25 Feb 2024

The Wild West of EV infrastructure

AC or DC?, Level 1, 2 or 3?, Charging Speed? Slow, Fast, Superfast, 22Khw, 120kHw, 150kHw or even faster? 800volt charging systems, J1772, CHAdeMO, CCS or DC Combo, 16amps maybe?
Confused? That isn’t surprising. There are hundreds of different Charge Point Operators (CPOs), and new ones pop up almost weekly. There are different connector types, various payment methods, and multiple different charging apps. Some don’t show all networks, and some show real-time charger status, and some car manufacturers have their own networks. There are different charging cards, some which require pre-registering. Is there a single charging card for all? Yes, but not really.
Welcome to the world of charging today, where companies compete with very few rules and next to no standardisation. The result is a Wild West of free-market inefficiency, and the consumers and the EV market, and therefore the planet, will suffer.
All the battery range and electric infrastructure in the world won’t matter if you can’t plan, pay, or access them. To encourage people to make the electric leap, charging should be as simple as, or even simpler than, filling your car with gas. Today this just isn’t the case.

Fail to plan, plan to fail
When you are sold a non-Tesla electric car, the guy selling it to you has probably only sold a handful of EVs versus hundreds of ICE cars. The product handover is light, to say the least. You will normally be handed your car key and if you’re lucky a charging card, then sent on your merry way, off into the Wild West on your new horse alone to find your way. If you buy a Tesla, you are lucky enough to have access to a simple-to-use and easy to navigate supercharging and destination network, one which will cater for most of your long-distance needs.
This is not a Tesla promotion, it’s just a fact of current charging life. They have, so far, the easiest to use, simplest, most hassle-free charging solution in place. No buttons, options or payment cards, just plug and play. All the battery range and luxury features in the world on new model EVs from the legacy car manufacturers will not matter if the charging user experience hasn’t been properly thought out.
This is why, despite the hype, EV range is largely irrelevant. What is known as ‘range anxiety’ should be renamed ‘user experience anxiety’. Arriving at a charger that is behind a locked gate or out of order, or one that is marked fast but it has been downgraded to slow for some unknown reason, or one you have had to pre-register for days in advance, or that is being taken up by a thirsty, inefficient diesel hybrid, are all legitimate reasons to be having concerns about the EV revolution. Whereas, concerns solely about range, when range is often above 300km, is not often valid.
However, luckily, ‘user experience anxiety’ is easily fixed. With sound planning and effective policy-making, led by the government and followed by private investment, we can have a network that easily caters to all but the longest of intercontinental journeys and easily works with all models, apps, and cards.
We all want simple, hassle-free, time-saving user experiences. We don’t want to waste time because of someone else’s poor user interface design. Sadly, this is the case with EVs today.
We need to stop talking about how big the range of new EVs are, or even if there are enough chargers, and focus instead on what really matters: Every EV driver’s user experience.