Expensive electricity rates are making home battery charging a headache and outside of the home, inconsistent and sometimes high pricing policies, frequently broken equipment, and a lack of battery chargers in key locations for all but Tesla drivers is frustrating electric vehicle owners. Inflation and intermittent renewable energy (wind and solar power) are escalating electricity rates, making EV home charging a frustrating experience for some drivers, particularly those in blue states with increasingly higher electricity rates. A J.D. Power study of EV owners who use Level 2 home-charging stations found that overall satisfaction in the home charging experiences declined 12 points since last year due mainly to the increase in electricity prices that are starting to hit home.
In New England, where electricity prices surge at peak hours, home charging satisfaction saw the largest year-over-year decline. There are several programs designed to ease the cost of EV home charging, including options to schedule charging at the most affordable times of day. Only about half of EV owners in the J.D. Power study indicated that they had an understanding of their utility company programs for home charging. But, these programs may not help all EV owners as the lowest rates in California are when electricity is generated by solar power during daylight hours when the sun is shining, but when Californians are mostly at work.
Different EV brands also had different levels of satisfaction, with Tesla home charging stations having the most satisfaction. Tesla’s public charging network is also satisfying customers more as it is far larger than the others–a reflection of the fact that most EVs sold in the United States are Teslas. Tesla’s network is divided into Superchargers located on highways and destination chargers located at places like hotels and tourist spots. Tesla also plans routes for its drivers on its network, suggesting where to stop, how long to charge and how many plugs are available at that station.
Charging Outside the Home
The Biden Administration is installing electric vehicle chargers across 75,000 miles of highway – helping electrify the great American road trip. It is funding charging stations every 50 miles along the interstate highway system as a result of the infrastructure law that put $7.5 billion toward EV charging infrastructure. However, EV owners indicate that the chargers where people refuel EVs are often broken. One study found that about a quarter of the public charging outlets in the San Francisco Bay Area, where electric cars are commonplace, were not working. EV drivers say that companies that install and maintain charging stations need to do more to make sure that chargers remain reliable. There is often no one to turn to for help when something goes wrong at charging stations. Problems include broken screens and buggy software. Some chargers stop working mid-charge, while others never start in the first place.
While stations are getting better at fixing broken chargers, many still malfunction in nearly every way possible. For example, an EV operator encountered chargers that refused to recognize the vehicle was an EV model no matter how many times it was plugged in, and at another station, the charger kept booting the EV off after just a few seconds. Electrify America stations would, quite regularly, display the “spinning wheel of death” — the spiraling icon that indicates a computer is struggling for unknown reasons. Sometimes the wheel would stop after 30 seconds or a couple of minutes, and charging would begin and at other times, it would not. Getting a station to work meant making an old-fashioned phone call to customer service to find a solution.
Even when a charger is working, the rate at which it refills the battery can vary widely. Charging rates can vary depending on the outside temperature, how full or warm the battery is, what charging level the vehicle is designed to accept and whether another car is sharing the electric current. After reaching a certain state of charge, often 80 percent, the rate of charging drops dramatically, a measure taken to preserve the battery’s longevity.
Despite the huge cash infusion for EV infrastructure in the past three years, the U.S. charging network remains spotty. Between the end of 2019 and the end of 2022, U.S. spending included $600 million by federal, state and local governments; more than $4.3 billion by private companies; and more than $1.7 billion by electric utilities. That spending has not resulted in many new chargers because the permitting and construction of chargers can take 18 months or more. Moreover, qualified electricians are getting increasingly hard to find to perform the complex wiring forced electrification is requiring. Nonetheless, the number of U.S. public EV fast-charging ports nationwide has more than doubled, from about 14,000 to almost 30,000. For example, according to station counts from the Department of Energy, Utah and Washington have more than doubled charging stalls since 2019, and Colorado has tripled them. Idaho increased its number by 35 percent and Wyoming by 45 percent. These increases, however, begin from very low numbers of chargers, meaning that the network is still very sparse.
Reliability is a major issue, with chargers going offline for weeks or months at a time. The Biden administration is seeking to address reliability problems by requiring chargers funded under the infrastructure law to function 97 percent of the time. Numerous studies, however, suggest that goal to be far away. Last year, the data analytics firm J.D. Power surveyed more than 11,500 EV drivers and found that one out of five drivers to an EV charging station came away without a charge. Almost three-quarters of those said it was because of a malfunctioning station.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group of U.S. auto manufacturers, pointed out that while the United States added 652,000 EVs since the start of 2022, it had added just 20,300 charging ports during the same period. That equates to 32 EVs for each public port. The alliance pointed out that California, the nation’s leading EV state, has estimated that its charging network in 2030 will require about seven charge points for every EV. Despite EV automakers claiming that 14 of their models have a range of 300 miles or more, range can be hindered by extreme temperatures, requiring more charges are needed.
EV Battery Charging Prices in Massachusetts
Some stations charge by the minute and others by the amount of electricity consumed, leading to unpredictable pricing. Charging by the minute means that less expensive EVs, which have slower charging equipment, pay more for the same amount of electricity than more expensive vehicles. For example, the maximum charging rate of the $109,000 GMC Hummer EV is about five times faster than the Chevy Bolt EV, which costs under $30,000. Charging by the amount of electricity consumed makes more sense because along with a vehicle’s maximum charging rate, temperature, equipment in the charger, and the number of other vehicles charging at the same station affect how long it takes to fill a battery. Some stations also have multiple subscription plans or charge different rates at different times of day.
Overall, there have been some significant price increases over the past few months in charging rates in Massachusetts after electric utility companies increased their rates. Electrify America, one of the largest operators of fast-charging stations in the state, raised prices by 16 to 19 percent. Smaller operator EVgo made its rate plans more complicated and added a new fee. And Tesla, which raised prices at many of its chargers last year, is opening its national network to other car brands but with higher prices for non-Tesla vehicles.
Electricity prices jumped to 39 cents per kilowatt-hour in February from 27 cents a year earlier, a 44 percent rise in the Boston metro area, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In EVGo charging sessions, prices averaged 61 cents per kilowatt-hour in March after the new rate plan took effect, compared to 42 cents in January. At Electrify America, effective rates per kilowatt-hour calculated rose from 20 cents to 26 cents (though the company charges by the minute). The company has two rates, one for slow-charging cars and one for faster-charging cars. On March 6, the price for charging slower vehicles went up to 19 cents per minute from 16 cents. Faster-charging vehicles pay 37 cents, up from 32 cents. (With a $4-per-month subscription, customers get a discount of about one-quarter off those rates.)
At ChargePoint terminals owned by MassDOT, such as along I-95 and Route 24, prices have remained steady at 35 cents per kilowatt-hour. And prices have also been steady at 70 cents at the Nouria network, owned by convenience store chain Nouria Energy, which installed a few fast chargers in the southeastern part of the state. The calculated prices include fees and taxes that operators tack on.
The lack of on-the-road operable charging stations and their unreliability add anxiety to EV drivers who would be carefree in a gasoline-powered automobile. There are also major issues at charging stations ranging from broken chargers to the spiraling icon at malfunctioning stations, despite Biden’s requirement for 97 percent reliability. At some stations, the charging rate would oscillate up and down, which is difficult to accept compared to the predictable output of a gasoline pump. Erratic charging performance is not what Americans want as they drive their expensive EVs when their experience at the gas pump is without drama and at a fraction of the time of a battery charge. As more Americans acquire EVs, problems are beginning to surface.
Biden’s infrastructure bill adds many charging stations to the network, but though it may look big on paper, that number vanishes in a country as big and sprawling as the United States, which has thousands of miles of roads that can absorb hundreds of chargers without creating an atmosphere of complete coverage. Further, Biden’s net zero electricity goal is escalating the price of electricity to the point that charging stations are increasing prices dramatically, which in at least Michigan is making it cheaper to operate a gasoline car for certain models than an EV.