Installing EV chargers is only the first step in widespread EV adoption. Creating a consistent and positive charging experience is just as crucial, and at the moment, it’s a work in progress. A recent study found that only 72.5% of 657 public fast chargers in the San Francisco Bay area were in working order; anecdotal stories and industry surveys across US and Canada corroborate these findings. As EV charging businesses try to wrap their heads around the complexities of EV charging station maintenance the challenges they face are numerous—from hardware and software issues to power outages and vandalism. Having a comprehensive maintenance plan can help EV charging businesses ensure their chargers remain operational.
EV charging station maintenance considerations
Level 2 and DC fast chargers are sophisticated feats of engineering with different components that need to work on their own and together in order to function properly. For this reason, there are several types of electric vehicle charging station maintenance you need to know about.
If you’re responsible for maintaining charger sites, you should be able to see all of your devices and locations from one central hub via your charging station management systems (CSMS). But remember: Although a CSMS can flag disconnected chargers, perform a remote reboot, and provide troubleshooting steps, it can’t solve the root cause of a connectivity problem. That requires physically investigating the WiFi connection, ethernet cables, or hardware of the downed charger. Contacting the SIM provider can also help resolve the problem. Any connectivity issues or downed connections should be repaired immediately because not being able to monitor or control your chargers remotely can cause you to miss other important issues.
The charger box, battery, switches, converters, cables, and connectors make up the hardware components of an EV charger. Before they reach your site, they should see rigorous hardware testing to ensure software compatibility and fault tolerance.
Once they’re deployed, the outer components need to be checked for signs of physical damage and wear on a regular basis, as well as immediately following inclement weather. Connectors and cables need to be wiped clean from dust and debris to get maximum lifetime use.
Securing the physical location of your chargers is also a must. Because EV charging stations are a magnet for copper thieves, make sure the areas where your charging stations are located are well-lit and have security cameras installed.
Load balancing and power management
Your CSMS can help you allocate loads on each charger and should flag any abnormalities. A typical Level 2 charger should give a full charge in a few hours. A DC fast charger can do so in under an hour. Longer-than-normal charging times can indicate low voltage or an issue with the battery, which can put an EV charger out of commission for days. Your team will need to keep a close eye on power load balances and a keen ear out for EV drivers reporting slow charging times.
More sophisticated power management systems will let you set load balancing rules and view real-time allocations to keep charging within the constraints of your infrastructure. They’ll also position safeguards to prevent oversubscription of a breaker even in the event of a fault.
Your EV charging station’s payment processing infrastructure includes physical card readers and scanners, as well as the POS user interface and processing system. Here again, your CSMS should be your ally in making sure drivers are being charged the correct amounts and that their payment is being processed.
Because payment processes are also often tied to user access (for example, maybe you offer lower rates to members of your network or complimentary charging for patrons of a business), you should also monitor how and when EV drivers are using your chargers through the CSMS.
Costs associated with EV charging station maintenance
As you may expect, EV charging station maintenance costs vary by charger type and location. On average, the Alternative Fuel Data Center estimates them to be $400 annually per charger. That does not take into account electricity costs, which are highly location dependent. DC fast chargers require more power and come with more complex hardware components like cooling systems and filters, which all may require occasional maintenance. You should anticipate costs to be higher for keeping up DC chargers.
Fortunately, maintenance rebates are available to offset some of the expenses. If you’re located in the US, you may be eligible for rebates through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, in addition to state rebate programs.
Who is responsible for EV charging station maintenance?
Generally, the entity that owns the EV chargers is responsible for ensuring they’re in working order. However, you are free to contract out various components of EV charging station maintenance to other vendors. Your EV charger manufacturer or a qualified service provider (also called a charge point operator or CPO) should work on repairs for hardware and low-voltage issues, as well as perform more involved maintenance, like tightening wires, replacing cables, and testing batteries. Your CSMS provider should help, user access, and payment processing issues.
Simple everyday maintenance, like checking on power loads and inspecting cables, is usually done by on-site employees or technicians because no specialized training is required. For example, a property manager at a multifamily housing unit with a few EV chargers can easily manage user access and basic payment processing tasks in your CSMS.
How to troubleshoot EV charging station maintenance
The first step in fixing a malfunctioning charging station is to diagnose the issue. Chargers using the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) are well-suited to the task, as they can display an OCPP message describing the issue. These messages can identify what's going wrong, give a sense of why it's going wrong, and provide guidance on how to fix it.
To view OCPP messages for your chargers, consult your CSMS. It should have a log of OCPP messages readily available. In the ChargeLab dashboard, you can find your OCPP messages by navigating to the charger detail page for your device and selecting the "OCCP messages" tab at the top of the detail modal. There you'll see each message, its type, and its time stamp. You can then cross-reference it with the glossary of OCCP messages to diagnose the issue.
Compliance and reporting as part of maintenance
The new regulations issued by the Biden administration require a 97% uptime for EV chargers, which means EV charging businesses in the US will need to keep up with routine maintenance and make repairs quickly in order to comply. The specifics of reporting are still being ironed out on federal and state levels, but some recently issued regulations in California also require EV charging businesses to pay close attention to POS UI and require careful labeling for each charger unit. All of these new rules and standards are aimed at making the charging experience better for EV drivers in hope of speeding up EV adoption.
Because the landscape for EV regulations is changing quickly, consulting with a legal representative is always a good idea, both for your peace of mind and to ensure that your chargers are meeting all required standards.
One key to EV charger troubleshooting
You may have noticed a common thread: A good CSMS is the starting point for much of the day-to-day maintenance of EV chargers thanks to the self-serve troubleshooting tools it provides. Your charging station software is where you can monitor, detect, and often resolve issues before they begin impacting your customers and your business. Hardware-agnostic, open solutions, such as the one offered by ChargeLab, make it easy to manage different charger types in one place. We also offer 24/7 assistance by phone so you can get help as soon as there is a whisper of trouble. Reach out to our team to learn more.