"You might say we were blind, but there were no alternatives at the time."
It’s no secret that public EV charging stations can be faulty, out-of-order, and take weeks to repair – which can be frustrating for owners.
But, why are they unreliable?
- Increased load, weather and outdated units causing unreliable public EV charging stations
- Arduous repair process and limited local parts supply
- However, new modular, more dependable stalls are coming online, as networks rapidly expand
- Charging at home still ideal, rarely need to use public infrastructure
While the increasing number of public EV charging stalls should help encourage Australians to make the switch, infrastructure must also be reliable and accessible for owners to keep driving an EV.
But, as EV sales continue to grow, more Australians who can’t plug in at home or work are depending on public chargers. And, even when owners can recharge at home, they'll eventually need to make a public charging stop when embarking on a long holiday road trip.
Out-of-order EV chargers can thus be a major pain point – in contrast to the traditional fuel pumps that have largely proven reliable and, thanks to a decades-long headstart, almost ubiquitous.
- What causes faulty EV chargers?
- 🔧 Why do repairs take so long?
- 🏠 Is it just an exaggerated issue?
- 🤔 Is it time to make the electric switch?
What causes faulty EV chargers?
- Older first-generation stations aren’t designed for today’s load
- Australian weather and nature can be challenging
- However, new modular stalls are being installed and replacing old units
While there’s no specific common issues, Chargefox chief executive, John Sullivan, told WhichCar that public EV charging stations fail at times due to increased use, external weather conditions, and outdated units.
Chargefox is currently Australia’s largest public EV charging network – but the majority of stations aren’t owned by Chargefox, except for 21 sites.
Its core business is its platform model, where organisations partner to display their stations on the Chargefox app, facilitate payments, and be guided for installation and repairs.
As of July 2022, Chargefox is owned by Australian Motoring Services.
“The biggest issue we have is that the original [Chargefox-owned] locations use the first-generation chargers. Over time, the equipment has aged… and the frequency by which charging sessions happen in key locations has increased dramatically [with more EV owners],” Sullivan said.
“Some of the older equipment – no matter how much you maintain them, no matter how many new parts you put in – it cannot cope with that kind of increased load [including larger EV batteries].
“Now, you might say we were blind, but there were no alternatives at the time [when founded in 2017]... Now, there’s newer generation [modular] equipment – much more reliable, much more maintainable, and they're designed for Europe and US markets where the demands are much greater.”
No matter how much you maintain them, no matter how many new parts you put in – it cannot cope with that kind of increased load
Sullivan confirmed to WhichCar that the network’s 21 wholly-owned and operated locations will be completely replaced with more reliable modular stalls in the next year – in a similar move to corporate counterpart NRMA.
It currently uses a mix of Tritium RT50 (50kW), PK350 (350kW), and ABB Terra HP (350kW) DC stations – with the former dating back to 2012.
It's worth noting that, judging by public sentiments and experience, charging providers such as Evie Networks, BP Pulse and Ampol's AmpCharge also use the same manufacturers – but don't fault as often or are generally restored quicker.
However, Sullivan said the larger size of the Chargefox network attracts more user and media criticism, plus more load overall compared to other networks.
The Chargefox CEO added “Australia is the most inhospitable location to put chargers in” since animals, such as ants, can crawl in and leave chemical trails to short-circuit the boards – an issue that’s currently prevalent in Western Australia.
While sealing components help, Sullivan told WhichCar that high weather temperatures can also affect the charging equipment – especially in summer and rural regions.
“These boards are getting 120 to 150 kilowatts of power going through them… when it's 40 degrees in the shade and probably about 155 degrees in the unit, there’s cooling systems running,” Sullivan said.
“If it’s a cable, something will chew it. If the remoteness isn't going to get it, the animals will, and then the unreliability of the electricity network or mobile network.”
Australia is the most inhospitable location to put chargers in
🔧 Why do repairs take so long?
- Repairing a station is an arduous and prolonged process
- Some owners don’t prioritise maintenance
- Sometimes, manufacturers advise a complete replacement is required
EV charging stations are complex machines. When they are out-of-order, some locations have reportedly taken weeks – if not months – to repair.
Busy locations, such as Chargefox-owned stations in Melbourne Airport West, Sydney’s Zetland and Goulburn near Canberra, have repeatedly been criticised by users and the media for extended repair times on some or all Brisbane-made Tritium stalls – sometimes stretching for months.
Chargefox CEO John Sullivan revealed to WhichCar that repairing a charging station is an arduous process – exacerbated by limited local parts supply, component shortages, and an extended diagnosis-to-repair cycle that regularly takes two or three attempts.
“That's why the [repair] time takes so bloody long,” Sullivan said.
⏳ The EV charger repair process (for Chargefox-owned stations)
- Charging provider (eg: Chargefox) identifies the issue – via charger software or customer feedback
- Provider notifies chosen maintenance company, who then book a time with the charging station manufacturer (eg: Tritium) to conduct remote diagnostics
- Manufacturer highlights the first fault found (current stalls cannot do a comprehensive overall diagnostic)
- Maintenance company orders part/s to repair, via the charging provider, with the station manufacturer
- Wait for part delivery to maintenance company or central distribution location (pending component supply shortages)
- Maintenance company goes to the site to repair the stall with the part/s
- Maintenance company books another time with the charging station manufacturer to conduct another remote diagnostic
- Manufacturer (regularly) finds another fault
- Process repeats until the station is completely fixed and restored – often after three cycles and several weeks
Most charging sites in the country aren’t owned by Chargefox – but many use its software network platform. When a fault occurs, the company notifies the owner and maintenance company.
However, Sullivan admits EV charging is not the primary business of some organisations and they may be slower on getting a repair quote. Then, the bill (sometimes around $20,000) may not be feasible.
According to the Chargefox CEO, some charging station manufacturers have started establishing a local parts supply chain in Australia – but there are still few certified repaired businesses in Australia, since they need to hold at least $150,000 worth of spare parts locally.
“Synergy bought spare parts for every single charger that they were going to put on the [Western Australian] network, and they warehouse them before they would put them in the ground,” Sullivan told WhichCar.
“They know the time taken to get spare parts and get them delivered and fixed is way too long… We [also] find that with Engie and most of the CPOs [charge point operators] on our part – they're almost like buying double the number of chargers.”
Moreton Bay-based EV charging station repair company, FutureDrive, which services parts of Queensland and New South Wales, declined to comment.
EVSE Australia – which retails, installs and maintains charging equipment – stocks parts in Sydney and Melbourne to fast-track repair times.
Its main partner, Ocular, claims to have a failure rate of less than 2% – with the “majority” of issues covered under warranty.
EVSE’s marketing head, James Greathead, told WhichCar that new charger owners are “often lax on maintenance after the initial win of installing” charging stations.
“A lot of people might think that it's great to tick the box in terms of ESG [environmental, social, and governance] or corporate impact by installing a charger. But, you also have to maintain it annually,” Greathead said.
“One that can be really frustrating is the internet connection… [in order for the software] to send data and uptime alerts. So, the installation has to be right on the ethernet cabling when it's first put in… that can save a lot of time.
“The whole [repair] process should really be completed with a charger back up and running within a week or two.”
Chargefox CEO John Sullivan said, in some cases, the manufacturer can’t remotely diagnose the issue and had advised them to disconnect the entire unit and ship it back for a physical inspection.
“We've been told by a manufacturer that two- or three-year-old equipment cannot be serviced anymore; we need to buy a brand new unit,” Sullivan told WhichCar.
“It costs about $50,000 a unit. We haven't made $50,000 [from that charger]; we would be lucky to have made $10,000 on the unit in its lifetime of two years.
“So, the only means of resolving the issue is to take the charger out and buy a brand new one. And, in those cases, organisations are choosing not to buy particular brands of chargers and replace them with other brands.”
We've been told by a manufacturer that two- or three-year-old equipment cannot be serviced anymore
🏠 Has the topic of faulty chargers been unfairly exaggerated?
- Home charging is recommended & far cheaper
- Rarely need to use public chargers, unless driving long distances
- Driving range more than enough for typical Australians
Electric car rideshare driver and owner of private transport business Ride4U, Nathan Merritt, said drivers should only need to use public infrastructure on a long-distance road trip.
“Speak to the body corporate [if you can’t charge at home or apartment]. If you can slow-charge the car at home, that is your best method for starting your day,” Merritt told WhichCar.
“Public charging sites are the most expensive way to charge your car – and it can get busy on weekends and public holidays. That's why the media likes to portray massive queues at EV charging stations, but it only really applies to those that are doing interstate-type travel, which is not typical.”
If you can slow charge the car at home, that is your best method for starting your day
Merritt, who has driven more than 220,000 kilometres in his 2021 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range, said 60 per cent of his charging is done at home.
Charging can be much cheaper at home
He utilises free solar energy during the day and his electricity provider’s dedicated $0.08 per kilowatt-hour ultra-low tariff overnight – in contrast to public charging networks that generally cost between $0.40 to $0.70 per kWh.
Most EVs' driving range is more than enough for most
The driving range of EVs today is already more than sufficient for most Australians’ 30-40km daily commute (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics [↗]) and trickle charging via a standard three-pin plug at home or work provides enough juice for many.
Tesla opening its network has been a huge boost
As a commercial EV driver who travels nearly 8000km a month, Merritt sometimes needs to use public fast chargers when on a break and said the access to Tesla Superchargers gives him more confidence.
“I’ve driven from Brisbane to Melbourne – never had an issue using any of Tesla’s Supercharging sites. My options of reliable charging would not be as widely available [if I owned a non-Tesla EV],” Merritt told WhichCar.
🤔 Is it time to make the electric switch?
There’s no denying that the number and reliability of public charging stations today need to significantly improve.
However, the wheels are turning quickly in Australia with the installation of more charging stations across the country from different brands – such as Kempower, ABB and Schneider Electric – replacing some with newer modular units, and a focus on improving repairs and access to parts locally.
Despite this, there is little to no barrier to making the electric vehicle switch now – if you can plug in at home since it's the most convenient, reliable and cheapest way to recharge.
Chargefox CEO John Sullivan told WhichCar that public EV charging in Australia will dramatically expand and improve reliability within the next year.
“This is a new industry. We make mistakes. The industry as a whole has not set itself up well for the [EV] adoption rates that we're getting today. Everybody in this industry feels it,” Sullivan said.
“Everybody's network will be so much better… The problems we're facing today will not be the problems we're facing in a year's time.”
The industry as a whole has not set itself up well for the [EV] adoption rates that we're getting today
⚡️ Public EV charging expansion plans (as of September 2023)
- Chargefox: Double number of network plugs by 2024 and subsequent years (via providers such as Engie, Synergy, RAA, state governments, councils and local businesses)
- Evie Networks: Triple network size (200 new sites) by end of 2023
- BP Pulse: 600 new stations (in unspecified time)
- Ampol AmpCharge: 120 locations by end of 2023, plus Mirvac shopping centres from late 2023
- Tesla Superchargers: Nine new locations “targeted” in 2023, four in 2024, and one in 2025
- NRMA: Around 130 fast-charging locations filling blackspots in regional and remote Australia by 2025, in partnership with the federal government