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Charged up? The rise of EV charge anxiety

Chargers must be resilient enough to work at all times. Implementing a more robust Internet connection is the first step.

The rise in the electric car sales in Europe has been driven by the German market
The rise in the electric car sales in Europe has been driven by the German market - Copyright AFP/File INDRANIL MUKHERJEE
The rise in the electric car sales in Europe has been driven by the German market - Copyright AFP/File INDRANIL MUKHERJEE

As the weather starts to warm up in the northern hemisphere (including the U.K.), it is the perfect time to get out and about in the countryside. If you are one of the millions of electric vehicle owners, you are probably very aware of how much range you have on your left on your car before you head out.

EV chargers are commonplace so many are no longer worried about making it to the next charging point. However, understanding where chargers are is only part of the issue. For those who identify the nearest charger and drive straight there, only to find that the charger’s broken find themselves in trouble.

This is a real issue for EV drivers up and down the U.K.; broken chargers are rife, causing widespread charge anxiety, which has largely replaced range anxiety amongst EV owners. Connectivity specialists Trench Networks have explained to Digital Journal about ‘charge anxiety’ and why it has become a significant issue for EV owners.

What is charge anxiety?

Not to be confused with range anxiety, charge anxiety has been a common experience for early adopters of electric vehicles.

Range anxiety refers to electric vehicle drivers’ fear that they will be unable to reach the nearest charging station on a single charge. As the U.K.’s EV charging infrastructure has expanded, range anxiety has become less of an issue in recent years.

However, charge anxiety – the fear that you’ll be unable to use the nearest charging point due to issues with the charger – remains a very real problem, with many of the U.K.’s EV charging points suffering from software and mechanical issues or internet outage.

A Volkswagen study suggests that charge anxiety has replaced range anxiety altogether – in the form of fears that “current public charging infrastructure is not widespread, accessible or reliable enough to alleviate driver uncertainties.”

Why is charge anxiety an issue?

With electric vehicles forming such a crucial aspect of the British government’s Net Zero push, it’s surprising that broken chargers remain such a common problem. The British government website has identified the importance of maintaining and managing EV infrastructure, citing a minimum of 99 percent reliability across charging points. At present, this figure seems little more than an aspirational goal.

There are a multitude of reasons why EV chargers can fail. There are a large number of charge point operators (CPOs), meaning that variation between chargers is common – with certain brands more likely to fail.

In many cases, however, electric chargers are rendered unusable due to their inability to connect to the internet. Most chargers require internet access to handle credit card, contactless and app payments. If the wireless signal fails and charger is unable to take payment, drivers are unable to charge their car.

There are other activities the CPOs need connectivity for, from carrying out remote diagnostics to estimating demand on the grid.

Who is most likely to be affected by charge anxiety?

Charge anxiety is proving a significant barrier to nationwide adoption because charger functionality is a largely regional issue. Certain cities are more likely to be subject to outages – in Derry, Northern Ireland, where 30 percent of chargers do not work.

Smaller cities tend to be lacking in functioning EV infrastructure – Worcester, Ipswich, Newcastle and York rounded off the top 5 cities with the least working chargers. There doesn’t seem to be much of a north/south divide in terms of available charging, though rural areas are most affected by charging failures due to the lack of available back-ups.

If a charger is broken in central London, you can be sure to find another. If a charger fails in the rural countryside, the driver is unlikely to find another close by, particularly if they have exhausted their range getting to the charger that is down in the first place.

EV drivers have identified the unreliability of the charging infrastructure as a serious issue, though it’s unclear exactly what percentage of EV chargers can be relied upon to function properly. In 2021, Channel 4’s show Dispatches found that more than 1300 of the country’s chargers (5.2 percent) were unusable.

This is significant since it can also act as a barrier to wider electric vehicle adoption. British government have identified a minimum charger reliability rate of 99% for widespread EV adoption.

Solutions?

The first barrier to EV adoption – a lack of charging infrastructure – is beginning to be tackled, thanks to large-scale installations taking place across the country. For example, the numbers of charging points in the country have increased by 35 percent between March 2022 and March 2023.

Kevin Latimer, Chief Executive Officer, Co-Founder tells Digital Journal: “The majority of a charger’s functionality relies on a durable internet connection, so any downtime causes huge problems. Chargers must be resilient enough to work at all times in order to meet the 99 percent uptime target; implementing a more robust Internet connection is the first step to ensure EV enthusiasts across the country can be confident in making to move the electric vehicle ownership.”

Latimer adds: “If a charging point is supported by a robust and reliable connection, then CPOs can guard against outages, and maximise uptime, which results in increased charger revenue. In this event, the user experience is improved, and the charging operator can ensure the viability of their product for as long as possible.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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