In some recent videos, Out of Spec tested Electrify America stations in the recent cold weather. What they found was that some local stations didn’t work in zero degree (F) temperatures.
It’s worth noting that at the same location, the older station design (with the lone CHAdeMO plug) still worked, so it’s not a site outage. So, Out of Spec’s team assumed that the new stations don’t work in extreme cold. (If you’re from Canada or Alaska and think zero degrees (F) isn’t extreme, keep in mind that I’m a desert dweller and the worst I’ve ever seen is about -5 F)
Kyle went out this morning and found the same stations working again, and in temperatures just above freezing.
Update! Now that it’s ticked above freezing (34F) the EA BTC units are back to working.
We need to find out at what temperature is the fault point pic.twitter.com/VlvutURhFv
— Kyle Conner (@itskyleconner) December 24, 2022
So, he assumes, there must be a temperature between zero degrees and freezing where the chargers fail, and he wants to get to the bottom of it.
This Isn’t A Universal Problem
I did some of my own digging around on Plugshare and found that this experience wasn’t universal. New Electrify America stations in Texas, where they also got some very low temperatures, seemed to work through the Arctic blast, even if their speeds were a little slow (which may have more to do with cars than stations in many cases).
For example, new stations in San Antonio, Texas, were still working even in freezing weather. One Plugshare user warned others about what he had seen on Out of Spec, but others said it was working fine. Looking elsewhere, I found a station in Waco that seemed to be working fine despite the cold temperatures. So, the assumption that all of Electrify America’s latest generation stations can’t handle the cold doesn’t seem to hold water.
But, Out of Spec had already come across this.
Good news! Multiple reports of SK Signet versions of these new chargers working great. The main issue seems to be with the BTC variants. They look the same but each has a label on the side denoting which manufacturer. https://t.co/sbbAI0PlqP
— Kyle Conner (@itskyleconner) December 24, 2022
The issue is that not all of Electrify America’s new stations are the same. They’re identical on the outside, but can be made by different manufacturers. The BTC Power stations seem to perform poorly in sub-freezing temperatures, while the ones made by SK Signet appear to be holding up. This adds an extra layer of complexity to the puzzle.
I was able to figure out that the station in Waco, Texas, is an SK Signet unit, so this theory (that BTC Power units are the only ones affected) may be true. But, it’s important to note that at this point, we’re working with only a few samples.
Other Things That Could Be Causing This
When we’re only working with a few stations across the country, it’s hard to come up with a definitive explanation. While it appears that stations by different manufacturers are better or worse in the cold temperatures we’re seeing, it could almost just as easily be a coincidence with such limited information. Other things could still be at play here.
One possibility is that local utilities could be struggling in some areas more than others. This could lead to voltage sags that take EV charging stations down. The charging station might even appear to work and then run into problems after it tries to start charging in this case. Minor differences between different manufacturers and even batches could combine with utility issues to create very difficult to predict or solve problems.
Another possibility is that the issue isn’t with a particular manufacturer, but only with certain stations from a given manufacturer. One supplier might be providing a cold-vulnerable part, or one batch of the stations from the manufacturer might have problems here.
So, the best thing we can probably do at this point is wait and see what people can learn in the coming days and weeks. I’ll also be reaching out to Electrify America to see what they know about this, but given that it’s a holiday, it could take days to hear back from them.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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