In a move that is sure to resonate with EV drivers, charging station operators and federal agencies in this country, the California legislative assembly last week passed a law meant to pressure EV charging networks to ensure more predictable uptime levels.

While the U.S. and UK as well as multiple state governments are now legislating minimum uptime requirements for electric vehicle charging stations, Canadian regulations are nowhere in sight

In a move that is sure to resonate with EV drivers, charging station operators and federal agencies in this country, the California legislative assembly last week passed a law meant to pressure EV charging networks to ensure more predictable uptime levels.

The legislation, which was co-sponsored by ChargerHelp, maker of an on-demand repair app for EV charging stations, and Quebec-based FLO, which has an installed base of more than 70,000 charging stations in North America, stipulates that any charger networks funded by governments or utilities must disclose their reliability rates to consumers.

According to Cory Bullis, FLO’s senior public affairs manager for the U.S., the bill is a direct response not just to widespread media accounts about driver encounters with out-of-service charging stations, but also a comprehensive study in which University of California, Berkeley, researchers found that less than 75 per cent of EV charging stations in the Bay Area were functioning.

“This was telling us there is a real problem here,” says Bullis.

Canada yet to act

As the number of EVs and EV chargers in Canada grows, an increasing body of data — based largely, to date, on driver surveys and anecdotal reports — points to a similar problem with charger reliability. However, Canada has yet to enact any regulatory framework, meaning there’s no formal tracking of uptime data and leaving the question of who is responsible for ensuring a minimum level of reliability up in the air.

Electric Autonomy Canada put the question of who is responsible to several federal departments, including Natural Resources Canada, whose Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program will provide $680 million for charging station installations through 2027.

In response, federal officials say that responsibility for such oversight is split among various ministries, with Measurement Canada tasked with developing regulations around network charging fees, while NRCan administers a voluntary Energy Star certification for chargers. “The responsibility for developing codes, standards, and regulations for electric vehicles within the Government of Canada falls to a number of departments,” NRCan said in a statement, “and it is important to note that some also fall within provincial/territorial jurisdiction such as the certification of EV chargers.”

U.S. and UK moving ahead on EV charger reliability

California is not the only jurisdiction that’s moving faster on the issue. This summer, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed rules for a national EV charging network that include a 97 per cent uptime requirement. A similar bill is advancing in New York State, while the UK enacted legislation earlier this year requiring 99 per cent reliability. Both the UK and the U.S. federal government are also aiming to tie funding of charging networks to performance standards.

NRCan did release a report last March that offered a 360-degree overview of Canada’s charging landscape. It included some estimates on unavailability — approximately 8 or 9 per cent — based on partial data provided by some charging network operators. It also highlighted the range of potential problems that closely matched those reported in the Berkeley study: unresponsive or unavailable screens, payment system failures, charge initiation failures, network failures and broken connectors.

Based on research done elsewhere, that 8 to 9 per cent figure seems low. In August, for example, J.D. Power released a consumer satisfaction survey rating different charging networks. While the survey didn’t specifically measure uptime metrics, reliability can be inferred based on the fact that one out of five respondents said they did not charge their car during a visit to a charging station, with 72 per cent of those respondents indicating it was because equipment was malfunctioning or out of service — figures that closely mirror the Berkeley study.

Reliability studies underway

Frederique Bouchard, FLO’s public affairs manager in Quebec, says there aren’t yet any academic studies on the reliability of networks in Canada, where the differences in climate and temperature are also a factor in uptime. “It’s important to have those data points,” she says, adding that it’s also critical for EV consumers to know which networks have superior reliability.

Daniel Breton, president and CEO of Electric Mobility Canada. Photo: Daniel Breton/LinkedIn

Daniel Breton, president and CEO of Electric Mobility Canada, says the organization is working with its members, including those that operate the charging station networks, to develop a strategy for both improving reliability and reducing friction. That work includes developing a reliability study based on the Berkeley evaluation. “This has to become seamless,” he says.

The fact that different networks using different billing systems and that there are different charging technologies (Tesla, CCS, CHAdeMO) for different vehicles complicates matters, he says. But for drivers, he notes, the reliability question remains top-of-mind, as range anxiety continues to be a factor in EV sales, especially for newer adopters.

Other Ontario-based data is expected next year through a study now underway led by Waterloo-based technology consultant Alex D’Alton. He’s teamed with one of the Berkeley researchers, as well as the University of Waterloo and nonprofit Cool The Earth. The study’s sample charging stations, D’Alton explains, will be selected at random from across the province and will include Tesla chargers, which weren’t part of the Berkeley study. “It’s a good geographic spread,” he says.

Breton says the federal government’s massive ongoing investment in charging stations has increased the pressure to gather reliability data. “There’s a timing issue here that’s very important.”

EMC’s charging network members are discussing options, and Breton says he’ll be in a position to provide more details next year. Asked if federal or provincial governments will have to step into the breach with their own rules, Breton replies, “That’s a good question.” 

  1. Those PRCan stats of 8-9% downtime must be wrong. We took delivery of a BOLT EUV 5 weeks ago and not having charging yet in our condo are relying on public chargers. In the 10 times we have charged only once did the charge work flawlessly. The other nine included the entire list of failures this article mentions, from payment issues to failed charging units. It has been extremely frustrating and caused us to tell people to wait before committing to an EV. We finally found charging in a parking garage nearby that has free Level 2 charging, you just pay for the parking. There are no apps, tap cards, failed charging units as it is just current flowing directly to the car. Thanks for this article

    1. Right on. Thank you for your frank comments. This is precisely what concerns me the most. It a nutshell, this is a completely unacceptable level of service. I apologize for tipping my cards, but I will tell you that I’ve owned a Tesla for over 4 yrs. The charging experience has been fantastic, a big non-event. Simple. Reliable. Convenient locations. I feel a bit sorry for non-EV owners actually.

  2. Let’s stop pussy-footing around the issue, folks.
    We need to accelerate the rollout of the electrification of the transportation fleet and do so with commitment and vigor. Poor charging experiences for the new-to-the-EV-world-twitchy-drivers are going to impede the rate of penetration. Full stop.
    Any pubic $’s – handsome amounts, I might add!! – that are gladly received by whatever organization MUST come with performance standards, operational uptime being just one of them. The fact that we are even discussing the poor reliability of the existing public charger fleet today is case-in-point because the public grants/incentives were enough to de-risk a ton of charger installation projects for the private and institutional sectors and really negate the need to keep the infrastructure in top running order. Had there been no grants/incentives or those with mandatory performance metrics, it seems obvious two things would have occurred: 1) the size of the fleet would have likely been smaller, BUT 2) the uptime of the equipment that was actually deployed would have been vastly better (e.g. superior locations, services and better uptime).
    The public EV charger is supposed to be a viable commercial ongoing concern; poor maintenance practices will hinder that. But the handsome grants/incentives could very well unintentionally be churning out de-risked infrastructure that was never going to be viable and not even worth actively monitoring.
    As for various Government departments figurative pointing figures to other agencies, there is no time for that. The source department of the money owns the responsibility for a successful investment on an ongoing basis. If they have to coral Canada Weights & Measures and another agency or two to help execute monitoring and enforcement, so be it. But they own.

  3. I am the principal author of the NRCan study referred to in this article. It should be noted that the ”8 to 9 per cent figure” only includes one of the failure mode of public chargers. For instance, it doesn’t include damage to the cable or the gun, or blocked accesses. The overall figure is higher, although, we didn’t have the data to make an estimate.

    1. What about when when high speed DCFC (150kW and higher) go into a fail safe mode due to some other part of the charger being broken, which doesn’t render the charger dead, but rather cuts the power down to under 50kW. IVY network has had an epidemic with this issue this summer, going on for months and months. When I spoke to them on the phone and opened a ticket, they didn’t seem to care much, to be honest. I think the revenue for them is so tiny, they just struggle to fix them promptly. Why do you think the reliability is so low? I have yet to meet a non-Tesla driver who would say they’ve been happy with public DCFC charging and that tells me I don’t even need a study or a report to know the situation in this province and many others is simply not good, at all.

      1. I have dozens of pictures of broken public chargers, in many cases unknown to the charging operator.

        Short of having an on-site attendant, charging operators may remain unaware of charger downtime. While some downtime causes, such as a failed power module, may be detected remotely, most problems can only be observed on-site. In the market study, we mentioned that accessibility, cable, connector, credit card reader, and screen issues often remain undetected.

        Even when a problem is detected, repair may not occur for days or weeks. Obviously, this points to different problems.

        Also, to support your point, a lexical analysis on comments left by drivers shows that they are more satisfied by level 2 chargers than by DCFC. That’s even true for Tesla drivers.

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