Why Are So Many Electric Vehicle Chargers Broken?

The Eco Experts
EV chargers in an outside carpark

Electric vehicles are spiking in popularity, with 2021 alone seeing more new electric vehicles (EVs) sold than in the previous five years combined.

This of course means a far greater need for electric vehicle chargers, which you’ve likely seen dotted around cities and petrol stations.

The problem? It seems like a lot of these EV chargers are broken. Not an ideal situation when the need to move away from petrol and diesel cars grows every day.

We’re investigating why this is, looking at the scale of the issue and which areas are the worst affected. We’ve spoken to EV owners to get their thoughts on the problem too.

EV charger connected to car in London

How many public electric vehicle chargers are there in the UK?

Using the Zap Map website (a handy resource for locating charging points), it appears that there are around 49,000 EV chargers in the UK. This is a massive increase over the 5,000 or so chargers back in 2015, so it’s clear electric vehicles are continuing the charge (no pun intended).

Just to be clear, the actual number of units is more like 29,000, but a good chunk can charge two cars at the same time. So for clarity, we’ve totalled each charging point, not just each individual unit.

 

How many electric vehicle chargers are expected in the future?

Towards the tail end of 2021, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that by 2030, the number of EV chargers in the UK will reach over a million.

In order to reach that figure, around 145,000 new chargers would have to be installed each year from now until then – an ambitious target to put it lightly.

Also, to meet the growing demand for EV sales, the UK would need 507 chargers installed every single day until 2035.

Right now, sales of EVs are outpacing new places to charge them. The obvious effect of this is that more EV owners will find themselves without a place to charge their car. However, at least the ever-increasing necessity of EV chargers is being recognised.

So there is room for some optimism, but not without a grain of salt. The unfortunate reality is that currently, far too many charging stations are breaking down, leaving EV owners to drive further and further to find one that works.

Person using EV charger connected to car

How many electric vehicle chargers are broken?

Channel 4’s investigative programme, Dispatches, found that over 5.2% of the 26,000 public EV chargers they looked into were broken. That’s 1,352 EV chargers out of action.

These findings were confirmed on the Zap Map website as well. For context, imagine the chaos that would ensue if 5.2% of the UK’s petrol stations were out of use. You’d have roughly 450 stations unable to serve fuel, leaving just over half a million petrol and diesel cars stranded.

It’s worse for EVs, which take substantially longer to charge up. With the average charge time (from empty to full) being around eight hours (on a typical 7 kW charging station), EVs are hit far harder than ordinary cars. Compare that to the typical time to fill up a petrol tank, which is just four and a half minutes.

The 5.2% figure is also a long way off the government’s 99% reliability rate.

 

Why are so many EV chargers broken?

The simple answer to why so many EV chargers are broken is that manufacturers are clearly not building them to a reliable standard, despite statements to the contrary.

The less simple answer is that no single manufacturer's EV charger is identical. Take Tesla’s Supercharger – it is quite literally a glorified socket that you can plug your car into. Other than dirt accumulating in the plug pins, or someone running over it, very little can go wrong.

You’re billed based on how much you charge your car (or what ‘Tesla credits’ you have stored), so the charger itself is very barebones (but efficient).

This isn’t the case for other chargers. The bp pulse EV charger, for example, relies on payment options including credit cards, contactless, and app payments. All of these introduce different things that can (and often do) go wrong. The wireless signal might fail, meaning no app support, or the bank connection could go down, meaning no credit card payments.

It’s little wonder then that so many people have reported issues with these chargers.

 

Which areas in the UK are hardest hit?

It’s always going to be frustrating finding a broken charger in a city like London, where sure, one might be round the corner or just a few streets away, but you’ve got traffic to contend with.

However, it’s rural areas that suffer the most from dodgy EV chargers. You might be driving for miles to get to a charging station only to find none of them work.

Electric vehicle owner Anthony Reddington said in an interview with inews that “if you pull up to a petrol station, if the lights are on then you know you are going to be able to get petrol”. He added, “but if you pull up at a charge point, you roll up to it and you think ‘is it going to work?”

Long-distance journeys are made far more difficult (if not impossible) too. Thomas Moore, science correspondent for Sky News, quickly realised how difficult it was to drive to the recent COP26 summit from London.

Along the way, charging point after charging point was broken, with those that did work crowded by EV owners trying to charge their vehicles. Again, if the UK is to make a genuine switch to EVs, things have to drastically change.

Talking to drivers about broken EV chargers

Just looking at the recent increase in EV sales makes it clear more and more people are keen to go green. The problem is that far too many people are running into issues with EV chargers – whether this is at a rapid charger on a long-distance journey, or a charger in a city centre.
Twitter has bucket loads of examples of EV drivers complaining about faulty charging points. This thread from December 2021 highlights the scale of the issue in London:

 

 

Honestly, this is the tip of the iceberg. Thousands upon thousands of people have taken to social media to complain about broken charging points. Some of the most commonly complained about things include:

  • Apps saying a charging station is operating, only for the driver to turn up to find it not working
  • Identification cards being invalidated by faulty charging stations (this has happened with bp pulse stations primarily)
  • Near-constant “safety checks” on charging stations that leave them inactive for months at a time
  • Leaving a vehicle “charging” only to come back later and find it hasn’t charged at all

 

We also spoke with Richard Ingram from drivingelectric.com:

 

Have you experienced any issues with EV chargers?

I think every EV driver has experienced issues with chargers at some point – providing they don't exclusively charge at home. The trick is learning which ones to trust and planning your routes/journeys/schedule around those points.

 

If so, how often?

Reliability is improving all the time. I definitely experienced more issues when I was new to EVs, but as I say – you learn to avoid the troublesome ones!

 

Also, have you noticed what brands of chargers tend to break down the most?

I'll point you to a rundown of the best chargepoint providers.

 

Have broken EV chargers made it more difficult to own an electric vehicle?

Yes and no. Early adopters, by and large, tend to have home charging. Depending on your vehicle, that could give you a range of up to 300 miles without needing to rely on the public infrastructure whatsoever.

Of course, this is less likely in urban areas like London – so many of those ‘early adopters' are having to utilise on-street chargers like those from Source London or Ubitricity.

Personally, aside from not having charging right outside my house, I've not found this to be an issue.

 

Do you think London’s EV charger network is widespread enough to accommodate the increase in EV owners? Both presently and in the future?

Yes and no. I can only speak for the local area – I've not really had the need to utilise points elsewhere in London. But honestly, despite the increase in EV ownership, I never struggle to charge using the points in and around Barnes/Richmond. That said, the borough of Richmond is particularly well-stocked when it comes to public charging.

However, we enquired about getting our lamp posts replaced with electric charge points but the application was denied due to the fact our lights are placed at the back of the pavement rather than the front; the council cannot accept liability for trailing cables etc.

So in effect, our street is already obsolete, and over the next five years the number of EVs is going to skyrocket. I wonder what the solution is?

Talking to EV charging point providers

None of the seven major EV charging point providers we contacted got back to us for comment, so instead we’ll use available public statements and see if they match reality.

The CEO of bp pulse, Matteo de Renzi, said that they’re “adding more reliable and high-performing charging sites than any other provider.”

This is contrary to a lot of anecdotal evidence, and indeed actual evidence. They’re often ranked amongst the worst EV chargers available, despite having the financial backing of BP and boasting charging speeds up to 150 kW.

People have frequently complained about how long it takes for broken bp pulse chargers to be repaired, and those installed in homes aren’t any different either. One example had an individual with a bp pulse charger that did work, but only all in one go, rather than in increments.

What this means is that rather than topping off his car’s battery, his bp pulse would charge it, then continue to use electricity as if it were still charging.

So he ended up using all the energy stored from his solar panels and had to pay for electricity from the grid – despite not actually needing to use it. Another person was left waiting over four months for their bp pulse installation. At the time of writing this article, it isn’t clear if this customer has received her charger.

There are many, many examples like this across the UK, so it’s little wonder that the RAC rated bp pulse 13th on the list of EV charging companies.

Another company, Charge Your Car, claims to be “the UKs fastest growing pay-as-you-go recharging network for EVs”. One look at their Trustpilot reviews tells you all you need to know, with an average rating of one and a half stars out of five.

Source London, an EV charging company in the capital, states on their website that they’re “leading London’s EV revolution”. Unfortunately for them, almost every review and ranking website says otherwise (RAC places them 14th on their list).

EV owners have reported numerous incidents of returning to Source London’s chargers to find that not only had their vehicles not charged, but that they’ve received a hefty idle fee.

They also have a habit of not recognising ‘resident cards’, which are supposed to offer people a discount.

If you’re an EV owner and want to make sure that at least your home charger is reliable, take a look at our list of the 9 best EV home chargers on the market.

Summary

We shouldn’t be too negative about the state of EV chargers, because at the end of the day it’s encouraging to see the shift to greener tech. Moving away from so-called ‘fossil cars’ is an obvious positive, and because that’s all we’ve known for decades, it’s always going to be tricky.

That being said, these teething issues have to be resolved sooner rather than later. If the current track record of broken EV chargers is 5.2% or thereabouts, there’s a real possibility that widespread EV adoption could be hit hard. After all, convenience is king and a lot of people will be reluctant to get an EV if they think they won’t be able to charge it easily on the go.

Tom Gill Writer

Tom is a big fan of all things eco and has a passionate interest in how technology and localised projects can work together to make the world greener.

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