Opinion: Why Electric Car Charging Networks Need Impartial, Third-Party Regulation Or Face Collapse

All over the world, governmental bodies, agencies, and charities are jumping on the electric vehicle bandwagon. They’re embracing the dawn of the age of the zero emission vehicle with enthusiasm and gusto, helping to install charging point after charging point for the benefit of electric and plug-in hybrid drivers.

Charging stations are great, but how do we improve the reliability of them?

Charging stations are great, but how do we improve the reliability of them?

Thanks to generous grants and financial support from automakers like Nissan, BMW and Volkswagen, we’ve even seen an explosion in rapid charging stations, offering customers with suitably-equipped cars the ability to recharge their cars from empty to 80 percent full in as little as 30 minutes. With the exception of Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] — whose Supercharger network is owned and operated by Tesla exclusively for its own customers — the remaining non-Tesla charging stations are owned and operated by a dizzying array of different organisations, companies and municipalities.

But while more electric car charging stations is a great thing for encouraging more people behind the wheel of a plug-in car, there’s a global endemic threatening the operation of charging stations and the very future of plug-in cars through poor reliability, a lack of accountability and inconsistent access.

We think all three comes from a lack of regulation and accountability among the charging station providers, which is why we think car charging networks need impartial, third party regulation in order to survive. What’s more, we think that regulation needs to happen quickly, or the charging industry faces major collapse.

With that in mind, here are three things we think plug-in networks need — and why they can only be regulated by a third party in the interests of true accountability. There’s a possible exception for sites with low-powered 110-volt charging and so-called ‘dumb sockets,’ but we’ll come to that presently.

Reliability, Accountability

Here’s the biggie. Reliability among electric car charging networks isn’t good enough. And while different networks and even different sites will have wildly different reliability and uptime to neighboring stations a few miles down the road, the lack of reliability is proving a challenge to many users.

Regulation would help ensure that uptime and reliability were pushed up.

Regulation would help ensure that uptime and reliability were pushed up.

Here in the UK, we recently visited a location with four different type 2 (level 2) charging stations installed. Of those four, only one was in operation, and the one we tried using inadvertently locked on to our charging cable but failed to provide any power. The emergency out-of-hours helpline — staffed by volunteers from the company in question — tried to be as helpful as they could but couldn’t help us retrieve the stuck cable until the following day. Luckily, some persuasion enabled us to retrieve it.

But we’re not alone. Look at any online charging database form the Open Charge Map through to PlugShare, and you’ll see tales of woe from electric vehicle owners around the globe who have found a broken charging station, unresponsive card reader, or simply haven’t been able to get their cars to communicate with the station.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in Boston, Lincolnshire or Boston, Massachusetts; Portland, Oregon or Portland, Devon, charging station reliability is a major issue. It’s the same no matter the network too — with perhaps the exception of Tesla’s privately-owned and privately-operated Supercharger network — there are just too many faults across every charging network we’ve looked at, although we note some are worse than others.

Worse still, many charging providers with units that are offline or broken often blame someone else, like the sites themselves or the hardware manufacturers, for the problems.

And after four years in the field — more in some cases — we’re starting to get fed up with the same-old argument that plug-in cars are a cutting edge technology that will surely have ‘teething problems’. Yes, problems are inevitable, but we need an agreed way to deal with them.

So how would regulation work? In the world of regulated utility companies, poor service and brownouts results in fines for the offending companies. In some situations, payouts or compensation can be claimed by paying customers. Regulating public charging stations (and levying fines against providers who didn’t meet acceptable uptime or provision levels) would, we think, dramatically improve service and eliminate the blame culture.

If your charging station fails, who is responsible? And who pays for the inconvenience?

If your charging station fails, who is responsible? And who pays for the inconvenience?

But in order for true accountability, that level of service would need to extend from the charging networks through to the manufacturers of the equipment and the sites which host the charging. In order for true accountability and reliability, each needs to be regulated or at least held accountable when things go wrong that lie outside of the bounds of an ‘act of God.’

Fair Pricing

Which brings us to charging for charging. At the moment, many charging networks provide their customers with free electricity, making it hard — and we think a little disingenuous — for customers to complain when things go wrong.

By setting out a fair pricing structure through a third-party regulator, charging providers are not only provided with a predictable income but customers are also given a right to complain when things aren’t as they should be.

Paying a fair price for the electricity consumed at a charging station — plus a fair overhead charge to cover maintenance and administration — also provides charging providers with an income stream that they can use to ensure the continued functionality of the network. Moreover, charging for charging also means that there’s more funds to allow charging providers to offer at least rudimentary 24/7 support, even if that equates to training up a member of staff at each charging location to understand how to safely perform a hardware hard reset if something goes awry with a unit. (In many cases, we understand, that can be enough to clear whatever the error was and enable further operation.)

Paying for charging isn't always popular, but it does at least make it easier to complain when things aren't right.

Paying for charging isn’t always popular, but it does at least make it easier to complain when things aren’t right.

Regulating the pricing of charging electric cars through a third party, just like utility companies are regulated, also means that both customers and providers have a clear path that they can take if they disagree with rulings on fees.

There’s more. By charging for providing a service, charging providers also eliminate the increasing problem of ‘freeloaders:’ electric vehicle drivers who live near a rapid charging station who will stop and charge there for free rather than charge at home. It also eliminates the problem of ‘charging station hogs:’ people who camp out at a charging station to get every last drop of power from a rapid charge, no matter how long it takes.

In both of those cases, someone who is paying a set fee per kilowatt-hour or per minute will be less likely to take advantage of the charging station, leaving it for other users whose need is more pressing.


Finally, we come to roaming agreements or payment processes. Regulating charging provision in a way similar to utility companies or telecoms companies should make it easier to mandate a set roaming agreement between different providers, including setting any allowable overage charges or extras tacked on to a customer’s account for roaming.

Knowing how much you're going to pay to charge can help you plan your journeys more effectively.

Knowing how much you’re going to pay to charge can help you plan your journeys more effectively.

Most importantly however, mandating a roaming component through regulatory processes would make it easier and more transparent for a customer to cross between different charging networks as they travel. Moreover, in some situations — as we have here in the UK — it would allow customers of one network to drive a few miles down the road to a functioning charging station operated by a different network and get a charge without being stranded without the correct access card.

Of course, one of the ways around this particular conundrum would be to mandate contactless payment or smartphone connectivity for each charging station. But in some cases that could be costly and cause a negative impact for the industry.

But ask yourself this: when was the last time you tried to use a gas station and was turned away because you didn’t have the correct bank card or money? We’re guessing it’s only happened if you accidentally tried to use a ‘member only’ gas station like the ones operated by Costco.

Regulation: an unnecessary evil?

We get it. Regulation isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. And sometimes, regulation can cause more problems than it solves. But just as utility companies, road regulations and the telecoms industry — just like many other public services — charging providers are responsible for providing a public service to an increasing number of plug-in and electric car drivers.

Regulation could make charging in public far more pleasant for all involved.

Regulation could make charging in public far more pleasant for all involved.

Just as gas stations are regulated, so too do we think it’s time to embrace at least some fundamental regulation among the charging providers of the world. But as we’ve learned from bad experiences across a multitude of different industries in the past — the oil and gas industry most noticeably — regulation needs to come from an outside body, not from within.

As far as we’re concerned, charging regulation is a necessary evil, with perhaps an exception for companies and sites who offer basic 110-volt or 240-volt outlets. In our experience, they rarely fail and are the most reliable of charging provision available.

Initially, it will be a tough task, and we may very well see the number of public charging stations drop, perhaps even dramatically, while the industry has time to adjust to the new reality. But as we’re sure you’ll agree, it’s far better to have a fifty thousand reliable charging stations around the world that are reliable and their owners accountable than it is to have one hundred thousand unreliable, unpredictable, and untrustworthy ones.


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  • Great points u2026 nnin most regions there is minimum set requirements to operate a business. eg: Elevators are required to be inspected and meet minimum service requirements, why not EVSE u2026 particularly DCFC as a bad cable, or connector has greater potential hazard. (not a current issue, but as stations age, regular upkeep is necessary)nnIt’s only logical that a public facing EV charging location should have a business license and be required to meet a minimum level of standard. nnBTW:nMinimum operating standards would also help site hosts. In the US there are a number of failed DCFC locations that the provider has failed to maintain, but site hosts can’t remove/replace the EVSE due to contract obligations. Many hosters just let be, as legal costs to dispute and replacement are not something they can budget.

    • vdiv

      Right! If you are charging money per unit of something the gov’t (usually a weights and measures dept.) has a role to play at least as a mediator to make sure that measuring of those units is accurate. nnWe also have electric codes in place for safety, but may want some inspection in that regard.nnThe sensible role for the gov’t is to create a regulatory framework conducive for the installation and operation of charging stations, including anti-ICEing enforcement, not making charging a bigger nightmare.

  • TonyWilliamsSanDiego

    As a station part owner, I would not want regulations that dumbed down our business to the lowest common denominator. We charge 15 cents per minute, or $9 per hour, we have extremely high “up time”, we have delivered over 4000 successful paid charge events, and we were the first DC charger on the largest network in the USA, ChargePoint (over 21,000 stations).nnIn the USA, we have already had the worst of the worst from Ecotality / Blink, and their legacy lives on with the company that bought it for pennies on the dollar in bankruptcy court. There were plenty of regulations and hoops to jump through for that company to get over $115 million in public funds and another $100 plus million in investor cash. No amount of additional regulation would guarantee that it would not be a “train wreck”, but enough regulation will certainly slow up future sites.nnRecently, we learned that the very first DC charger in San Diego (installed by Blink) was disconnected by the property owner. The only expense that the owner was responsible for is the electricity (and associated “demand” fees), and yet they couldn’t make a go of it. It’s a very difficult business model, in general. Added rules will make the “shut off” choice easier and easier. nnUnless the rules pertain to the exorbitant fees associated with electricity delivery in the state of California, or subsidize on-demand energy storage (batteries), there’s little hope for a viable long term business model in low usage sites. Yes, we need chargers every 40 miles to have a viable charging network for corridor travel with 80 mile range cars, therefore some will be higher usage than others.nnFor installations paid for with public funds, those funds need strict performance metrics over 5 – 10 years, and fines for failed metrics. No additional regulations required.n

    • Tony, thanks for your valuable comments. I hope everyone can read those as well as the article above 🙂

    • TheFrequentPoster

      You charge $9 an hour for what? How many kWh? (So you know, I start with a predisposition in favor of you, but I need facts.) I am retired now but I have top-level training and deep experience in business analysis. So I’m really curious about details, just for the hell of it. I was always skeptical of the EV charging business, to be subdued about it.nnI am also interested in any details bearing on COGS that you might want to provide, both for the San Diego DC charger, and in general. Please rest assured that I will never enter the business. I’m only curious, as opposed to accumulating competitive intelligence.nnI think the suggestions in the article are ignorant to the point of laughability, but I’m not going to further unless I know that I’m engaging with intelligent life. 🙂

      • Ignorant? How so?

        • TheFrequentPoster

          Electricity pricing and returns are subject to regulation because electric utilities are a monopoly. EV chargers are appliances, and the businesses offer their use in return for a fee. There’s no monopoly; anyone who wants to get into the business can do so — easily. As long as there isn’t any fraud, government has no authority to regulate pricing, roaming, or performance.nnRather than suggesting that gov’t regulate all of this, you should be asking why there’s so little business to be had to begin with. If the reasons trace back to performance, then competition will take care of it. If the reasons trace back to an underlying lack of demand, then there won’t be new entrants and the condition of what chargers do exist will deteriorate.nnIt seems pretty obvious that the latter condition holds. Why? Because the characteristics of the EVs on the road today make public charging so time-consuming that hardly anyone wants to use them. And that’s a “hardly anyone” within a miniscule EV population. Instituting new regulations, and therefore a compliance regime, would only raise costs and prices, reducing what’s left of any business.nnAnd to top it off, you want to cap the rate of return. News flash: The reason utilities can have return caps is because, historically speaking, they’ve been monopolies with little business risk. The public charging business is exactly the opposite: Anyone can enter, and the risk is very high, as illustrated by the bankruptcy of a government-financed network.nnIt’s obvious that public charging was an idea before its time. There aren’t enough EVs, and the EVs that do exist take so long to charge that the owners do it at home. To the extent that any public charging does happen, it’s done by a handful of Tesla drivers at their “supercharger” sites, and by people whose employers have chargers at work. nnBeyond that, there’s virtually no business to be had at the moment. Regulation won’t solve a thing, and will insure that, if EV designs change enough to make public charging attractive, it’ll take longer for the charger rental trade to revive. nnA larger suggestion: Rather than decrying this or that gap in the EV world (deficient public chargers, dealer sales people who don’t want to sell EVs), as a journalist your best bet is to ask why. Why is there so little underlying business for public chargers? Why don’t dealers want to sell the cars?nnWhat you do not seem to grasp is people get into business to make money. Horrible, I know. But true. A car salesman is many things, but above all (s)he is a cash hound. If a sales person is reluctant to sell EVs, there is a reason, and it is not because they hate the idea of EVs or that Exxon bribes them not to sell EVs. If EV charger networks aren’t getting customers, and have gone bankrupt, and there is no rush to enter a business that’s easy to enter, there is a reason, and it’s not “lack of regulation.”nnCome on. Be a reporter. Go ask people. And by “people,” I don’t mean the EVangelists who think people work for love and not money. Go interview the people who operate charger networks. Go find some car sales people and find out why they don’t want to mess around with electric vehicles. Commit some real journalism, even if (actually, especially if) the answers wind up being different than you wanted them to be.nnCourage and diligence.

  • Ad van der Meer

    In the Netherlands only one thing is regulated: if you are offering a rfid card, it needs to be associated with a national clearing house. In this way, every card can be used at (almost) all public charging points. Tesla and Fastned are the exception. Fastned uses an app. Tesla … well, they don’t need anything.nThe rfid card from The New Motion can be used at some chargers in other countries as well with which they have a contract. This makes their card very usuable in Belgium and Germany too.nI understood there was the intention of having an european clearing house, but that seems to have died along with other great intentions.nPricing is not regulated here. This means prices vary. Fastned charges u20ac0.83 / kwh (rapid chargers only), while most public chargers (mostly 11kW 3 fase of which most EV’s can only use one) cost u20ac0,35 per kWh.nUptime is incredibly high compared to what I hear from the UK . Fastned has a 99% up time and the other rapid charger are not far behind, but I remember the times of the DBT chargers which were very unreliable. There are a few left and things seem to have improved.

    • Richard Murray

      Hi Ad I am picking up my first EV next week and was in the Netherlands last week it seemed as if there seemed to be a lot more chargers there than we have in the UK. I like the idea of the raid card coming from one central clearing house that works on all chargers.nI plan on traveling to the Netherlands on a regular basis from the UK which means going through France and Belgium where do I apply to get a card that will work on the majority of chargers on my journey.nIt does bother me that I have to get half a dozen different cards if I want to travel around and charge up in the UK so it would be good to have a central organisation.

    • TheFrequentPoster

      I pay 0.11 euros (0.1149 in USD) per kWh at home. Last time I looked, the cheapest public chargers in my part of the U.S. cost about 0.35 euros/kWh. If I were to use public charging, the fuel cost alone — without the imputed cost of battery replacement — would exceed that of gasoline for an equivalent car.

      • Ad van der Meer

        I agree that with low gas prices in the US those numbers do not compute well for EV’s. Energy is much more expensive in the Netherlands. Households pay about u20ac0.25 per kWh and u20ac1.58 per liter for regular unleaded. That’s $ 0.265 per kWh and $6.20 per gallon.

        • TheFrequentPoster

          At those prices for gas and electricity, my EV’s operating cost including fuel, battery replacement, my state’s special EV tax, and a deduction for avoided maintenance, would be about 8 eurocents per kilometer, compared to about 12 eurocents per kilometer for an equivalent gas car.

  • DaveinOlyWA

    Regulation is the only way public charging will work. Its a given for any large industry, especially one that is essentially a branch of public utilities which brings me to what I have been harping about forever and that is the local PUDs should be handling public charging stations. Make my usage directly billed to PSE (my electric/NG provider) have options. subscriptions billed at whatever (I have a connect fee of $7.82 a month for home service, have another for “road” service) and then 200% of going rates for fast charging, 100% for L2 charging or have one time use options of 400% of normal rates for fast charging and 200% for L2 charging. its all pretty simple really…

    • TheFrequentPoster

      You’re asking for government to operate gas stations for EVs, taking on the business risk in equipping and serving <10% of a population that amounts to <1% of the sedans on the road? Good luck with that.

  • just someone old

    ABB just presented fastchargers payable with creditcards nso no need for roaming or other complicated regulationnhttps://twitter.com/TeslaClubBE/status/578583841859846144nnhttp://www08.abb.com/global/scot/scot344.nsf/veritydisplay/172613a94f0a8ca1c1257df9002e4906/$file/4EVC402201-LFEN_PaymentTerminal.pdf

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