The Biden administration is paving the way for the electric vehicle revolution, but existing EV owners are contending with a major problem: disparate and dysfunctional charging stations. New technology could help.
"EV charge points aren't as diffuse or distributed as gas stations. So people don't see them, so that doesn't give them reassurance even if they never used them. And that's kind of the paradox of the EV charging network," said Jonathan Carrier, the co-founder of EV technology company ZipCharge.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are 53,678 electric vehicle charging stations with close to 140,000 individual ports across the U.S. to-date. Most of the charging stations are located in California, followed by New York, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, and Washington.
Even in markets where electric vehicle chargers are already more commonplace, they are often broken. A study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, examined 657 individual charging connectors at 181 public direct current fast-charging stations in the San Francisco Bay area.
The researchers found that less than three-quarters were functional. Roughly 5 percent of the electric vehicle chargers had cables too short to reach a car's charging inlet, and almost 23 percent had unresponsive or unavailable screens, payment system failures, broken connectors, or charge initiation or network failures. The researchers, who checked back on the stations eight days later to find no meaningful improvements, concluded that "this level of functionality appears to conflict with the 95 to 98% uptime reported by the EV service providers (EVSPs) who operate the EV charging stations."

'Charging Anxiety'

Reporters from Business Insider and the New York Times reported similar conditions on the East Coast, as well. And a survey from Plug In America, an electric vehicle advocacy group, found fears about charging were a concern among existing EV owners. Common frustrations among survey respondents included "broken or nonfunctional chargers" or "too few charging stations." Some 34 percent of survey respondents said the issues were of "moderate concern."
ZipCharge's Carrier said "charging anxiety" has replaced "range anxiety" as a top concern among EV owners and the EV-curious.
"The range isn't an issue anymore. Sticker prices are coming down," Carrier said. "And you know, ultimately, it's that visibility of the charge points that will then give the country, the customers the confidence to switch."
The Biden administration aims to increase the number of charging stations and EVs on the road substantially. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed in 2021, allocates $5 billion to help states create a network of electric vehicle charging stations. The more recent Inflation Reduction Act, which the president signed into law on Tuesday, contains incentives to help qualifying consumers pay for electric vehicles — subsidies Lewis Fulton, Ph.D., director of the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways Program (STEPS+) within the University of California Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, called "a gamechanger."

Portable Charging

As more people purchase electric vehicles, Carrier said ZipCharge could offer a solution. The London-based company makes a portable charging solution that Carrier said could make visits to charging stations unnecessary for most day-to-day use.
"You don't want to have to drive to charge. Yes, people do it today with the gas car, but it's not something that you have to do. In fact, it's a big inconvenience," Carrier said.
The technology, called ZipCharge Go, is a portable charger that EV drivers can plug into a standard outlet at home. The device takes about two hours to charge at home, and then 30 minutes to an hour to charge a vehicle for about 20 to 40 miles worth of range — which Carrier said is sufficient for most day-to-day driving in the U.S. He said it's ideal for consumers who live in multi-unit dwellings or don't have access to off-street parking where they might want to install a charging port.
"Most people want to park to charge where they park because it's the most convenient but also it's the lowest cost. Being able to charge from your domestic electricity supply will always be cheaper than charging in public," he said.
According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, installation of a charging station can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 per port, depending on location across the state and type of charging station. While the ZipCharge Go is still a prototype, the company plans to launch by this time next year for less than $2,000, and at about 55 pounds in weight, it will be able to be taken on the road to avoid nightmarish situations, like the one endured by a professor, interviewed by the New York Times, who convinced a gas station attendant to run an extension cord to his car on a cold, winter night after trying two broken charging stations. 
But Carrier said the technology is more than a stopgap measure. He envisions the ZipCharge as a source of energy for all sorts of activities, as the world transitions to decarbonization.
"What our device is, is more than just an EV charger. It's a way to manage energy smarter and more intelligently that, then, can provide a better service to provide the energy you need to live your life. And that can be at home, that can be for your car, that can be while you're traveling, that can ultimately be for anything that you need," he said.
For individuals who can't afford a $2,000 product, ZipCharge announced its GoHub in April 2022, which aims to bring to communities shared power banks where individuals can use ZipCharge Go as a rental or via subscription.