charging stations were not operable — they were not working or were having technical issues.
Kate noted that she always plans to have an extra 30 miles of charge on her traveling time just in case of emergencies. This one time, she used all 30 of those miles one night while going from broken charger to broken charger.
“One night, I was driving back. It was quite late at night — about 11 pm in the UK. It was really dark and there was a road closure so I ended up looping around quite a few times, and in the UK, when the roads are closed, they put up temporary signage, but they’re not well lit so you don’t know where you’re going and I got very lost very quickly.
“I ended up using that excess mileage that I should have had to play with, so it resulted in me going into a car park that was actually well lit, but there was nobody there except for a racing car that was packed with teens and I felt instantly a little bit on edge. I got out and tried to plug in the charge and the charger wasn’t communicating with the car.
“I thought, ‘I don’t really feel that safe here anyway, so I’m just gonna move on.’ And I found another charger in a car park about two minutes around the corner. It was quite a well-built industrial area, so there were a few chargers for me to pick from.”
This one was in a parking lot of a supermarket chain and she thought that it would be somewhat safe. However, the stores were closed and this particular one had most of the lights off to conserve power.
“There was no light coming from the store and the charger itself was under a tree right at the far back end in a corner of the car park, which was right next to a conveniently placed dark alleyway.”
Naturally, Kate felt a bit unsure of her safety in this situation. Anyone could have been lurking in that alley waiting to rob an unsuspecting EV owner.
“I pulled up as close to the charge point as I could. I jumped out of the car with my keys in my hand. The car’s unlocked because it needs to be to push open the charge door. I had my mobile in my hand just in case something was going to happen and my debit card to pay to initiate the charge.
“I jumped out and ran around to the machine which was a badly lit LED screen. So, as I’m doing this, I’ve realized that the car’s completely unlocked. It’s behind me and my attention isn’t there it’s here. So, when you’re staring at a tiny little screen and you’re just trying to focus on the problem in front of you, you’re actually leaving yourself wide open to having any vulnerability.”
The charger wasn’t working, so she quickly went back to her car and locked everything. She decided to call the service provider for help.
“I got through to a woman and there was something about driving for five hours and I was already quite stressed and was eager to get home. It was a really long day. I just burst into tears and I felt humiliated that I was having to call. I see myself as a strong, independent woman and when you’re kind of put into a position where you have to admit and accept that you’re probably not as strong and independent as you thought you were, it is embarrassing. And she couldn’t remotely start the charge and I was becoming more and more panicked about my surroundings.”
Kate ended the call — her focus was on safety and getting her car charged so she could get home. She told me that she called the provider again and got a message to the woman that she did get home safely.
“At this moment in time, I had 24 miles left on my range. There was one more charge point that I could try within the local area before I was running out of options. I drove to that one, which was at a Shell station.
“It was a Shell New Motion charger and you think that it would have been really lit up. The charger was around the back in a dark corner and the petrol station itself wasn’t being manned. It closed for the night, so unless petrol and diesel drivers were paying at the pump, they wouldn’t have gotten any service either. But again, the charger wasn’t working. So I couldn’t use that.”
Kate was down to 22 miles of range left and the next charger was 24 miles away. She was able to get to that charger by driving the car conservatively and stretching out the range. She drove on the shoulder of the highway with the hazards on at 15 miles an hour and turned off the heat. It took her an hour and a half to drive 24 miles and she was shaking the whole time — worried she would be stopped by the police, but also worried about breaking down on the side of the highway.
“I arrived at the charger on zero percent. I made it to the charger because my partner was able to look up exactly where in the carpark it would be located. When you drive in, there’s no immediate signage pointing to where the EV charge point is. You can actually get lost within the service station.
“When I pulled up, it was dimly lit but there were facilities nearby. There were no cameras covering the charger either. It really kind of pissed me off. I’d been driving an EV at that point for just over a year and I’ve had some sketchy experiences before on Twitter. I’ve called out the charge point operators and asked them to do better and copying in the mapping application providers and saying ‘can you show us the information that tells us how safe a charge point location is?’ And nobody had done anything about it.”
Genesis Of ChargeSafe
Kate explained that she was just venting to her boyfriend about it and he said that perhaps she should change it.
“Why don’t you do something to change it? You feel passionate about this and you know how the EV community works. You’re in the industry.”
She explained that he’s a software developer and they put their heads together to come up with something. ChargeSafe was born just before Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP26), which she attended. On the drive to the conference, she was pitching ideas to improve safety back and forth over the phone. At the conference, she met with a couple of key people in the industry and shared her idea with them.
This is when she began to take ChargeSafe very seriously and she asked people what the EV charging networks could change to make people feel safer at charging stations. Kate told me that it became apparent that one of the issues was accessibility and other details like the cable management, whether or not the screen was low enough, or how easy it was for an EV owner to pay for charging.
“All of the feedback that we got from Twitter, we worked backward on it trying to understand what measures we could put in place. So what we ended up with is a 30-point inspection program that we’re planning to deliver out to every single charge point in the UK, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. We do have ambitions to hopefully push that to Europe and overseas. We would love to bring it to America as well.”
ChargeSafe will physically inspect the charging stations and analyze their location, environment, facilities, accessibility, and rate these. Also, ChargeSafe allows the public — EV charging site users — to share their own reviews as to how safe these charging stations are. Together, the two ratings will give a definitive ChargeSafe overall rating.
“It’s going to be inspectors who are completely unbiased and who will be going off a marking system and then also the public. Things could change daily. A lightbulb might go out or some crime that’s quite serious could have been committed at the site. It could be something like graffiti or vandalism. We can’t physically be at every single charge point every day, so we thought it was important to have that real-time data to be fed back into the system, and we are committed to revisiting those charge points once per quarter.”
ChargeSafe Will Call Out EV Charging Providers For Lack Of Safety Measures
Kate explained that the goal of ChargeSafe was to call out EV charging providers for not doing their part in keeping EV charging stations safe or kept up.
It will put pressure on the providers to perform maintenance on their chargers and fix them if they don’t work. It also gives the networks who say they want to do better a way to do so — the feedback that is necessary.
“What we’re planning on is, because it is a business, we need to monetize it somehow. We’ll be receiving an income from data requests to the third-party applications such as the mapping applications, so if they want to know what the ChargeSafe rating is at Unit A and at Unit B, we will charge them something like 0.001 pounds per request, which is half I think what Google Maps actually charges for similar data requests.
“As the industry grows and the amount of EV charging infrastructures grow and drivers requesting that information grows, that will be a steady growth of business revenue. In the meantime, we plan to set up the networks with their own datasets — a real-time dashboard that shows them how their units are doing, how they’ve been inspected, where they’re falling down on, and what they’re doing really great at as well. We want them to be able to turn their negatives into positives.”
Kate explained that one of the main benefits is that charging providers will have this data all the time and be charged a subscription fee for the full breakdown of the data. Even if they choose not to pay for the full breakdown of the data, the charging providers will still receive a rating but just won’t have access to the breakdown of the rating.
“For the charging providers who fail to perform the regulator operations maintenance of those units — the ones who are always out of service and can not be switched on after they’ve been installed are going to suffer a little bit, and rightly so. Who wants to be in a position where they’re on their last 10 miles of range driving to a charge point that’s out of service? That’s not acceptable.
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