London’s EV Charging Station Network Falling Into Disrepair

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EV charging stations give short-range electric cars a lot more versatility for daily driving, but only if they work. The Telegraph reports that many of London’s 1,400 charging points are falling into a state of disrepair as the new owner wrestles with manufacturers, private businesses, and boroughs over whose responsibility it is to maintain a failing and obsolete network.

Launched in mid-2011, Source London was former mayor Boris Johnson’s attempt to lead a private and public consortium to install hundreds of EV charging stations across the U.K.’s capital city. Yet in just three years many of these stations have already become functionally obsolete as newer, better technology replaces it, but at least they work. A much larger concern is a growing number of broken charging points, which is many places actually outnumber the working charging stations. This can leave EV drivers in a pinch, and unfortunately the problem will only get worse before it gets better.

This network of 1,415 charging stations was just sold to French industrial giant the Bolloré Group, which is working to both repair and improve London’s charging network. What isn’t clear though is just who is responsible for fixing the many broken stations, as the stations are owned by various entities; some are owned by local municipalities, others were purchased by private businesses or landlords, and still others technically belong to the charging point manufacturers.

This has led to what sounds like pretty contentious negotiations over just who should be paying to repair or replace all these broken charging stations, especially since Bolloré is a direct competitor with the two largest manufacturers of these charging stations, Chargemaster and Point Pod. Bolloré wants to bring as many as 5,000 charging stations to London by 2018, and it has machinations of bringing its electric car sharing program BlueCar to London (and the U.S. as well). There’s little incentive for its competitors to help it take over one of the hottest markets for EV chargers, and as a result customers are left looking at a map that often shows more broken charging stations than working ones.

There are lessons to be learned from London’s ambitious but ultimately flawed charging network. While a private-public partnership might sound good in theory, it seems to have few benefits, but a lot of the drawbacks. The faltering network could dampen the U.K. government’s plans to embrace EVs and plug-in hybrids on a national level, and private enterprises like the all-Tesla GLiiDE taxi service could be stifled as well.

The irony is nigh overwhelming; businesses and municipalities alike rushed to install a large network of stations, sometimes all but giving away memberships for less than $10 for a year of unlimited charging. But now that it’s time to take ownership and responsibility for the stations, nobody is willing to step up. If I were a more cynical man, I’d say that’s typical human behavior, but that would be ignoring the huge investment companies like Bolloré are putting into its electric vehicle efforts. While they stand to profit enormously, there’s been plenty of high-profile failures to make any CEO wary of what was until the last five years considered a dead-end technology.

Nobody said the conversion from gas to electric vehicles would be easy, but sometimes it seems like we are making it harder on ourselves than we have to.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.