Panelist for charging series webinar
In a recent discussion hosted by Electric Autonomy, industry experts from Electric Mobility Canada, Ford, CSA and FLO explored strategies for networks and site hosts to meet and surpass user expectations at charging stations. They also delved into how the adoption of the North American Charging Standard (NACS) could play a role in enhancing the charging experience. Photo: Electric Autonomy

Kicking off Electric Autonomy’s annual five-part public EV charging series, experts discuss how EV networks can meet user expectations and the role NACS will have on future charging experiences

As the electric vehicle industry evolves, the expectations of the growing ranks of EV drivers are rising when it comes to the public EV charging experience.

EV drivers today are far less tolerant of technical issues or minimalist installations that early adopters accepted as industry growing pains. Instead, they demand a straightforward, reliable and hassle-free experience.

In a recent discussion hosted by Electric Autonomy, industry experts from Electric Mobility Canada, Ford, CSA and FLO explored strategies for networks and site hosts to meet and surpass user expectations at charging stations. They also delved into how the adoption of the North American Charging Standard (NACS) could play a role in enhancing the charging experience.

The session is the first in a five-episode series addressing the fundamental issues and opportunities of Canada’s EV charging infrastructure.

A summary of the panel discussion is available below. You can also watch a video of the full session, sponsored by FLO, here:

Meeting customer charging expectations

When arriving at a public charging location, there are three key criteria EV drivers are looking for, says Louise Lévesque, policy director at Electric Mobility Canada.

These are:

  1. Reliability, including functional charging stations with compatible connectors, well-maintained sites, clear and user-friendly operating instructions and a readily available customer hotline for assistance.
  2. Charging options, including multiple stations per site to reduce wait times and the likelihood of having to go to another site because of malfunctioning stations; also, various charging speeds to cater to different charging needs.
  3. Convenience and security, meaning charging stations are located near restrooms and restaurants. These areas should be safe and well-lit, with nearby shopping options and functional amenities for added comfort and utility.

“With the growing use of charging stations, we’re already seeing that networks are going to upgrade their sites,” says Lévesque. “As EV drivers have more options, they will choose the best sites. I think that’s how the industry will evolve towards better EV charging experience for everybody.”

Additionally, Lévesque suggests that private and government investors could tie specific criteria to their investments to ensure the profitability of charging sites. This would also better charging experiences for customers.

OEMS hope NACS will improve the charging experience

The panelists agreed that the introduction of the North American Charging Standard (NACS) connector has the potential to improve the overall quality of users’ charging experiences significantly.

Earlier this year, Ford became the first car manufacturer to adopt the NACS connector after Tesla released the geometry of the charger to other automakers.

“We see that NACS offers different advantages,” says Alejandro Orellana, EV charging manager at Ford Motor Co.

For example, Orellana highlights the NACS connector’s user-friendly design, which is smaller, lighter and easier to handle. Overall, Tesla is currently a leader in the public charging network space and the NACS connector is a major reason why, says Orellana.

“The NACS connectors also offer high performance and are capable of faster charging or higher currents compared to, for example, CCS,” says Orellana. “So with all these advantages — and in order to provide a better customer experience — we’re leveraging this partnership with Tesla.”

Standardizing the customer experience

The CSA Group, an organization that sets up committees to develop accredited standards for various sectors, has been following the development of the NACS plug closely.

“I think what NACS does is it underscores really that need to continue to find ways to standardize the customer experience,” says Brent Hartman, director of fuel & transportation, CSA Group.

While NACs hold promise to improve the EV user’s charging experience, Jeff Dion, senior director for product line management at FLO EV Charging, is still cautious about fully embracing NACS at this point.

“Not too long ago that connector was proprietary. There’s a need to build that full supply chain and also standardization around this connector,” explains Dion.

So, what does that mean?

Dion points out that the EV industry is complex, with multiple actors and stakeholders, including network providers, hardware manufacturers and site operators. It’s essential for all parties align their goals and standards.

“If you want to be sure to serve the mass market, [charging] needs to be efficient,” says Dion.

“Standards are a great way of streamlining this and making sure that the right people sit at the same table and work on building that base foundation of making sure that it works all the time.”

NACS and charging reliability

Regarding the NACS connectors, while it “should help grow the market,” says Hartman, questions around charger safety, security, reliability, availability, interoperability and accessibility will persist.

“I think you will need standards playing that role to document the minimum safety and performance requirements, and the right standards also serve as the tools for conformity to industry and regulatory requirements,” says Hartman.

For example, charger connector designs will need ongoing safety evaluations, charger uptime and performance will require continuous monitoring, there might be government or user requirements related to charger performance, and data security will need to be maintained and assessed.

“Overall, I think NACS will help streamline some of these variabilities and charging equipment design and performance. With CSA and other standards developers we will continue to work on various aspects to support standardizing the customer experience,” says Hartman.

Current work items on the go

The CSA has two ongoing standardization initiatives that are relevant to help improve EV charger reliability.

The first involves the development of a comprehensive guideline for EV charger deployment, which addresses aspects such as reliability, interoperability and safety.

The guideline was initially being advanced for Canada, but expanded to include the U.S.

“CSA and our working group looking at the guidance document are highly interested in monitoring requirements [from the U.S. Department of Transportation National EV Infrastructure Program] and how they play out in the U.S.A. and what lessons learned,” says Hartman.

The insights from the U.S. could potentially be applied in Canada or on a binational scale.

The other work item the CSA is focused on is specifically on EV reliability.

“We think there needs to be a specific standard to look at defining specific terms. Looking at different factors for reliability — whether it’s hardware, software, or environmental. Determining acceptable levels, coming to consensus on measuring and monitoring reliability and who it might be reported to,” says Hartman.

“Then looking at other jurisdictions and thinking about how that standard might harmonize whether with the U.S. or maybe more globally and, certainly, we’d want it to be harmonized across Canada.”

What do EV drivers want to see at charging sites?

For Ford, the charging infrastructure itself is the most critical amenity it can offer its customers.

“If charging works and it’s operational and if you see good reviews online…you will see more customers and more drivers going to the site,” says Orellana.

On the other hand, if there are negative reviews, people are likely to avoid those locations and look for alternatives.

With the expectation of EV drivers evolving, there is a growing demand for various amenities to enhance the charging station experience, says Lévesque. These may include features like canopies over the charging stations, accessible charging stations and extending network coverage to remote and rural areas.

As part of Ford’s Model E program, the automaker is installing fast chargers at nearly 300 dealerships across Canada by early next year. Once equipped, these dealerships “can add more amenities around the charging or around the dealership to make it more attractive for new customers,” says Orellana

Some other extra perks EV drivers might like to see, adds Lévesque, include picnic tables, dog parks near charging stations, strategically placed waste bins and even the convenience of a windshield washer station equipped with a squeegee.