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Why are so many UK EV chargers broken?

As of the end of April 2023, there were over 42,000 public EV charging points in the UK, with a significant number of additional charging points being located in workplace environments. To put things into perspective, as of June 2022 this number had already reached over 30,000, having now increased to over 42,000 in just one year.
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17 August 2023

WITH as much as 30% of charge points being out of order in parts of the UK, it’s natural to wonder what the root cause of the issue is – an issue that becomes even more problematic if we consider the already critical need to expand existing charging infrastructure.

As of the end of April 2023, there were over 42,000 public EV charging points in the UK, with a significant number of additional charging points being located in workplace environments. To put things into perspective, as of June 2022 this number had already reached over 30,000, having now increased to over 42,000 in just one year.

Although the infrastructure has demonstrably developed rapidly in recent years, concerns regarding whether this rate of growth is enough to cater for the increasing needs of EV owners, now and in the future, are widespread.

Robert Byrne, Operations Director at adi Vehicle Charging Solutions, a division of multidisciplinary engineering firm adi Group providing consultation, design, installation, maintenance and network management of electric vehicle charging point infrastructures, comments on the issue.

“It’s fair to say that sales of electric vehicles are outpacing the development of new charging stations. Growing EV ownership is putting pressure on the available infrastructure: increased usage results in more wear and tear, meaning failures will become even more frequent,” says Robert.

“Having spoken to countless EV drivers, one of the consistent complaints is out-of-order charge points, and it is clear that some of these are unavailable for long periods of time.

“This may be due to a number of reasons, such as relatively small numbers of EVs in the UK fleet and locations that are difficult to reach. Regardless, failing to maintain charging points is frustrating for existing EV owners, and discourages those who are trying to do the right thing by switching to EVs.

“Ultimately, the responsibility to ensure the safety and viability of charging points to suitably address demand lies with infrastructure owners, and the situation will get worse if not properly addressed.”

It is essential that the maintenance of EV charge points goes hand in hand with continued growth in the market to facilitate safe and reliable charging infrastructure, as well as support the transition to electric vehicles. The need for reliable EV charging infrastructure is essential in the current climate if we are to adequately prepare for the increase in EV ownership and UK’s 2030 new petrol and diesel car ban.

With the UK Government’s March 2022 £1.6 billion investment, dedicated to building a more convenient and reliable charging infrastructure, as well as the many schemes and grants for staff and fleets, residential and domestic use in place to support the transition, there is no denying that substantial financial resources have been put aside to help prepare for the transition.

But if financial aid is now becoming more accessible, more focus should be placed on the fundamental role that maintenance plays in improving availability and efficiency.

“Infrastructure owners such as employers and landlords have statutory obligations to maintain their charging points to high standards, as well as what one could call a moral obligation to make sure these are safe to use at all times,” adds Robert.

Scheduling in preventative maintenance tasks and routine tests and inspections to comply with the manufacturers’ recommendations can go a long way towards improving user experience.

“EV charging points can fail for a number of reasons, and though unexpected problems can always arise, such as loss of power supply, back-office connectivity or components malfunctioning, providing regular maintenance will significantly reduce the likelihood of some of these occurring.

“For instance, simple visual inspections can identify if there are issues with the connectors, such as dirt making its way to the electrical contacts, or physical damage due to vandalism or improper use.

“Ensuring tethered charging cables are stored securely, protecting the cable from damage or from becoming a trip hazard is equally important, as is general maintenance such as cleaning, inspection labelling and signage so that instructions can be clearly read.

“And of course, there is the technical side, which includes checking and testing that the charge point operates correctly and the safety devices and systems work as intended.”

Crucially, the availability and stability of the charging point should be regularly monitored so that action can be taken quickly if and when issues come about. Visibility and control are vital in supporting the viability of the infrastructure, especially when this is for public use.

Further, being aware of the lifespan of charging stations and having the knowledge required to address and prevent specific issues from occurring is instrumental in working towards increasing accessibility.

“It’s also easy to forget just how valuable charging points usage data can be, such as to track progress in relation to specific KPIs and establish whether usage rates are consistent with expectations – another aspect of maintenance that is often overlooked. Proper maintenance of charging points ultimately means getting the most out of one’s investment.”

adi Vehicle Charging Solutions provides consultation, design, installation, maintenance and network management of electric vehicle charging point infrastructures, helping build the UK EV infrastructure with the right solutions.

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