In a recent social media post, I saw a new kind of ChargePoint DCFC station. Instead of having the big, chunky swing arms I’m used to seeing, I saw a more elegant-looking solution for cable management. What I didn’t know was that digging deeper into the station would reveal a lot more information about a really neat charging solution that should help reliability.
— ChargePoint (@ChargePointnet) October 4, 2022
What’s Express Plus?
Instead of just one station that draws power from the grid independently, ChargePoint uses a more modular approach. Each station has a number of power modules, or a cabinet somewhere near the station has room for modules. Each module provides 40 kW of power, with modules able to work together to deliver multiples of that number (depending on how many modules you’ve had installed).
Even better, these power modules can work together across cabinets and stations to deliver more power than one station alone would be able to. If there’s only one EV driver and the other stalls are open, the system can deliver the power from all modules at the site if their car can take in that much power (up to 400 kW). If more cars are present, the power of the modules gets shared between those cars.
This helps avoid wasted capacity. For example, if I drove my slower-charging Bolt EUV to such a station and started sipping up 55 kW, someone with a Lucid Air who can pull 350 kW can still get most of that power. I wouldn’t be in their way no matter what stall we parked at. With individual stalls that don’t share power, I could be dumb and block the 350 kW charger, and force the Lucid driver to use a less powerful 50 or 150 kW station. That would be very wasteful of capacity.
There are several really compelling reasons to go with a modular system.
First off, there’s upgradability. If you want to start off with one station that can only deliver 80 kWh, get set up with two modules. As needs grow, you can add more stations (ChargePoint calls these “power links”) and more cabinets, which can all share power with each other. This gives a good upgrade path that doesn’t involve tearing up the whole site and starting from scratch in a few years.
Second, there’s the matter of redundancy. If one power module fails, then the others can keep going. In the case of a complex system with several stations and cabinets, one dead module might not even result in reduced charging speeds, because the others can pick up the slack in many cases. Even if enough modules fail to slow charging speeds down, it still helps because most people would rather have a slower charge than be stranded.
Finally, they’re easier to work on. If a station has issues, the station itself, the cabinet, or other parts can be easily found and swapped out. This can definitely help reduce downtime at a charging station.
The New “Power Link”
I haven’t been able to track down when it happened, but at some point in the last couple of years ChargePoint came out with a new station design. It doesn’t appear that the station replaces the ones with the chunky swing arm and side-saddle connector storage between stations, because new stations are still showing up with that design. So, it seems that the new “power link” is either an option or it’s getting implemented in phases for new orders.
In my experience, the chunky design can sometimes be problematic if drivers (or vandals) get rough with it. The swinging arm ends up making the cable twist a bit, especially if the car’s connector is further from the station. I’ve seen several of these fail when connections or cables got damaged like that.
The new design still uses a swing arm to keep the cable off the pavement, but instead of routing the wiring through the arm, they run it alongside and use a swivel to attach part of the cable to the arm. That way, it doesn’t get messed up if someone extends it a good ways or pulls on it.
Another Thing That’s Increasing Station Reliability
Having encountered a number of broken charging stations that don’t seem to have any plans for repair, ChargePoint reached out to get us to talk to them about that point. Stations owners told me several times that the expenses for repairs was something their boss didn’t want to spend money on, so the station would continue to sit inoperable.
In a podcast, our editor Zach Shahan interiewed a ChargePoint executive, and asked him about this problem. It turned out that yes, this is a problem for people who insist on buying a station with no service plan. The cost of keeping a station up can quickly overwhelm a small business.
But, most customers now are opting for either the ASSURE station service plan, or are forgoing ownership and going with Charging As A Service. In the latter case, a host business doesn’t own the station, and pays a monthly fee for ChargePoint and their contractors to keep the station running. This is why the number of dead ChargePoint stations is dwindling over time.
If you’re a business owner considering installing a charging station, be sure to get a service plan or use “charging as a service.” Putting in a charging station that’s perpetually broken isn’t just a minor inconvenience to EV drivers, but makes a business look bad. It looks like a very flaky thing, largely because it is flaky to offer a service or amenity and then not follow through.
Between a service plan and a modular system, you can have a much easier time keeping stations up and ready to serve people’s transportation needs.
Featured image: A screenshot from the ChargePoint website showing the new “power link” design.
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