DOE-Backed Consortium Aims to Fix EV Charging Network

The dismal state of the EV charging network has slowed EV adoption, as the climbing rate of EV sales is flattening. This is due to other factors, most notably cost, but fear of being stranded by an unreliable public charging infrastructure has buyers rethinking their EV purchase plans.

In response, a group of the U.S. government’s national laboratories funded by the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation is banding together with about 80 EV industry stakeholders to form the ChargeX consortium to address this problem. Because EV sales lost today put another combustion vehicle on the road for the next couple decades, the consortium is tasked with making rapid progress on the most easily addressed challenges.

“We need to work as quickly as possible to avoid precluding people from adopting EVs,” remarked John G. Smart, director of ChargeX from Idaho National Laboratory, where he’s worked on mobility for sixteen years. The other participating labs are the Argonne National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

In contrast with efforts that have nebulous goals and vague timelines, the ChargeX consortium seeks to deliver meaningful results by June 2025. That means rather than radical change, the consortium is seeking to address fundamental underlying problems that are complicating the public EV charging experience today.

“We’re not delusional,” said Smart. “We’re not going to solve every problem.” But the group does aim to resolve annoying obstacles that are impeding public EV charging today.

Dictionary of Terms

One fundamental issue is that industry participants lack a common language for describing problems, making it harder for them to cooperate on solving those problems. “They don’t have a common language to speak among themselves,” said Smart. “A lot of people have developed ways of talking about charging experience but there are few metrics.”

ChargeX seeks to create common terminology and definitions so that everyone involved in public EV charging can speak the same language. “We are focusing on providing tools that are useful to industry practitioners so each company can look at problems the same way,” Smart explained.

One example is the term “uptime,” in reference to the availability of public EV charging stations to drivers. The problem is that this doesn’t describe whether these chargers are available to work for all drivers. “Just because it is operational doesn’t mean it will work for your vehicle,” said Smart. So ChargeX wants to establish additional metrics that holistically measure the charging experience.

While there are problems with charging station maintenance and reliability, their failure to initiate payments is one of the leading causes of failures, according to Smart. This is a maddening experience for EV drivers, one that is exacerbated by the typical requirement that they disconnect the cumbersome charging plug from the car’s inlet port and reconnect it to reset the session.

ChargeX wants public charging stations to automatically retry the connection without the cable being physically disconnected and reconnected, Smart said. “We’re writing logic to avoid the need for customers to unplug and re-plug.”

Task Groups

ChargeX’s 80-plus member organizations are participating in various groups tasked with addressing specific aspects of the charging problem. “Many of them are making very strong contributions,” Smart observed. “It is not just the large companies. Small regional charging companies and startups are making strong contributions.”

One such committee is looking at the problems drivers encounter when trying to pay for public charging sessions. “We are excited about producing best practices for streamlining the payment process so that is more successful across multiple payment options,” said Smart.

Plug-and-charge systems that automatically recognize a vehicle and deduct payment from an account associated with the vehicle are a convenient solution, but credit card payment on the spot has to work too, he said. “There may be EV customers who prefer not to go that route and they need to have other ways to pay.”

This is where ChargeX is working with credit card device manufacturers to iron out the communication problems that prevent some drivers from being able to swipe their cards to charge their cars.

Decoding Errors

Another challenge is that automakers and charging network operators have differing codes for the errors that occur, making it impossible to aggregate these codes to identify the nature of problems. ChargeX’s solution is to establish a common set of error codes, much like the common codes employed by cars’ On-Board Diagnostic II systems that let mechanics diagnose their problems.

“Right now, chargers are connected to back-office networks,” said Smart. “Most of that is via OCCP. (Open Charge Point Protocol). The network operations centers can see those codes. At the same time, automakers have their own data stream to understand. It is often hard to tell where the root cause lies.”

The unwieldy process currently used to troubleshoot problems complicates finding solutions. “In those instances, common practice is for a team on the automotive side to call the charging side. We think the industry can do better than that in terms of data sharing.”

In addition to creating common error codes, ChargeX also wants this information exchange to include contextual information that includes important details such as the make and model of both the car and the charging station. “Without that information, it is hard to see patterns,” Smart noted.

Testing for Success

A challenge on the horizon is the need to test EVs with charging stations. When there weren’t very many EVs or charger station manufacturers, it was not too difficult for carmakers to physically connect every new EV model to every available charger to confirm their compatibility. As the number of both vehicles and chargers grows, that method becomes impractical.

“The state of practice is to physically test every vehicle with every charger, one by one,” said Smart. “The scalability of that approach is limited when there are hundreds of vehicles and chargers on the market.”

ChargeX has established a testing methods task force that is tasked with developing ways to do simulated testing that accurately represents both the cars and the chargers. “We’re working hard to understand how to introduce new approaches or to streamline approaches to make testing more scalable,” Smart said. “I’m highly optimistic that we can move the needle there.”

Certainly attacking fundamentals such as common language for the industry, common error codes, rigorous communications standards for credit card readers, and streamlined testing of new EVs and chargers all sound like solid foundations for improving the EV charging experience. Consumers might even be able to notice the benefits by summer 2025!