Electrify America Talks Network Reliability, COVID-19, Plug & Charge, Tesla
Part two of our conversation with CEO, Giovanni Palazzo.
We found that out during a conversation with Electrify America's President and CEO, Giovanni Palazzo where we covered quite a few topics. However, we thought the pricing structure change was important enough to warrant its own post and wanted to get that out to our readers quickly. In part two of the interview, we'll explore the network's reliability, its new site installation pace, Tesla, the effect that COVID-19 has had on utilization, and more.
The reason I had the discussion with Palazzo was because of a post I did a few weeks ago on a Nissan LEAF highway range test. While I was charging the LEAF up for the test, I couldn't get the car to charge to 100% on an Electrify America DC fast charge station. It kept shutting off when the LEAF showed a 98% state of charge. I then had to move it over to the Electrify America level 2 charging station to get it to go to100%.
Normally, it wouldn't matter, and most people would have just left with 98% SOC. However, for the range tests we do, we NEED to be at 100% when we begin. Palazzo saw my post and looked up the charging station data and wanted to tell me why the station kept shutting off. He explained that the car was sending the station a signal that it was fully charged, which is why the station stopped sending it energy.
I also spoke to an engineer at BTC Power, the manufacturer of the station and he said the station shut off because the power draw from the car was so low that the station could no longer supply power. That usually only happens when the car is fully charged, or the top-end charge taper is so low because the vehicle is nearly 100%. So both Electrify America and BTC Power basically said the same thing, just not in so many words.
While I had Palazzo on the phone I figured it would be a good time to expand the conversation and as always, he was amenable to talking about other topics. We began talking about the improvements they have made with regard to station reliability. When I interviewed Palazzo in January, I told him that I often experience problems when I use Electrify America stations.
Palazzo told me they were working on reducing the time it takes to get a technician to a station when they get a report that it isn't working properly and that they were now able to remotely dial into the stations and often fix the issue remotely. At the time, Electrify America just had doubled the team of engineers that can do these kinds of remote diagnostics and repairs.
Electrify America CEO Giovanni Palazzo on network reliability: "We are still not perfect... but we have been able to improve the charging experience massively over the course of the last couple of months"
Palazzo reported that their station uptime is at a very high level now, much better than it had been in the past, and they are also deploying teams of technicians to do preventative maintenance on stations, instead of only responding when there is a problem. I actually encountered a preventative maintenance team working on a site in North Carolina last month when I drive a 2020 MINI Cooper SE from New Jersey to the InsideEVs track in North Carolina.
I then asked him how the new installations were affected by the COVID-19 crisis. As you would expect, they aren't working at nearly as fast a pace as they would be, and new installs have really slowed to a crawl. The construction at 70% of the sites they are currently working on has been shut down.
Palazzo did tell me that they are currently very close to having 2,000 stations commissioned and operational. In 2019 Electrify America averaged 1.2 commissioned stations per working day for the entire year.
As for utilization, during 2019 Electrify America was growing at an incredible pace, with the number of charging sessions increasing by double-digits month over month in many cases. That has come to a screeching halt in 2020 with COVID-19. In some regions, utilization is down by as much as 80%. People aren't driving; therefore they aren't charging.
I asked if there was any chance that Electrify America would follow EVgo's recent announcement that they are adding Tesla connectors to many of their DC fast charge stations.
We are not at the point where we are having this discussion already. If there would be any opportunity in the future, of course we be willing to discuss that with them (Tesla).
Palazzo said he'd definitely welcome that, but he would only do it if it were done currently, with Tesla communication integrated into the stations and real Tesla cables and connectors. He wouldn't be interested in some kind of adapter or doing it where the charging experience was less than what Tesla owners are accustomed to.
Talking about the Tesla charging experience, I asked him how their Plug&Charge technology has been progressing. For those that aren't aware of what that is, Plug&Charge allows the EV to automatically identify and authorize itself to the charging station. Using Plug&Charge, the owner will just pull up to the charging station and plug in. The station will automatically bill the customer's account, without the need to swipe a card, or use an app to initiate a charging session. That is how Tesla Superchargers work.
Palazzo told me they are progressing along very well with Plug&Charge, and promised to allow me to see how well it works in person, once the COVID-19 stay at home orders are lifted. It's important to note that it's not just up to Electrify America or any network for that matter, to implement Plug&Charge. The OEMs have to integrate it into their cars, so even if the technology is ready to go on Electrify America's end, the cars have to be enabled to use Plug&Charge. That said, we're expecting to see at least one OEM begin to integrate it into their EVs at some point before the end of 2020.
We'll be talking with Electrify America again once the stay at home orders are lifted, and hopefully visiting their headquarters, so let us know what you'd like to know that we didn't cover here.