A Quarter Of All EV Chargers Don’t Work, Half Of Car Trips Are Less Than 3 Miles

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Figures lie and liars figure, so make your own judgement about the following statistics, which provide some insight into the EV revolution. One recent studies suggest a quarter of all public EV chargers are broken or out of service. Nothing dampens one’s enthusiasm for driving electric faster than not being able to replenish the battery when you need to. Another study puts a torch to the notion that electric cars need to have a minimum of 500 miles of range. They don’t. What they need are chargers that work.

The Broken EV Chargers Dilemma

The California Air Resources Board did a survey recently of 1,209 California drivers regarding their attitudes about electric vehicles. In it, 44% of owners said concerns about finding chargers that worked was making them hesitant to drive an electric car. Another major concern was how to pay for charging sessions. EV sites like reddit are filled with stories of people who couldn’t get EV chargers to work or who didn’t have accounts with the companies which operate the chargers.

No one has any problem paying for gas at the pump, but finding a charger that works and will accept payment for the electricity used is often a crap shoot. Imagine if drivers of ordinary cars has to deal with such issues every time they needed to fill up. We would think that was insane, and yet it is standard procedure in the EV world. That’s just ridiculous.

David Rempel is a retired professor of bio-engineering at the University of California Berkeley and a member of Cool the Earth, a nonprofit focused on cutting carbon emissions. According to Business Insider, members of that organization went to 181 public fast charging locations in the San Francisco Bay Area and tested 657 individual charging plugs. They found only 72.5% of the EV chargers were operational. A connector was labeled functional if it successfully charged an EV for two minutes or if volunteers observed an electric car was already charging. Tesla superchargers were excluded from the study since they are only available to Tesla drivers — and work 98% of the time.

A total of 22.7% of connectors were non-functioning due to problems, including network connectivity issues, broken plugs, unresponsive screens, and payment system failures. Around 5% of connectors had cables that were too short to reach an EV’s charging port, rendering them unusable.

The results are similar to what Business Insider has found about using DC fast chargers in the northeast, where there are lots of charging stations, but many that don’t work. The Cool The Earth study adds to a mounting body of research indicating that charging needs to become more convenient in order for mass adoption of battery-powered vehicles to occur.

Do You Need 500 Miles Of Range To Drive 3 Miles?

Perception is reality, so they say, and the perception is that some people will not consider an electric car because, what if in the middle of the work day, they decide to quit their job, load the family into the car, and head out to shoot the curl at La Jolla? What then? They can gas up conveniently along the way, but are fearful that charging an EV won’t be as easy.

The illusion (promoted by the ads automakers show us all the time) is that we all need a rugged, off-road capable mammoth SUV that can take the whole family — including the in-laws — down the Rubicon Trail to an undiscovered mountain lake while carrying a cargo of mountain bikes, kayaks, and camping equipment. Oh, and towing a ski boat at the same time.

That’s the theory. The reality, however, is quite a bit different. Recently, the US Department of Transportation, using data provided by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics at the Maryland Transportation Institute and by the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology Laboratory at the University of Maryland, analyzed “an anonymized national panel of mobile device data from multiple sources,” and found that, in 2021, 52% of all trips in the US, using all modes of transportation, were for distances of less than three miles. Some 28% of trips were for less than one mile, and just 2% were for greater than 50 miles.

According to EVAnnex, a trip was defined as a movement that included a stay of longer than 10 minutes at a location away from home. The trips included driving, rail, transit, and air travel. “A weighting procedure expands the sample of millions of mobile devices, so the results are representative of the entire population in a nation, state, or county,” the authors of the study wrote.

Charles Morris, the author of the EVAnnex story, interprets the data this way. “Obviously, drivers’ use cases vary — certainly there are some drivers who do make long trips on a regular basis. However, this study’s results indicate that this is a very small subset of US drivers, so current EVs should have plenty of range for the majority of car buyers. Furthermore, considering the still-high cost of batteries, automakers may want to consider offering models with less range and lower price tags.” Does that suggest Tesla should really be working on the Model 2, despite that idea being sloughed off by Elon Musk? Oh, yeah.

The Takeaway

The world doesn’t need millions of electric cars with 400 miles of range any more than it needs millions of 10,000-square-foot homes with a media center for each child so no one in the family ever has to interact with any other family members. The world needs better charging infrastructure and cars that can recharge quickly, particularly while battery supplies are severely constrained as they are today (and especially in rural areas).

The Chevy Bolt, with 150 kW charging capability, would be the killer app for the EV revolution. As it is, with only 55 kW charging power, it is barely worth the asking price. Charging is the key, not battery size. We really need to stop building cars for those who travel long distances and start building cars that meet the needs of most drivers.

In other words, we need to get over ourselves and get real. The primary goal is to keep the Earth from overheating to the point where humans can’t live here anymore. People won’t need to worry about range when most of them are dead.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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