12/8/2021 Update: I have confirmed this afternoon that the 350kW chargers at Barnawartha are now working again.
Right now, Australia, along with the rest of the world is rebuilding the transport network, moving from petrol stations for ICE vehicles to chargers for EVs. With such a large landmass, Australians who are doing the right thing and moving to electric vehicles, rely on fast-charging infrastructure to make longer journeys possible.
Thankfully over the past few years, there has been co-investment from the Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and private charging networks. This investment includes millions of dollars to help with the capital costs of installing the chargers and related electric infrastructure, then allowing the charging sessions of a growing EV customer base as revenue for potentially decades to come.
With fears of charging availability often nominated as a key concern with potential EV buyers, it is important the charging infrastructure is the proverbial cart before the horse.
Companies like Chargefox, Evie Networks, Engie and even Ampol have all secured funding from ARENA to deploy electric vehicle chargers. Today the story is a good one if you are travelling along on the east coast of Australia, where the majority of our population, live, work and holiday. Things are changing across the country, albeit slower due to obvious commercial realities of utilisation, while our EV adoption rates remain low, but things will improve over time.
When I recently reviewed the Polestar 2, I was reminded how this funding is all targeted towards the installation of charging stations but has no provisions around the ongoing maintenance of sites.
Chargefox claims they have had more than 290,000 EV charging sessions powering an estimated 6Million km of emissions-free driving and on average see someone connect to charge every 5 minutes.
Chargefox is currently the largest electric vehicle charging network with over 1,400 plugs, although the number of individual chargers is much lower, with many offering both CCS2 and CHAdeMO plugs. Their chargers include a blend of standard AC (22kW), fast (50kW) and ultra-rapid chargers (350kW) which is really the most important for anything planning serious travel like a romantic weekend away or new adventures interstate with a family holiday. These fastest chargers can provide up to 400kms of range in just 15 minutes as long as the car can accept it.
Now for the problem.
On November 16th, I drove to the Chargefox site in Barnawartha, just outside Wodonga, to test the max charging rate of the Polestar 2, but could have easily been a regular EV owner travelling back from a regional country town, or back from Melbourne and desperately needing a charge.
Both the 350kW Ultra-rapid chargers were offline, so was left with the 2x 50kW chargers and after connecting at 8:45PM with 42% battery, was told charging would complete at 10:15PM. By 9:20PM I had enough and left with 74% state of charge. If the ultra-fast chargers were working I expect this charge could have been achieved in less than 20 minutes.
I snapped photos of the chargers and shared the issue on Twitter.
2 days later, I checked the app again, hoping to sneak in this charging speed test before handing back the keys to the Polestar 2, but it was obvious, that was not going to happen. Chargefox were now acknowledging the error with an ‘Out of order’ message for station 5206 and 5207.
The detail they provided pointed squarely at manufacturer ABB, with the detail explaining an ABB tech had attended site and diagnosed parts had indeed failed and needed replacement. At the time they couldn’t offer any ETA.
A week went by, so I reminded Chargefox their message from the 17th November was now out of date (hint: provide an update to potential customers).
That brings us to today, more than 2 weeks after the initial report and the status has now been updated, but sadly not with a message to let us know it’s fixed. The message simply explains that ABB parts are awaiting DHL airfreight, coming all the way from the Netherlands and still no ETA for resolution.
At this point, asking customers to put up with the much slower, remaining 50kW chargers is a joke, that’s not what Chargefox were funded for, and if resolutions to issues when they do occur, continue to see extended delays of weeks, we need to rethink how we’re structuring these grants.
There should be provisions in the funding that talks about support or minimum up times. Where these SLAs can’t be met, funding should be paid back and used to build other chargers.
This would ensure that charging companies have spare parts, they have even spare chargers, ready to switch out in the event of an incident like this and ultimately benefit the end-user.
Right now the haphazard availability of these 3rd party charging networks is completely sub-standard compared to Australia’s largest charging network, Tesla’s Superchargers which are fixed often within hours in the rare circumstance they do have issues.
For automakers that rely on these 3rd party charging networks to sell your EVs, you also have a dog in this fight and should be motivating these companies to maintain their chargers or risk having your customers frustrated they can’t use their vehicles in the way and at the locations, they were promised.
Sadly this isn’t an isolated example. I picked a number of random locations around Victoria in the Chargefox app, to find similar faults present at a number of locations. A charger in Moe for example had been vandalised but after having an assessment done on November 3rd, Station 4035 is also still offline with parts on order.
At the Westfield Airport West charger, Station 4502 has a faulted port D (CCS2) with Chargefox sighting an ongoing investigation by manufacturer Tritium, with no ETA.
Gundagai Station 4504 Port A is also unavailable, with the error description explaining the unit actually needs to be replaced and they are waiting on a firm date from Tritium.
I’m also not the only one noticing this charging network in a state of disarray.
While most charging sessions will occur at home, fast charging is imperative in supporting longer journeys. If we are to get Australia’s EV adoption to increase in a big way over the next decade, we have to get serious about charger availability and reliability.