The US electric vehicle industry is finally growing up. EV sales are climbing and EV market share may reach 10% before too long, especially if a couple more good, serious, mass-market EVs come to market. But with EVs, a big part of the story is the development of the charging infrastructure. Luckily, at this critical stage of EV market growth, as we approach the critical “tipping point” of 10% market share, Democrats in Congress and President Biden have initiated a boost in EV charging infrastructure via the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI). But how does NEVI work and what’s important for those looking to tap into NEVI funds?
I recently sat down with Lance Sabo, Senior Vice President of Service & Support for ABB E-Mobility in the Americas, to talk about these matters — the US EV charging market, maintenance & service of EV charging stations, and the big new NEVI program.
To start off, Lance says that initial questions from customers about EV charging used to be more general — “We don’t really know much about this, can you help us out, help us understand what we would need?” Nowadays, the focus is heavily on service and maintenance. He says that the conversation leader is now usually about service and maintenance. “Maintenance and uptime wasn’t necessarily a focus early on in those conversations, and now that’s almost the conversation leader,” he says. “The customers come in and they’re immediately talking about ‘how do we obtain 97%, 98%, 99% uptime? What type of maintenance program do we need, what type of certifications, what’s the support methodology like — that’s the conversation leader at this point.”
I asked if that was because of the NEVI program or just because people realized, as the industry matured, that was what they needed to be focused on. He responded, “I think there’s a mix of both. So, obviously, the program structure for NEVI leads to a pretty stringent maintenance conversation, but there’s obviously the customer satisfaction side of things as well, right, ensuring that if you have chargers installed, they’re up and available for customer usage.”
When I asked about problems with charger reliability — chargers being down too much for too long — and what the main causes of this have been, Lance responded, “So, first off, there’s I would say a dramatic increase in utilization that is contributing to some maintenance challenges, right? So, as more customers use chargers, obviously this could lead to further breakage, so there’s one cause there. There’s, as you mentioned, poor maintenance planning, or lack of focus on maintenance planning, with some owners. So, there’s an area where customers are trying to play a little catch-up. Technological advances as well. We’ve got some lagging equipment out there, older equipment that was installed early on in the industry that’s maybe seeing, you know, a bit more utilization, a bit more aging than initially expected. There’s a lot of newer companies doing maintenance as well, so there could be a little bit of a lack of training there. When I talk about hiring with folks, there’s not a pool of experienced EV technicians that I can go pull from in the marketplace today. We’re creating that pool.
“It’s a really interesting topic that we should definitely touch on. There’s a whole myriad of issues here as to what leads to poor maintenance. I mean, there’s a challenge with customers, too, right? New industry, new owners that maybe don’t quite understand how a charger works, how to utilize a charger. No standards between the different manufacturers that can lead to different ways to use chargers as well.”
That’s just getting us about 7 minutes into the podcast. We talked much further about EV charger reliability, maintenance, NEVI requirements on reliability (97%+ reliability), the EV charging industry workforce, EV charger installation, EV service-level agreements, some specific technical issues, and more. Listen to the whole podcast via the Spotify embed above or directly on Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket, Podbean, Radio Public, SoundCloud, Spotify, or Stitcher.
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