ECOtality: Electric Car Charging Leader Admits to Falling Behind

By · September 20, 2011

ECOtality Blink

The two-part UL-certified Blink charger is a sleek solution, with a rectangular base station wall-mounted (a pedestal is also available) above a round dock for the J1772-compliant cable. It retails for $1,195 if you can’t get one free from the EV Project, and there will be installation on top of that. (ECOtality photo)

In 2009 and 2010, California-based ECOtality was awarded $115 million in two federal grants, with the aim of installing 14,000 of its Blink-branded EV chargers in 18 cities located in six states and Washington, D.C.

So far, only about 3,000 of the 14,000 chargers (plus 300 commercial units) have been installed, a less-than-scheduled number that ECOtality attributes to the unexpectedly slow rate of LEAF introductions (caused in part by the Japanese tsunami and hurricane).

"We expected to be further along with the residential EV Project installations," said Don Karner, president of ECOtality North America, in an interview with PluginCars.com. "But we're the tail on the dog, and the EV rollout is moving a little slower than had been anticipated. We have applied to the Department of Energy for a new completion date of the second quarter of 2012."

The Blink home unit has advanced features, including a mobile app for smartphones that notifies when charging is interrupted or complete, utility connections that can reduce output to meet demand response requests, and an interlock that prevents owners from driving off with the cable connected. It “de-energizes” if the cable is stretched.

But it’s also complicated—critics would say overly complicated and expensive. The MyNissanLeaf.com community site has many postings from users who say that their Blink went on the blink, in some cases stopping charging when it lost an Internet connection. According to an informal poll posted on the site, 21 percent of users have had Wi-Fi connection problems, 24 percent have had crashes affecting charging, nine percent have had crashes that didn’t affect charging, and 33 percent have had no problems at all. (Eleven percent are in the “other” category.)

Here’s a sampling from the site:

  • TLeaf says, “Running on Wi-Fi, I’m getting the occasional locked screen and loss of network problems.”
  • Sparky says. “I have both crashes affecting charging one time per week, and Wi-Fi problems two or three times per week.” But Sparky adds, “I am happy to be part of the EV Project and hope ECOtality manages to quickly squash these bugs and gathers useful data from these units.”
  • Mythic Seabass says, “It’s just network issues in general. Wired or wireless, it drops all connectivity. Power cycling will fix the issue about a third of the time.” Seabass complained about the screen light being “always on” and draining power.

Qualifying drivers of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF are eligible for free residential chargers as part of the three-year Department of Energy EV Project. Approximately 8,300 EVs will be served as part of the program.

ECOtality Blink

ECOtality announced a series of high-profile partnerships with Fred Meyer, Best Buy, Cracker Barrel, BP and ARCO to install public chargers, both Level 2 and 480-volt DC fast charge. The company’s revenue jumped 60 percent in 2010, to $13.7 million.

Marc Geller is a San Francisco-based LEAF owner and one of the founders of Plug in America. He has a free EV Project-derived Blink charger, and says that the unit “didn’t work for a while—it went offline pretty quickly. There was a firmware update that didn’t take. A service ticket went out, and in total there was about a month it was out of commission.”

Geller believes that federal funds provided to ECOtality would have been spent more wisely on simpler, less expensive and more reliable equipment. Geller had his Nissan-supplied 110-volt charging cord updated for approximately $300 to also accept 220 volts (through EVSEupgrade.com), and says that’s adequate for most of his needs.

ECOtality says the EV Project is behind schedule.

Connecting to Wi-Fi, Or Not

ECOtality's Karner says that its plan to connect EV chargers to homeowners' Wi-Fi systems "ended up being far more complicated than we thought, and we have experienced some issues with communication between the chargers and our back office. There are a wide variety of different Wi-Fi systems, as you might imagine, and we have to adapt to whatever router and security system is in place. In some instances, we've abandoned Wi-Fi and gone to cellular. But only in very infrequent circumstances does it have any impact on the unit's ability to charge."

Some users, even those who’ve experienced some connectivity issues, say the positives about their Blink chargers far outweigh the teething problems. J.P. White, who maintains a blog on his experiences, got his LEAF SL in March and his Blink Level 2 Charger in April. “I’ve had two small charging issues, both of which self-resolved within 10 minutes. There are a few bugs with the Blink Charger firmware, but none have resulted in a charge failing or aborting. White enjoys monitoring electrical usage and related costs directly on the Blink screen.

ECOtality is also expected to install 20 480-volt DC fast chargers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The fast chargers, and the $700 compatible ports on the Nissan LEAF, were paid by the D.O.E.'s EV Project. ECOtality is at least several months away from installing the first fast charger, and has not yet identified any of the locations. That has left drivers with a three-year lease on the LEAF wondering if the fast charge port was worth the investment, even though they received the fast charge port courtesy of taxpayer dollars.

Comments

· · 3 years ago

"So far, only about 3,000 of the 14,000 chargers (plus 300 commercial units) have been installed, a less-than-scheduled number that ECOtality attributes to the unexpectedly slow rate of LEAF introductions (caused in part by the Japanese tsunami and hurricane)."

I'm calling BS on this. The two year EV Project schedule always showed a public EVSE completion of summer 2011. Long before significant LEAF and Volt sales were anticipated. ECOtality have failed with the EV Project and now they are blaming it on LEAF sales! Oh that's rich! The EV Project were supposed to have thousands of public EVSEs operational before the first LEAF arrive on our shores.

"ECOtality announced a series of high-profile partnerships with Fred Meyer, Best Buy, Cracker Barrel, BP and ARCO to install public chargers, both Level 2 and 480-volt DC fast charge."

Ya, and how many chargers did ECOtality actually end up installing? Take a guess... It seems ECOtality are only adept at press releases, not actually building infrastructure. The DoE should have issued a stop work on the EV Project and recompeted the contract last year when ECOtality began missing their schedule with no chance to recover.

· · 3 years ago

ECOtality is using our tax money to roll out public EV charging stations :-(
Just look at one of the 8 sites they have in the San Diego area:
http://www.recargo.com/sites/2714
What progress! Now, after our tax dollars paid ECOtality $115M, we all still get to pay $4/hour to charge at a casino, where we get to lose even more money.

· · 3 years ago

I think the federal government is going about this backwards. We don't need a big data-gathering research project, which is what ECOtality is supposedly implementing. We also don't need the government to pay for residential chargers; it's better to simply allow private individuals to claim tax credits.

Given that it should be a national priority to quit importing oil from hostile nations, and to start decoupling our fragile economy from volatile oil prices, we have ample reasons, consistent with the Constitution, for federal involvement, however.

The government should start by making EV chargers available at all publicly accessible federal sites, including federal offices, national parks and monuments, ranger stations, etc. Add to that list domestic military bases and federal workplaces. If the states were to follow suit with their facilities, we would have the start of an impressive charging network. All government EVSEs could be configured to charge the retail cost of any electricity provided, and no more.

I tried getting permission to charge our LEAF at Joshua Tree National Park here in Southern California. Although some of their people seemed to want to be helpful, they couldn't even agree to let me have access to a standard 120 V outlet, even if I made a donation. Others have reported similar problems getting permission to charge at federal facilities. In light of how much money is being thrown at ECOtality for an ill-defined project, this is nuts!

· Graeme Sackrison (not verified) · 3 years ago

I've been struggling with ECOtality sliding on public charging stations in the Olympia, WA area. We've mades sure municipal codes were in line, worked with public and private sites, brought businesses on board--an ECOtality's done nothing they said they'd do. Sad.

· perpetualstudent (not verified) · 3 years ago

An interesting data point is to pull up the Charge point map and the blink (ecotality) map. Looking at California I see about 15 sites listed on Blink's map. Charge point has almost 400 charging stations listed. I have been watching the Washington and Oregon infrastructure closely and I can tell you that Charge point has definitely been rolling out charging units much faster than Blink. Also, we have tried to charge at some of blink's public charging stations and all three times we tried, the only accessible chargers were non functional.

· · 3 years ago

Slow LEAF deliveries should have allowed ECOtality to concentrate on installation of public charging. Instead, the public infrastructure is farther behind than residential installs. I would appreciate some candid honesty from ECOtality, not a finger of blame towards others.

It is a shame that the EV community is so completely dependent on this misdirected program. The only good news in this article is that ECOtality finally spoke up without a press release. Eliminating their publicity handlers would be a good first step in connecting with their real customers.

· Tom K (not verified) · 3 years ago

I'm very disappointed in Ecotality. They suck. I'm glad I've been able to acquire an AVCON receptacle so I can charge my LEAF around town on the remaining legacy EVSEs still working...

· · 3 years ago

Indyflick nailed it -

"I'm calling BS on this. The two year EV Project schedule always showed a public EVSE completion of summer 2011. Long before significant LEAF and Volt sales were anticipated. ECOtality have failed with the EV Project and now they are blaming it on LEAF sales! Oh that's rich! The EV Project were supposed to have thousands of public EVSEs operational before the first LEAF arrive on our shores."

I have the Leaf, Blink is in my garage (note with only 1 issue with a firmware download), and have to admit I'm VERY angry with ECOtality's TOTAL FAILURE with installing public charging. They're completely incompetent. Wish there was some way to punish them until they'd met their stated commitments.

· Tom F (not verified) · 3 years ago

I'm just glad I have a recharging station in my garage. Although we need to hold Ecotality to their word in getting charging stations out. There's still no word on when the Blink Fast Chargers are suppose to come out in the Seattle area.

· · 3 years ago

Residential Blink has come a long way - it is much more stable now.

But the major problem with Ecotality has been their poor record of building public infrastructure. There are zero L3 (fast) chargers in Seattle area even now - and just a handful of L2.

Chargepoint - has done a much better job at building public charging infrastructure. Ecotality is completely new to this business - and it shows. They have poor equipment which have been in beta testing mode for a while. You can't have public infrastructure built using such equipment.

· Tom F. (not verified) · 3 years ago

When a company doesn't deliver on a product the customer will probably go to their competition. Who is Ecotalities competition in the EVSE arena? Competition would be Chargepoint, Aeroviornment (Underwriters lab just certified all of their equipment) among others. Wheres the drive to get these chargers installed by Ecotality? They got the EV project funding so....wheres the product? In this economy results are more important now than ever. Ecotality ....you guys need to step up to the agreement and install the chargers you agreed to.

· Leptoquark (not verified) · 3 years ago

"Ecotality ....you guys need to step up to the agreement and install the chargers you agreed to."

I agree. They were paid their DOE grant money to get chargers out the door, EV's or no EV's. It's pretty sad to be blaming Nissan. What's really suspicious is that you can't bring up their charger map on the EV Project web site. Is that because it would be embarrasingly sparse?

What really worries me is that this might turn into an EV charger version of Solyndra. That would hurt everyone connected in any way with EV's.

· Jim McL (not verified) · 3 years ago

I don't believe the connection problems are limited to Blink. I tried to charge at a GE Watt Station the other day, no go. My Think City EV showed connection but refused to charge. A Tesla right next to me was able to charge from that same EVSE though.

I has success charging my Think EV at the same spot two months before, but the EVSE was moved closer to the parking spot in the mean time. My portable EVSE works fine, and I have not trouble with Clipper Creek or AeroVironment at the Nissan dealers.

I have heard of connection problems between Leviton EVSE and Think EVs as well.

It is important to get these issues ironed out before long.

And the internet connection should be the last priority for now.

· · 3 years ago

"What's really suspicious is that you can't bring up their charger map on the EV Project web site. Is that because it would be embarrasingly sparse? "
Their charger map is available at: www.blinknetwork.com
But, yes, it is extremely sparse, especially for a company who told the government that they could and would install thousands of EV charging stations this year. I guess that's what our wise government gets by going with the lowest bidder.

· · 3 years ago

ECOtality is a disaster. I've been working with them for well over a year to install several Level 2 stations at a major University here in So. Cal. and all I get is delays and no response.

We are now installing 8 Coulomb/ChargePoint stations right now and couldn't be happier! Excellent equipment and fantastic support.

· Fedup (not verified) · 3 years ago

Ecotality was a small and nearly bankrupt $3M company handed a $130M taxpayers check because they had inside connections at the DOE. The money should have been distributed to several companies in this space in a run-off to see who could develop and supply the best equipment. I was an initial supporter of the DOE's investment in EV space, but after watching the mistakes and missteps of the past three years, I have given up hope.

· Japan Junky (not verified) · 2 years ago

Fedup's information is correct and known to all in the fast charging industry. Their company was on the verge of bankruptcy because they were being beaten in the industrial market by two US companies with better technologies. However, they had been doing electric vehicle testing for the DOE for years and kept their toe in the water there. So when $130M was awarded to them we all knew they would have to scramble to find technology which they have - to Switzerland and China. The nefarious effects of letting a few people in government pick winners.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

At last people are cluing into the fact that Ecototality is a scam. This is another company stealing tax payers money and putting out fake press releases. If you look carefully at the press releases they don't actully install any chargers. They only have a handful of chargers installed.

They don't even have a map of where their chargers are on their web site...and any company you would think who is really installing chargers should do so.

This company is like Solyandra...except that Solyndra actually tried to build solar panels...what will it take to investigate Ecototality and get the tax payer money back...this gives EV projects a bad name since there are such shysters taking our tax payer dollars and pocketing it.

The author does not seem to know what a scam this company is? and is repeating their BS verbatim....how can the tsunami affect them installing chargers?

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

I ordered my Leaf about 4 months ago and applied for the charger. I have heard NOTHING about the charger and the Leaf is now in my garage, charging via 120V each night. No wonder they've "fallen behind" on their deployments -- they won't deploy any!

· Sri (not verified) · 2 years ago

Why is DOE not investigating this company?. I looked up the Blink network and there are a grand total of 11 public charging stations in the bay area..and NONE in the greater Sacramento area. Many of these charging stations cost money to charge...so why did the DOE give them over a 100 million dollars so they could also make money off the installed chargers.

On the other hand Chargepoint has chargers where people actually need them...compare ChargePoint network and Blink and you will see that Blink has chargers in the places no one would use. They have none along any major routes in California...like the I-80 or I-5 corridor.

· Tired of paying for others BS (not verified) · 2 years ago

Why should the Federal Government be paying for your cars or your chargers? Why can't the electric vehicle compete in the free market?
You blame Ecotality. You need to look at the Federal Government. The DOE paperwork and requirements make it very difficult to get anything done efficiently. It has gotten even worse since Solindra. The amount of money that the DOE allocates per install is not enough because the jobs are all required to pay "prevailing wage". That means that the contractors for both residential and commercial installs are required to pay the highest amount possible for labor in the area of install.
For those who don't know. The Federal money only covers certain areas such as the S.F. Bay Area, not Sacramento. The fact is, is that almost every place that agreed to host a DCFC is unwilling to pay any of the cost for installation. It is also a fact that after the Chevy Volt fire news come out, sales of all electric vehicles dropped off substantially.
If you wanted a better system, it should have been implemented by the free market.
When a gas vehicle runs out of gas, you can get a gas can and go get more. What happens when you run out of power? I know, let's get the tax payer to put chargers in everywhere. When the demand for electricity goes up, what do think is going to happen to electricity rates? How long do think it will take for electricity rates to pass gas rates? How will we generate enough electricity to power everyone's electric car? I know, windmills right? Or maybe we can use solar panels. Too bad they only work during daylight and most cars are charged at night.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

ok people chargepoint and blink are not the only players here but i must admit that chargepoint sent me an access card within a week of buying my leaf and blink has not even sent me the card i ordered and payed for. but check out Charge-A-Lot in tennessee they have 8 stations and 2 roadside assitance chargers and have 4 level 3s in progress.there website says there is a fee but theres not. no cards just pull in and plug up its great!! these sd q stations are great!!!

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

blink sucks they are such a scam. tried to use one of there stations in front of a khols 2 out of 4 did not work the others had to have a blink card called 800 # what a joke!! poor khols manager was told their customers could use them for free! cant wait till they go down in flames...

· · 2 years ago

I just had to reboot my Blink yet again last night. It seems like it doesn't work about half of the time.
I use my Clipper Creek EVSE most of the time because the Blink is such a pain.
Every time I have to reboot it (unplug, then plug in again), it takes a few minutes before it comes back to life, then I have to go through a stupid 10-tap touch-screen calibration (2 or 3 touches should be sufficient) and wait another minute or so.
I also of course, am never sure I'll actually be charged in the morning when I use the Blink.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

I called Henry Waxman and Susan Davis.... It's time for congress to start looking in to where our tax dollars went.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

Maybe they are getting their act together a bit. I ordered a Volt and applied for an EVSE from Ecotality; they explained they needed a VIN or order number to process; got the GM order number and they got rolling. The Blink install process took 4 weeks but was done before the car arrived. It's worked fine for the first month. I've used a dozen Blink and Coloumb stations around Seattle with 100% success so far.

There are far fewer stations of all makes/models around than I expected, and their mapping is problematic at best. I wish some integrated map existed. I also wish that integrated map could be available on WP7, Bing, and OnStar.

· · 2 years ago

@Anonymous (new Volt driver)
www.recargo.com and www.carstations.com tend to be the best unified maps of EV charging stations.
Welcome to the world of improved freedom from oil independence.

· WestTNVolt (not verified) · 2 years ago

I just bought a volt May 15th. ordered my charger from ecotality, the electrician came out the same week. He did a survey on my garage, then sent that to spx, they added more to it and sent it back to me. I need a new main breaker, and a breaker for the new line to the blink charger (safety connector, the charger is in the car), and about 30 feet of conduit. All of this is in my garage. Just over $1,700 for all of it. My out of pocket will be 604 + tax. I think spx jacked up the price to get the full 1300 and make me pay some out of pocket. But still cheaper than the other chargers with wiring cost.

· Jacelyn Kubie (not verified) · 2 years ago

Im a roofer who is opening a solar company. Enphase system are the best way to go. For people who are looking to get solar please make sure that your roof will out last you system. Other wise you will have to pay someone to take it off, install new roof and then reinstall the system. solar panel

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