Public electric vehicle charging stations provide a convenient way for EV drivers to charge their vehicles while out and about. However, as with any public infrastructure, there are some risks and warnings to be aware of when using public charging stations. Being informed and taking proper precautions can help ensure a safe and positive charging experience.
Risk of Malfunction
As with any electronic equipment exposed to outdoor elements and heavy public use, chargers at public stations can be subject to malfunctions or faults. Problems like power surges, electrical shorts, and component failures can potentially damage the charging station, the vehicle, or even pose risks like shock or fire in extreme cases. Warning signs to watch out for include sparks, smoke, unusual sounds, or errors during the charging sequence. If you notice anything abnormal, stop the session immediately and notify the operator. Proper maintenance and weatherproofing by the owner can minimize these kinds of risks.
Risk of Tampering
Public accessibility also theoretically opens the door to physical tampering or hacking of charging stations by ill-intentioned people. Someone could potentially access internal components and reconfigure the software or hardware in ways that could compromise safety, steal power, or breach private data. Warning signs of tampering include broken seals, unusual attachments, damaged cords, missing cabinet panels, and overridden payment systems. Notify the operator immediately if you suspect foul play. Reputable networks like ChargePoint and EVgo do implement cybersecurity protections to guard against hacking.
Risk of Malware Infection
The digital nature of EV charging stations also means there is some risk of malware infection from public chargers. As with gas station payment terminals, hackers could potentially install malicious software to steal credit card information and other sensitive data. This is often accomplished using corrupted USB drives left at the station. Warning signs include finding random USB drives plugged into charger panels. Avoid using them and notify the operator. Networks like Electrify America do perform frequent cybersecurity audits and scans to detect threats early.
Risk of Injury
Improper use of public charging equipment also poses a danger of personal injury to users. Potential electrical hazards, trip hazards, and pinch points around stations mean warning signs and instructions should always be heeded. Use caution when plugging/unplugging chargers, keep charging cables tidy, report damaged cords or connectors, and supervise children at all times. Being aware of wet, icy, cluttered, or uneven surfaces around stations in particular helps avoid falls and other injuries.
Risk of Theft
Many public charging locations are remote and not actively monitored. This creates the possibility of crime like vandalism, robbery, or theft. Warning signs to be aware of are poorly lit chargers placed out of sight, seedy looking hangers-on loitering nearby, and deserted stations in isolated areas. Trust your instincts and avoid using charging spots that seem risky or dangerous. Park in visible locations, lock your vehicle, avoid leaving valuables inside, and maintain awareness of surroundings.
How to Minimize Risks
While the warnings may seem alarming, there are ways EV drivers can take sensible precautions and minimize risks when using public charging stations:
- Only use reputable networks like Tesla, ChargePoint, EVgo, etc. that have established security protocols.
- Choose stations in safe, public locations that are clean and well-maintained.
- Stay with the vehicle while charging whenever possible.
- Carefully inspect stations and connectors prior to use.
- Stop charging immediately if you notice any warning signs of issues.
- Notify station operators promptly if you encounter problems.
- Handle cables gently and untangle them after charging.
- Watch your footing and don’t rush the process.
- Be vigilant about surroundings and trust your instincts.
- Use common sense precautions against crime and theft.
Adhering to these kinds of best practices should allow peace of mind when using public charging stations. Remember that incidents are still extremely rare across the hundreds of thousands of public chargers in operation. Don’t let the warnings deter you from the convenience of public charging when a few simple precautions go a long way.
Types of Public Charging Stations
It’s also helpful for EV drivers to understand the different levels and types of public charging stations available. Not all chargers pose the same potential risks:
These stations provide slow AC charging by plugging into a standard 120 volt three-prong outlet. Power is limited to about 1.4 kW. Safety risks are minimal given the low voltage, but charge times are very slow— potentially up to 20 hours for a depleted battery!
Level 2 stations operate on 208/240 volt AC power with up to 19.2 kW output. Most public stations are Level 2 chargers, providing a charge time of 4-8 hours. Risks are still low compared to fast charging, but caution is still needed when using Level 2 stations.
DC Fast Charging
DC fast chargers work by providing high-voltage direct current to EVs. This enables rapid charging, typically to 80% in 20-40 minutes. But the 480+ volt power levels also mean increased risks if proper precautions aren’t heeded. Use extreme care when operating fast charging equipment.
Tesla operates its own network of proprietary Supercharger stations for their vehicles. These rapid DC chargers provide up to 150 kW power. Tesla’s chargers carry many of the same inherent risks and require similar precautions as other fast chargers.
Comparison of Public Charging Networks
Not all public EV charging networks are equal when it comes to reliability, safety, and security. Below is a table comparing some of the top public charging networks:
|Network||Stations||Charger Types||Security Features|
|Tesla Superchargers||Over 25,000 globally||Proprietary fast DC chargers for Tesla vehicles||Secure proprietary connectors, encrypted software protocols|
|ChargePoint||Over 127,000 globally||Level 2 and DC fast charging||UL-certified equipment, circuitry monitors, network firewall|
|EVgo||Over 1,500 in U.S.||DC fast charging, some Level 2||Multiple safety certifications, station alarms, breach protocols|
|Electrify America||800+ stations in U.S.||350 kW DC fast charging||Liquid-cooled cables, offline data storage, cybersecurity audits|
|Greenlots||Hundreds in North America||Level 2, DC fast charging||Modem-enabled, back-end control, payment card industry compliance|
|SemaConnect||Over 12,000 stations||Level 2 charging||Network certified UL-listed, optional camera monitoring|
This comparison makes clear that the major charging networks do implement various safeguards and protections to manage risks for public station users. Adhering to the precautions outlined in this article while choosing a reputable network should minimize potential issues.
Governmental Regulations and Standards
Along with the precautions taken by charging networks, there are also government regulatory bodies that provide oversight and standards for public EV charging station safety:
- The National Electric Code published requirements for the installation of electrical vehicle supply equipment.
- Underwriters Laboratories (UL) provides UL 2202 and UL 2231 certification for public charging stations and connectors.
- The U.S. Federal Highway Administration oversees standards for federally funded EV charging projects.
- The Society of Automotive Engineers releases guidelines for electrical vehicle conductive charging.
- The International Electrotechnical Commission publishes standards for EV wireless charging.
- The FCC regulates electromagnetic interference and radiation from charging equipment.
- The National Institute of Standards and Technology provides cybersecurity guidance for EV infrastructure.
These regulations require adherence to strict safety protocols and best practices in the design, installation, and operation of public chargers. While not eliminating risks completely, compliance with codes and standards drastically improves the safety of public charging infrastructure.
Industry Efforts to Improve Safety
In addition to complying with governmental oversight, EV charging networks and equipment manufacturers also take proactive steps to enhance public charging safety through:
- Implementing end-to-end encryption to protect drivers’ personal data.
- Designing new locking connectors to prevent charging cable theft.
- Developing vandal-proof charger enclosures that self-repair scratched surfaces.
- Building electrical protections like ground monitoring into charging hardware.
- Remote monitoring of stations to identify risks immediately via cloud connectivity.
- Installing security cameras to deter crime and allow incident tracking.
- Back-end monitoring to identify issues before they impact drivers.
- Temperature sensors in cables to prevent heat-related fire risks.
- Current interrupters to shut down power during electrical faults.
These kinds of innovations happening alongside evolving regulations demonstrate the priority that networks place on user safety. While risks still exist, the industry is actively working to minimize hazards and improve the public charging experience.
Emerging Advanced Safety Technologies
Looking ahead, even more advanced technologies are on the horizon to further boost public charging safety through:
- Wireless inductive charging – Eliminates plugs/cables that can spread fire or shock.
- EV-charging geofencing – Software limits charger usage to authorized vehicles only.
- Battery optimization – Sensors monitor cell health during charging to prevent overheating.
- Vehicle-to-grid integration – Bi-directional power flow enables electrical fault detection.
- Smart circuit protection – Microprocessors identify and respond to abnormal currents/voltages.
- Distributed ledger technology – Blockchain itself has cybersecurity baked-in by design.
- Station-to-station communication – Allows stations to notify users about malfunctioning neighboring units.
Widespread adoption of advances like these over the next 5-10 years will enable public EV charging networks to offer new layers of automated safety protections. Users stand to benefit greatly from these technologies as risks continue to drop across the industry.
Public Charging Hazards Summary
To summarize, while public EV charging does carry some inherent risks, a few common-sense precautions go a long way towards safe charging:
- Choose stations from reputable networks located in safe areas whenever possible.
- Visually inspect stations and connectors before each use.
- Stop charging immediately if any abnormal warning signs appear.
- Handle cables with care and untangle them when finished.
- Be vigilant about surroundings and trust your instincts if something seems unsafe.
- Notify station operators if you encounter hardware problems or crimes.
- Avoid using public USB ports which can transmit malware.
- Use common theft prevention measures like locking your vehicle.
By understanding the risks, taking suitable precautions, and making smart choices, public charging can remain a very convenient and safe option for EV owners. As regulations and technology progress, risks are steadily decreasing as well.
Public electric vehicle charging does involve some risks ranging from equipment issues to crime. However, the vast majority of charging sessions occur without incident thanks to safety-focused networks, evolving regulations, compliance with codes and standards, and innovative technologies. By selecting reputable stations, taking simple precautions, and remaining vigilant, EV drivers can leverage public charging with peace of mind. With industry progress steadily improving safety, public charging hazards should continue declining while providing a convenient way to enable e-mobility. Remember to follow common sense best practices and enjoy the benefits of public charging wisely.