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OVERCOMING OBSTACLES IN THE EV CHARGING INDUSTRY

Jan 23, 2023

The Electric Vehicle (EV) charging industry is poised for rapid growth in 2023 following the approval of state plans for managing $1.5 billion in first-round funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021. However, the industry will need to overcome two challenges — one set by legislators and another inherent to the market. To be eligible for funding under the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program, the operators of direct current (DC) fast charging stations must be able to demonstrate a minimum uptime of 97 percent, according to funding requirements.

“It’s not yet clear how monitoring and enforcement will be conducted, but it is clear that the charging industry is going to have to stretch to clear this hurdle.”
- said Mark Seitz, Senior Business Unit Manager of Franklin Electric.


Comprehensive statistics aren’t available for the developing industry, but two reports suggest the uptime of existing public EV chargers falls short of the mark set by NEVI’s requirements. A field study in the greater San Francisco Bay Area concluded only 72.5 percent of chargers were functional despite claims of 95 to 98 percent uptime by the charging providers. Similarly, JD Power’s annual user-experience study of public EV charging noted that “electric vehicle owners are frustrated by charging station reliability.” The study reported that one out of every five respondents were unable to charge their EVs — most because of malfunctioning or out-of-service chargers. Existing NEVI guidance states that charging operators will not be penalized for outages beyond their control, “such as electric utility service interruptions, Internet or cellular service provider interruptions and outages caused by vehicles.” However, operators will need to be able to validate that downtime was not their fault.

 

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Remote Control Monitoring to Maintain Uptimes

To validate the causes of outages and to control the costs associated with maintaining uptime, Seitz says operators will need systems for remote monitoring and control of their charging ports. “If there’s no system in place for remote control and monitoring of equipment, operators will have to roll a truck every time a charger goes down,” he said. “The labor cost of trying to quickly chase down every outage will get steep.”

According to Seitz, one of the most common causes of charger outages is the communications integration within the charger and the first step in assessing and fixing the problem is simply to reboot the charger — also known as power cycling. The NexPhase™ Smart EV Switchgear enables charging operators to power cycle their charging ports remotely. Seitz estimates this capability alone could fix at least half of charger outages in minutes without needing to dispatch maintenance crews to do the same thing on site.

NexPhase™ monitors and controls power before it reaches the EV chargers. With its own communications link (separate from that of the chargers) the system also can be used to validate and troubleshoot several different common outages. “Before performing a power cycle, an operator can use our system to confirm whether there’s even power available from the utility,” Seitz said. “It also can indicate if someone has pulled the main disconnect on site or if a circuit breaker has tripped, which could also be reset remotely.”

NexPhase™ is designed to help operators maintain uptime requirements in addition to helping solve other potential hurdles.

Simplified Design to Minimize Installation

Switchgear is a critical component of DC fast charging stations. Tasked with receiving, distributing and protecting the facility’s power, switchgear is typically composed of a series of electrical panels wired together on site by a certified electrician to match designs drawn up off-site by an engineer. As the industry ramps up to deploy thousands of chargers across the country, the availability of qualified engineers and electricians risks bottlenecking the work and driving up costs.

“Traditionally, a post-and-frame switchgear system requires lengthy design and approval phases. Then an electrician must source the panels by multiple manufacturers, which is another challenge all-together in today’s supply chain,” Seitz said. “So, we’re building an integrated, turnkey solution that is NEVI-ready to minimize the complexity and effort required to install switchgear.”

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NexPhase™ combines transformers, circuit breakers and controls in a single cabinet. All internal components come pre-installed and pre-wired. The cabinet only requires the on-site connections for the incoming power and outgoing charger connections, reducing on-site installation time and costs.

The NexPhase™ is an example of the process and product innovations needed in the months and years ahead. The Federal Highway Administration has set the bar for states and private enterprise to build a network of stations that covers 75,000 miles of highway beginning in 2023. Now it’s up to the young EV charging industry to work out the best approaches to achieve reliability and rapid, cost-effective deployment.

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