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Why Do States Have So Many EV Charging Failures?

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It’s a holiday long weekend. You’ve decided to take an EV roadtrip to a couple of New England summer tourist spots. You review your PlugShare app and identify chargers along the route. You pack up the vehicle and hit the highway. After nearing 200 miles of used range, you pull into a rest area on I-90 in Massachusetts, only to find the chargers you originally pinpointed are out of order. Why are EV charging failures so common at a time when more and more consumers are ready to make the move to all-electric transportation?

This holiday roadtrip scenario was typical of what EV drivers found on the Massachusetts Turnpike over Memorial Day Weekend, according to an exposé in the Boston Globe. Calling the charger reliability an “ongoing soap opera,” the Globe revealed that several of the Mass Pike chargers had been out of commission for more than a year at a stretch.

Consumer concern about charger reliability on the Mass Pike isn’t new. As early as 2017, Matthew Beaton, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, spoke of the need to recognize range anxiety as “a commonly cited hurdle in transitioning to zero-emission vehicles.”

It’s clear that a reliable charging network is critically important to make EV charging a seamless experience. Earlier this year, the White House issued a press statement confirming that companies including Tesla, General Motors, EVgo, Pilot, Hertz, and bp, among others, were announcing new commitments to expand their networks by thousands of public charging ports in the next 2 years. They would add in private funds to complement federal dollars in order to put the nation’s EV charging goals even closer within reach.

Meanwhile, the public charging infrastructure has been an issue for EV drivers across the country, especially those who can’t yet rely on Tesla’s expansive Supercharger network. A May 2023 JD Power data analysis reveals that the reliability of public charging infrastructure has improved slightly for the first time in 2 years, but 20.8% of consumers still say they show up at a public charger that does not work. Moreover, overall customer satisfaction with Level 2 public charging — which represents 71% of all EV charging in America — continues to decline.

Many experts argue that private sector investment is crucial in the EV charging market, that policymakers must ensure the private sector can compete fairly in the EV charger market. They say that policymakers fail to understand the shortcomings of utility- or government- run public charging stations and adjust accordingly.

Publicly installed charging stations, many owned by utility companies, often lack the necessary incentives for upkeep. EVgo said its contract with MassDOT had “long since expired,” and it was not given the opportunity to upgrade the equipment. “We understand that public entities need to go through public processes to upgrade or extend such equipment, and, unfortunately, these chargers were on the EVgo network but could not be upgraded without permission from the equipment owner, so there was no alternative but to decommission the chargers.”

Complaints indicate that public charging stations are undependable. Sometimes vandalism is at fault, with damage due to broken screens, plugs, or cords. Early generation chargers have been exposed to the elements for years, resulting in power interruptions. Lack of network connectivity, especially credit card payment systems, bars some EV drivers from charging. Some apps don’t recognize newer EV brands or models. The list of complaints is quite long.

A Comparison of State EV Charging Initiatives

California passed the EV Charging Reliability Transparency Act to monitor public chargers and set a legal limit on how long a charger can be inoperable. This bill required the Energy Commission to develop uptime record keeping and reporting standards for EV chargers and charging stations by January 1, 2024. The bill authorized the Energy Commission to consider additional reliability metrics and to hold public workshops to discuss and identify industry best practices and charger technology capabilities to increase reliability.

Massachusetts also intends to reduce carbon emissions, including putting 750,000 EVs on the roads by 2030. The effort started by approval of a $400 million plan to install tens of thousands of EV chargers as part of an effort to encourage larger numbers of drivers to switch from gas cars to electric.

The order, issued at the beginning of this year, allows electric utilities Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil to put a surcharge on ratepayers’ electricity bills to support the build-out of needed infrastructure over the next 4–5 years. The utilities will upgrade and lay wires to support chargers and offer rebates to individuals and businesses looking to install them at homes, apartment buildings, workplaces, and public locations like retail parking lots. The plan reserves money for charging hubs in poor and minority neighborhoods, as well as for marketing the rebates to avoid more EV charging failures.

The 2050 Clean Energy and Climate Plan (CECP) highlights a broad suite of specific goals, strategies, policies, and actions to reduce statewide gross GHG emissions by at least 85% below the 1990 baseline level and conserve and enhance carbon sequestration on natural and working lands to help achieve Net Zero in 2050.

State procurement rules tend to hold up actions like attending to charging installations, but the hope is that the administration of MA Governor Maura Healey (D) will put more emphasis on EV infrastructure than did the previous (Republican-run) administration.

MassDOT must “make provision for installing” chargers at all Mass Pike rest stops by July, 2024. That would also include service stops in Ludlow, Blandford, and Westborough that have not previously had charging stations.

This year, however, the 6 charging spots on the entire 138-mile length of the Mass Pike were unreliable. (Oddly, more chargers were actively available, but EVgo officials said the company needed state assistance with rewiring in order to repair the broken terminals.)

So Many EV Charging Failures, So Little Time

The MassDOT, reconciling itself to years of EV charging failures on the Mass Pike, removed the 6 charging stations at rest stops from service along I-90 in Lee, Natick, Charlton, and Framingham. The MassDOT process has begun to select a vendor to remove the non-functional terminals and to install new ones.

In the meantime, to help EV drivers on this year’s busy Memorial Day weekend, MassDOT arranged for portable EV chargers from Somerville startup SparkCharge to be situated in several vans out at 4 rest stops. SparkCharge staff assisted drivers of Ford, Volkswagen, Polestar, Rivian, and even one Tesla, among other EV brands. Consumers weren’t charged for the fill-ups.

The company makes portable battery charging units that can be delivered to your doorstep, or, in this case, a major interstate rest stop. In 2020, Josh Aviv pitched SparkCharge on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” and they were so impressed that Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner teamed up to commit $1 million for a 10% equity stake in the company.

Tesla currently operates the only other 6 stations directly on the Pike at the Charlton rest area, but these can only be accessed by Tesla drivers. Yes, that will change in the next year or so, as the all-electric car company has made agreements with Ford, GM, Rivian, and others to open up the charging network. For now, non-Tesla drivers need to find other charging options.

Not all is dismal in MA for state-located charging stations, however. The state has recently installed fast EV chargers at rest stops on I-95 in Lexington and Newton and on Route 24 in Bridgewater. Another installation should be finished by the end of June on Route 6 in busy Barnstable on Cape Cod. The newly installed chargers are manufactured by ChargePoint.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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