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, 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.”