Electric vehicles

Who is responsible for a broken EV charger? This company wants to help the industry figure it out

A 2022 study of public EV chargers in the Bay Area found ~25% didn’t work.
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Marcus Lindstrom/Getty Images

· 4 min read

Not to put the cart before the horse—or the plugs before the EVs—but once the US charging network is fully built out, someone is going to have to keep the stations up and running.

Last month, the federal government approved plans from all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico to build EV charging stations using funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law.

But unlike gas-station owners, which have a clear interest in ensuring customers are able to fuel up, the property owners for EV charging sites are often not the ones who own or draw significant revenue from the physical charging infrastructure.

“I still think you do have this finger-pointing and like, ‘Well, that’s not our job,’” Kameale C. Terry, CEO and co-founder of ChargerHelp!, said of the relationships between utilities, site hosts, and network providers. “Who is the true owner? Is it the site host? Is it the network provider? And if the network provider is truly a software company, if there’s [hardware] issues going on—it’s not in their business model.”

The question of who is responsible for keeping chargers operational ends up impacting drivers when stations are out of service—and it’s a widespread issue. A study of public EV charging stations in the Bay Area earlier this year found that about one in four was unable to provide a charge.

At ChargerHelp!, Terry is working to build a workforce of technicians to service charging stations and make the company a resource for organizations hosting them.

More maintenance

Terry worked at charging management company EV Connect from 2017 to 2019 and found that logging and fixing issues at charging stations was fairly simple. But without a dedicated workforce, sometimes EV drivers had to be the ones to troubleshoot them.

“I feel like, as a millennial, we interact so much with computers. And I grew up during MySpace—you got a little bit of coding, so this didn’t seem terribly hard,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, I can teach people how to do that.’ And so I just started to write down everything that I knew about the industry as a whole—between manufacturers and software providers, from cars, and the protocols.”

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Terry didn’t plan to start her own business. She and ChargerHelp! co-founder Evette Ellis began training people to troubleshoot issues, planning to help them get jobs at EV Connect or other companies in the EV charging space.

“A lot of the companies I had reached out to couldn’t really hire these people, because they were waiting for site hosts to pay them. But the site hosts were like, ‘We don’t have money to pay for this. We got these stations for free,’” she said. “And so that’s when the light turned on. I was like, ‘Oh, what if I hired these people? What if I created a product for site hosts, some type of low payment?’”

So in January 2020, Terry—reluctantly, she said—started the on-demand repair app along with Ellis. The pair has since raised $2.8 million, and ~500 people have received training from ChargerHelp! There are almost 40 people on the team now, half of whom are full-time, and none of them have worked in climate or tech before, Terry said. Many employees come  from the oil and gas industry.

But according to Terry, changing the two issues causing headaches for everyone involved—a dearth of government funding for operations and maintenance, and a lack of accountability around charger upkeep—will require broader efforts to address. In particular, it will require engaging with lawmakers, she said.

“There are no standards for uptime, reliability like you have at gas stations. It just doesn’t exist,” Terry said. “That’s what’s going to change this. It is legislation. It is talking to your local person. It is to say, ‘Okay, you’re spending all this money on EV charging infrastructure. What is the standard around uptime? How long can these things be offline?’”

And in general, she said, the EV-charging industry remains relatively resistant to shared standards and collaboration. Because EV-charging network operators worry drivers will have a bad experience at competitor stations, Terry said it can be hard to get support for interoperability, for example.

But from her point of view, “no one’s doing great, so we all should work together,” she said.

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.