The sinking feeling electric car owners experience when arriving at a charging station only to find it is out of order — or there is a long queue to use the only functioning charger — now has a name.

“It’s charger anxiety. Will the charger be operational when I get there?” said Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA) president Chris Jones.

As electric vehicle (EV) sales continue to grow, the number of broken fast chargers at any one time is a major problem, according to Dr Jones.

Charger anxiety is particularly salient in regional areas where charging infrastructure is further apart.

In the western Victorian city of Ballarat, three of four fast chargers at a central location have been out of service for more than a month.

Felix Wilson often uses this charging station and said it was not the first time repairs to a broken charger had taken this long.

While he prefers driving his partner’s electric vehicle over his own diesel car because of the economic and environmental benefits, he said factoring in charging was a different experience.

“Every time I leave [the house] I think ‘Oh, is it going to be an issue?’ But I never have to think about buying diesel,” Mr Wilson said.

“I’ve also had times where there’s been a queue here to charge and I’ve had to wait 45 minutes and you want to get home. It’s just a bit unreliable.”

If he were to buy another vehicle, Mr Wilson said he would reconsider buying an electric car until the charging infrastructure was more established.

For new hybrid car owner Ben Castro, charger functionality is another issue.

“Last time I charged here I went to a Vietnamese restaurant and I was eating when it stopped charging,” he said.

“I’m not sure if it’s programmed to only do 80 per cent of the battery. Glad I wasn’t too far so I came back and charged it again.”

Mr Castro said he avoided using the combustion engine to save money, but the unreliability of the charging network meant he sometimes had to switch.

“In Melbourne, I had a look on a couple of [charger information] apps, went to the area and there were lots of cars. [Then] I found out that the charger that would connect to my car wasn’t working,” he said.

While he was driving around looking for another charging station his battery ran flat and he had to switch to the combustion engine.

Maintenance delays

RACV, which operates the charging station in question in Ballarat, said in a statement the delay in repairs was due to the time it took for replacement parts to be supplied by the manufacturer, which in this case was Tritium.

“RACV recognises the frustration caused to drivers by the stations being offline for prolonged periods,” said general manager of energy Greg Edye.

“[Last week] we announced a commitment to a significant upgrade of our charging network, including the replacement of first-generation charge station technology.”

Mr Edye said the chargers had been damaged by vandalism and it was the second time in six months the charging station had been targeted by vandals.

However, a spokesperson for Tritium — an EV charger manufacturer that recently closed its Australian factory and moved to the US — said in a statement that when under warranty, shipping for parts occurred within seven days.

The spokesperson said operators could guarantee maintenance response times by purchasing service-level agreements, which were standard practice in other industries such as fuel court operators and gas turbines.

“It is a feature of the immaturity of the EV industry that charging infrastructure in Australia largely operates without service-level agreements or operations and maintenance regimes that would guarantee charger uptime for drivers,” the spokesperson said.

AEVA president Dr Jones said unlike the Tesla charger network — which had a vertically integrated maintenance system built into its network — other networks often had multiple organisations involved in the hosting, manufacturing, and operations of charger stations, leading to a lack of clarity over maintenance responsibility.

To ensure a fast and reliable charging network, he said governments needed to consider EV charging equipment as critical infrastructure, the same way petrol bowsers were.

Writing in The Conversation, academics Kai Li Lim and Scott Hardman said governments should implement policy to standardise charging infrastructure and impose warranty and service requirements to overcome charger anxiety.

Charging networks also needed to provide real-time updates on their apps showing the state of charging stations to allow drivers to make informed decisions about where to stop ahead of time, Dr Jones said.

To keep pace with EV sales, Dr Jones said more fast and reliable chargers were needed, especially in the regions.

In the meantime, slow chargers remained abundant and were nothing more than a glorified power point, he said.

Last year, the federal government entered into a multi-million-dollar partnership with NRMA to expand and upgrade the number of fast chargers in regional Australia.

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