Reliability Of Electric-Car Charging Networks Varies Wildly, Study Says

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Electric-car charging network cards, photo by Patrick Connor, Portland

Electric-car charging network cards, photo by Patrick Connor, Portland

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Remember the early days of mobile phones, when lots of small carriers competed and roaming was just a far-distant dream?

Welcome to the wild world of electric-car charging, folks.

Right now, more than a dozen networks--some local, some regional, some national--operate Level 2 charging stations for plug-in cars.

Each has a separate membership process, varying rate plans, and a unique card or touch-tag that's incompatible with any other network.

Confusion? In spades.

Nonetheless, informed plug-in drivers know some networks are better than others.

Most importantly, some networks are more reliable than others--defined by whether a charging station is actually working (able to deliver a charge) when a driver arrives.

Availability of electric-car charging stations from Plug-In America study, May 2012

Availability of electric-car charging stations from Plug-In America study, May 2012

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Now, Tom Saxton of Plug-In America has quantified the likelihood that charging stations within the Blink and ChargePoint networks will be working at any given time.

His study was based on polling live data feeds from the individual charging stations--available online--every five minutes, and looking at uptime versus downtime and how long any given station stayed offline.

The results were startling.

Almost 25 percent of Blink network stations were offline at any given time. The comparable figure for ChargePoint network stations was 10 percent.

And while two-thirds of ChargePoint's offline stations were restored to working order within an hour, 46 percent of offline Blink stations remained that way for more than a day--and a further 14 percent for more than a week.

Saxton presented the study, Are Taxpayer and Private Dollars Creating Effective Electric Vehicle Infrastructure?, at last week's 26th annual Electric Vehicle Symposium in Los Angeles.

A more graphic summary of the results was also displayed as a poster. The study covered the period January through April of this year.

Of course, issues other than uptime distinguish different charging groups as well.

Repair time of electric-car charging stations from Plug-In America study, May 2012

Repair time of electric-car charging stations from Plug-In America study, May 2012

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Blink Networks, for example, originally had has no provision at all for a non-member to use its charging stations.

While other networks require a membership card, most of them also have a toll-free number printed on the station so a stranded electric-car driver can call and give a credit-card number to obtain a one-time charging session.

Blink doesn't didn't have such a number until "roughly six months ago," according to Scott Watkins, senior manager of communications for Ecotality, which operates the Blink network. It launched in 2010 without the number, he said, and has since added it in response to user feedback.

[UPDATE: We have updated this article after being contacted by representatives for Ecotality, who pointed out that its stations now have a toll-free number on them. In a photo of a Blink station later provided by Ecotality, there is a small black sticker with a toll-free number for "Sales & Support"--mounted on the side of the housing.]

But we suspect that whether a charging station is live and able to deliver charge is the major concern of most electric-car drivers.

And until live data on every charging station's current usage and state of repair is available through an electric car's navigation system, reports like this one will be enormously useful.

Are you listening, Blink?

[UPDATE: "Improving our online performance is out top priority," Ecotality's Watkins said in response to Plug-In America's study.]


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Comments (14)
  1. a good thing about Chargepoint is their droid app does tell you if the station is operational (have not tested this because have yet to see a non operational station) and whether its in use or not (have tested this and it works great!)

    one thing i can say for Blink though. we have a station at Sears in Lacey that has been non-functional for several weeks but there are 2 other stations that work fine. around here, the minimum charging stations for Blink is 2 and we have one that has 8 charging stations so in that situation i can see Blink being a bit slow to repair. Chargepoint has a half dozen location where there is only one charger

  2. I don't know if they have it on droid, but try PlugShare it has the most listed chargers out of all the apps.

  3. Factual statistics that confirm most EV driver’s anecdotal experience, and will surprise no one that uses public charging. Blink fails minimum competence.

    As to the myriad of cards required, when sites are allowed to bill users, expect your credit card to allow universal access.

  4. Why does Plug in America and the charging public tolerate these pay-for chargers? Most of them are being installed with your money -- government grants. When you "pay" for charging, you aren't paying for the electricity (FERC regulations prevent that), you're paying to use a facility which your tax dollars already paid to install. Just say no to using these pay-for Level 2 chargers; in a few years the roadside will be littered with chargers that won't work because the companies that installed them are out of business and their networks aren't available anymore.

  5. Most people don't know this, but the most of the charging station manufacturers, who make you believe they are installing for free, collect a large portion of the revenue back and the property loses control over it. I can't speak for Walgreens, but they have the SemaConnect ChargePro's which they get to keep 100% of revenue generated, however... for each Walgreens location I've been to, they allow users to use it for free. So go to a Walgreens and use a ChargePro for an example and it's free, for the time being. Walgreens is probably happy you chose their property to hang out and charge on. Also, the Federal Tax program was granted to a limited number of charging stations nationwide, but that quantity looks to have dried up.

  6. This article is beating up on Blink for reporting their outages. At least with Blink I can always see the status of any of their charging stations from my mobile app before driving to them.

    What's much worse are all the charging stations that are not networked, so we have no idea about their outage statistics, or their status at any time.

    I'll chose Blink chargers over a non-networked charger any day for these reasons:
    - I can see their status before driving there
    - I can monitor my charging status remotely and be notified if the charging is interrupted
    Both of those are features are valuable to me. Not to mention the Blink mobile app is really nice.

  7. It's sort of like ATM's. At one point they were not networked together. But, eventually they did get networked together, albeit some charge a fee for the cross over usage. I say give it some time.

  8. Dan; you obviously did not read my post. it was first so not hard to find!

  9. There's bound to be some consolidation in the public charging business before too long. We really need a single resource for finding and paying for charging EVs. We know that Coulomb (ChargePoint) is working on this. Let's hope other charging station networks join in to build a unified network.

    I'm with charging stations not being available because an EV is parked there, connected, but completely charged up. This is particularly bad at long term parking locations such as airports. Is anyone working on this problem?

  10. Typo: I'm *concerned* with charging stations not being available...

  11. Thank you for reporting this. I personally don’t want to give my credit card number out when anyone in earshot car hear me. This is the perfect example of businesses looking for ways to make money, and forgetting about how to best serve the end user.

  12. Hello Kitty, The ChargePro's from SemaConnect do not require a credit card from you.

  13. One important thing to understand about this analysis is that just because a charging station is 'not on-line' doesn't mean it is not operational, merely it's status is unknown. It could be off line because it's broken, but more often than not it's offline due to a networking issue with local WIFi.

    I have seen a marked improvement in the reliability of Blink L2 chargers since the 2.0 firmware was issued.

    Blinks L3 Fast Chargers are very unreliable and in a similar state of development as were the L2 chargers 12 months ago.

    The ChargePoint network and website are clearly in a more advanced and sophisticated status. More information is available to the end-user via ChargePoint than Blink.

  14. This seems to be pretty consistent with many reports from users and my own personal observations. Blink / Ecotality chargers seem to have the highest incidents of issues and a management team that at best seems distracted, not paying attention and not motivated (or maybe just plain not able) to deal with the issues.

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