Electric vehicles are taking off but unreliable charging could stand in the way

CHARLOTTE — Like millions across the country, last year’s gas prices gave Andy Fischer sticker shock. As president of Mecklenburg Paint Company, he said 2022 gave him the push he needed to start seriously considering electrifying his company fleet.

After a year of research, a state grant and tax credits helped make investment possible and by mid-2023, he had the chargers and infrastructure in place to get eight electric vans.

“As a fleet user, really this is the ideal,” he said. “They charge here. They go out they come back and they recharge here.”

Fischer said so far it’s worked well, but that’s mostly because his business rarely requires work vehicles to travel far enough to need to require public charging.

“We try really hard not to because then time becomes a big issue for us,” he said.

He said it takes about three to four hours to get his fleet of vans up to full battery, enough to travel between 150 miles and 200 miles. That’s easily done in the downtime before and after jobs, but not realistic if employees need to stop for a charge in the field, and that’s if they can find a charger near them.

Survey data shows that behind the initial costs of electric vehicles, charging times and infrastructure are the biggest reasons consumers choose gas-powered cars over EVs and those concerns reflect the current reality.

Most EV charging happens at home or work, but for those who do need a public charger, anyone who doesn’t drive a Tesla may struggle to find a reliable place to plug in. While Tesla drivers are satisfied with the network of chargers available to them, a J.D. Power study found one in five drivers who visited public chargers left without using a charger, either because it wasn’t working or the wait was too long.

At Charlotte-based Atom Power, the company is working to solve some of those reliability problems. Founder Ryan Kennedy said their technology, which relies on keeping circuit breakers in an electrical panel, rather than in each charging pedestal, protects the most delicate and expensive components of the chargers, making them easier to repair and less exposed to the elements or crashes.

“We focus on intelligent infrastructure rather than an appliance,” he said. “That has extreme reliability that’s the biggest value to a customer.”

This year, Kennedy said Atom Power has seen a high demand both from companies looking to electrify their fleets like Mecklenburg Paint as well as offices looking to offer reliable workplace charging as a perk to get workers in the office.

As for the availability piece, the 2021 Infrastructure package includes $7.5 billion to deploy hundreds of thousands of public EV charging ports. North Carolina is receiving $109M to build out over the next five years.

As for Fischer, he said so far, the switch has been worthwhile for his fleet. He’s confident in the reliability of his in-house charging units and as long as it continues to work, he plans to continue the investment.

“We’re a small business when we invest tens of thousands of dollars it has to make sense,” he said. “The plan isn’t just to run out and replace the vehicles at one time. The plan is over the years as we need new vehicles to move to electric as long as it seems to be working well.”

VIDEO: Charlotte Auto Show highlights electric vehicles

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.