by Michael A. Smith
When the automobile was first introduced, drivers were faced with a new fear — range anxiety. Gas stations were non-existent and the best place to find fuel was at pharmacies, which sold containers of gas as a side business. Long-distance trips had to be carefully planned to ensure fuel was available when needed.
A little over 100 years later and electric vehicle (EV) owners are facing a similar issue. This new range anxiety is two-fold – first, by a potential lack of available EV charging stations and second, by the reliability of those stations to dispense essential “fuel” on demand. Reliability is a must-have but current legacy chargers are not equipped with the right technology to meet uptime demands that both consumers, and now regulators, expect.
Multifamily is more susceptible to home-charging issues
A recent study by the University of California-Berkeley concerning DCFC chargers showed they averaged 75% uptime, which translates to 125,000 non-functioning chargers in a pool of 500,000 at any given time. A handful of these chargers were unusable due to maintenance issues or poor design, such as charging cables incapable of reaching any vehicle at all. However, one of the most serious issues facing charging stations is a lack of connectivity, which is central to essential functions such as user authentication and payment processing, for example, that allow the charger to dispense energy.
As part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Biden administration is requiring federally funded charging stations to have 97% uptime — a number that many charging stations currently in existence are struggling to meet. Even at 97%, it would mean that a pool of 500,000 chargers would have 15,000 not pumping electrons in the moment of need. The only way to avoid this is the deployment of a reliable and resilient system that offers 100% uptime, regardless of any WiFi or cellular connectivity issues. And with the wave of new EV charging technology and companies, this is now achievable.
Multifamily communities face a larger problem beyond a resident being unable to charge. While the building is a residence, it faces the same potential backlash as a retail location does with an unhappy customer. One-star reviews about bad charging stations will hit the Google page of the community rather than the station manufacturer or the company that supplies connectivity. It’s the same as any appliance located in their unit. They don’t complain about GE on social media when their fridge goes on the fritz, they complain about the property. This makes the connectivity, reliability and sturdiness of charging stations more critical for multifamily owner/operators and their projects.
Connectivity issues exist regardless of property type
When discussing connectivity issues, there’s a tendency to view parking garages as the area that encounters the majority of problems. Parking garages can be an issue because a lot of them are unavoidably constructed with signal-unfriendly materials regardless of the type of connection. However, this is usually just one issue that may be to blame.
Surface lots can also present an equal challenge for the same reasons. If an existing property installs EV charging stations, the additional costs of adding WiFi to the infrastructure can be prohibitive, resulting in insufficient support for the installed system. A community with a large parking lot may have more difficulty establishing a community-wide WiFi signal to tie into. Connectivity problems can also occur when bandwidth reaches capacity when other devices in the community are being used, which can be common in multifamily buildings.
Cellular is more accessible but not always reliable. There are plenty of interference issues and plenty of dead zones to hamper reliability. Cellular, along with WiFi, also has the potential for outages and slow service, which renders many of the current EV stations on the market inoperable. Not to mention the need to match cellular providers with both your site and charging stations.
Manufacturing and connectivity issues must be addressed
With 97% or higher uptime being a requirement for federally-funded charging stations, manufacturers and suppliers are going to be required to increase the quality of charging stations. The current slate of charging stations faces the possibility of being rendered obsolete when the more reliable ones begin to surface.
Connectivity and payment processing are challenges that severely hamper reliability, as well as revenue and profitability. In the case of multifamily, they are also damaging to reputation. Unfortunately, so many EV charging manufacturers have hitched their wagon to WiFi and cellular connectivity, a primary driver of reliability issues, that alternatives need to be explored to meet impending guidelines and regulations.
One way to get around these connectivity issues is to seek a charging station that works without the need for cellular or WiFi. Token- technology can now provide 100% uptime for EV charging stations because the system doesn’t rely on one singular access point, but instead uses a smartphone itself to authenticate users and complete transactions, for example. Even if there is no signal available, EV owners will be able to charge their cars and eliminate any range anxiety.
People who drove a century ago didn’t have their anxiety relieved until the industry saw a need for reliable fueling stations that would be there when gas is needed. The EV industry has reached a similar crossroads, and relief from this modern anxiety can only be alleviated with reliable charging stations and connectivity where people need it — in their multifamily communities and homes.