In some circles, saying “Electrify America” is a good way to rustle some jimmies.
For most people who have actually used the company’s chargers, it’s a mix of blessing and curse. Electrify America vastly improved the charging situation for non-Tesla EVs, but then the machines started having more and more problems as they aged. Today, it’s common to come across slow stations, stations that won’t start a charge on the first try, and lines at some of the more popular ones (a problem often exacerbated by having several of the stalls down at a station). Coming across a station that’s completely down, and getting stranded from it, is still pretty rare.
But there are people who exaggerate this situation. The truth (slow, flaky stations) is bad enough. But, when one wants to spread anti-EV FUD or when one wants to pump the stock of a particular EV brand that doesn’t rely on Electrify America’s chargers, Electrify America’s problems are an easy target. For those against all EVs, the goal is to pretend that all EV charging stations have problems like this (or worse). For people wanting to bash just the non-Tesla EVs, it’s easy to say things like, “The only EV you can take a road trip in is a Tesla!”
This works because there’s an element of truth, and not a lie cut from whole cloth.
What’s particularly bad about this is that Tesla fanboys don’t understand the damage they’re doing to “the mission.” Telling friends, family, and acquaintances on social media that Teslas are the only viable EV isn’t helpful to Tesla. People who were interested in a Tesla are still going to be interested, but people who don’t want a weird car with no turn signal stalks or AC buttons end up just finding an ICE car.
Worse, many people don’t know much about EVs, so telling people that only Teslas are any good leaves many people still thinking there’s something bad about EVs if only one company could get it right. So, they’ll play on the safe side and stick with ICE for now. And the people who hate all EVs? You’re giving them ammo to use against your beloved brand, guys.
But, as I said a few paragraphs up, the truth really is bad enough all on its own, even completely unexaggerated. It can honestly be said that the reliability issues plaguing Electrify America are starting to set the EV transition back. So, it’s an important problem to both understand and know what the solutions are.
Fortunately, a recent report by Electrify America to California’s state officials confirms what many of us have suspected, and explains how the company is going to make things right.
The Cause Of The Problems
In short: it’s the older Electrify America chargers that are going down. This has been discussed and covered before, but the basic problem is that the oldest stations turned out to not be able to handle heavier use. In 2019 and 2020, new stations saw very little use because few people were trying to take road trips in non-Tesla EVs. As the number of people using faster EVs hit the road, a lot more strain got put on the oldest stations, and many of them are buckling under the pressure now.
One thing the company isn’t saying, but that seems fairly obvious to me, is that these older stations are not proving easy to repair. In theory, the company could force the manufacturers to provide replacement parts, but something is keeping that from happening. Some rumors I’ve heard are that the companies are just too small to keep up with the demand for parts, or that the parts are of such low quality that it would be impossible for anybody to keep up.
The Plan: Rip Them Out & Replace Them
In the report, Electrify America all but confirms the rumors. If repair were possible, EA would be repairing the stations. Instead, the company putting the brakes on expanding the network for the fourth cycle of funding to instead spend that money rebuilding the unreliable stations. By the end of this last cycle, the plan is to have most or all of the old stations replaced with newer hardware that’s ready to handle heavy use.
Overall (at least in California, the subject of the report), the company plans to still spend $92 million on new stations. But, the plan is to spend $80 million replacing and upgrading the older sites. So, EA is basically going to be splitting the funding and time on growth and upgrades instead of focusing on growth like the company did before.
But, this is a lot easier said than done. Even when all of the equipment is ready to send to a site, it’s important to keep in mind that many people rely on the site. In areas with other charging stations, it’s not a huge deal, but in areas where the site is the only rapid charging station within 50+ miles, people’s road trip plans can get messed up. Worse, if you look on Plugshare when a site goes down for an upgrade, many people don’t bother to check before they go, and find out about it by getting stranded.
Even when that’s not an issue, it still takes several weeks to tear the old station out, put new hardware in, and get it going again. The company don’t have to wait for a transformer like when the site was new, but it’s still a major hassle to get the whole job done.
Delays Getting This Done Could Be A Blessing In Disguise
So, the delay in getting around to many of these broken but still useful stations until 2024 could be a good thing. By mid-2024, many EVs will have access to Tesla’s Supercharger network. Also, GM’s partnership with EVgo and Pilot/Flying J truck stops will mean a second station in many of the towns only served by Electrify America today. Plus, other companies will be putting in more charging in many places.
For example, there are plans to get a new Ultium station in Lordsburg, New Mexico. At present, Electrify America is the only CCS station within 50 miles in one direction and about 100 miles in the other (along I-10). If GM and EVgo get their Ultium-branded stations in first, the pain of Electrify America’s upgrade won’t be such a big problem for people.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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