With the advent of DC and AC rapid charging technologies like CHAdeMO, Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger protocol and 43 kW three-phase AC units, refilling your electric car’s battery pack takes far less time than ever before. What once took eight hours can now be achieved in under 30 minutes, if you happen to have the right combination of car and charging station.
So when we were contacted this weekend by an EV owner from the UK who said Chargemaster’s Polar Network — yes, the same one planning on charging EV owners up to £8.50 for 30 minutes of charging at a rapid charge station or up to £2.50 for refilling at a 6.6 kilowatt Type 2 charging station — had logged one of his public charging sessions at more than 386,655 hours, we thought it was a joke.
Enter Dave Davies, a businessman and Nissan LEAF owner from Reigate, Surrey. Like many EV owners, Mr Davies is interested in keeping a track of how much electricity he’s used to charge his car so he can work out real-world costings and figure out how much money he’s saved on petrol since dumping the pump. So this weekend, he logged onto Chargemaster’s dedicated Polar Network customer portal to see how much electricity he’s used over the past few months at Polar’s network of EV charging stations.
What he saw shocked him.
Listed under the first two entries for his public charging station use — totalling less than an hour of public charging at his local supermarket — the third entry lists a date of January first, 1970, some 41 years before the Nissan LEAF even went on sale in the UK, and 42 years before the Polar Network was launched.
Yet the computer insists that Mr Davies had been charging for 386,655 hours and 56 minutes, consuming 2.48 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. This, says the obviously broken software, saved him more than £1.6 million in fuel costs.
Obviously, Mr Davies’ account has become confused after a hardware or software error, and he wasn’t actually charging for that length of time. But we’ve seen several other examples over the years of the same charging network producing similar errors. We’ve even seen a public charge post recording a mammoth multi-week charging session for a phantom car that isn’t even plugged in, while other charging stations happily report they’re charging nothing but an empty space.
Hardware defaulting to a date some time in the 1970s or turn of the last century has been a traditional symptom of a failed backup battery or incorrectly-set system clock for years. We’re no experts on the system used in charging stations, but we’d hazard a guess that this kind of symptom was triggered by a power trip, or perhaps a dead clock battery.
Either way, we’ve seen it happen before.
“Did someone mention being billed for time spent charging?,” joked Mr Davies on Twitter last Saturday. “Scary stuff!”
Scary stuff indeed. Using the rates outlined by Chargemaster last week for its Polar Network, that little ‘phantom’ charging session equates to a potential bill of more than half a million pounds. All for a computer error.
Of course, computer glitches like this happen all the time — and we’d like to think that had it actually been billable, a human somewhere within the company would have noticed that Davies’ supposed charging session was both theoretically impossible and statistically unlikely and cancelled the billing.
But it does highlight one thing we’re seriously worried about here at Transport Evolved: If charging networks start to bill customers for the electricity they use, it’s imperative that the hardware and software responsible for collecting any owed monies is robust, reliable and accountable.
Where does that phantom power go? Why are the systems producing these kind of errors? And how does it make you feel about using a network when its telematics seem to have such basic failures?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
We reached out to Chargemaster’s official press team several times during the past few days for comment, but at the time of writing have received none. We’ll update this story as and when that changes.
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