Electric vehicles
Electric vehicles

Electric Vehicles and Charging Risks: What you need to know

Electric vehicles (EVs) are no longer a curiosity; they’re becoming a common sight on roads worldwide. Their popularity is surging, thanks to their environmental benefits, lower operating costs, and impressive performance. Helping to fuel the shift from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to EVs, are government incentives, advancements in battery technology, charging infrastructure and an increased variety of EV models.

However, as with any technological advancement, there are potential risks associated with EVs and their charging systems. The use of lithium-ion batteries in many EVs poses a potential fire hazard, and the high-voltage charging systems increase electrical dangers. Below we outline the types of EVs and charging stations, as well as risk mitigation measures that can help you reduce the likelihood of an EV-related incident.

Overview of electric vehicles

Types of EVs

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs): BEVs are all-electric vehicles and therefore powered by electricity only. They use rechargeable batteries to power an electric motor. BEVs don’t have an internal combustion engine and produce zero tailpipe emissions.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs): PHEVs combine an internal combustion engine, electric motor, and a battery. They can operate in electric mode for only a limited distance. Once the battery is depleted, the internal combustion engine kicks in, providing extended range.

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs): HEVs combine an internal combustion engine with an electric motor, but they cannot be plugged in to recharge. Instead, they rely on regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine to recharge the battery. The electric motor assists the internal combustion engine to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions.

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs): FCEVs use hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity, which powers the electric motor. These vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions since the only by-product of the chemical reaction in the fuel cell is water vapor. FCEVs are still relatively uncommon and require hydrogen refueling infrastructure.

Light electric vehicles (LEVs): LEVs are small, lightweight, low-speed, electrically powered vehicles that are typically operated at shorter distances. These include electric scooters (e-scooters), electric bicycles (e-bikes), hoverboards, electric skateboards, electric two-wheelers, electric unicycles and more.

Charging levels of EVs

EV charging is categorized into three levels, each with different charging speeds and equipment:

  • Level 1: Charging requires no equipment installation and utilizes a standard 120-volt AC (alternate current) outlet to charge the vehicle. This is the slowest charging method and is typically used for overnight or extended charging. One hour of charging provides approximately 8 km of driving range.
  • Level 2: Charging stations utilize a 240-volt AC power source and require installation of special equipment to provide a higher level of safety due to the higher voltage. Level 2 charging systems are typically found at public charging stations, workplaces, and homes. One hour of charging provides approximately 30 km of driving range.
  • Level 3: Direct current fast charging (DCFC) or “fast charging” stations require a 480-volt DC (direct current) external power source. These stations are the EV equivalent of a gas station and can charge an empty battery to 80% in roughly 30 minutes. One hour of charging provides approximately 250 km of driving range.

Fire risks of EVs

EV fires occur less frequently than ICE vehicle fires however, an EV fire is far more difficult to extinguish. All Li-ion EV battery fires are triggered by a thermal runaway event. This is caused by a short circuit inside a Li-ion battery cell due to manufacturing defects, overcharging, or physical damage.

Thermal runaway generates an exothermic reaction causing an increase in temperature. This heat spreads to adjacent cells causing them to overheat and produce even more heat, creating a domino effect. Thermal runaway occurs once the generation of heat becomes self-sustaining. This exothermic reaction releases energy and gases, increasing pressure within the battery, eventually leading to a rupture or venting. The electrolytes inside Li-ion batteries are also flammable, which further spreads the fire once ignited.

EV fires burn much hotter and require up to forty times more water to extinguish compared to ICE vehicle fires. EV fires can also burn for hours and can often re-ignite hours or even days later following an incident. The top causes of EV fires include:

  • Battery and charging system malfunctions
  • Impact or collision damage
  • Manufacturing defects
  • Overheating of battery
  • Electrical or component failures
  • Improper modification or repairs
  • Improper battery handling or maintenance
  • Charging station equipment malfunction

Best practices for EV charging

To help reduce the risk of fire when charging your EV, consider the following measures:

  • Conduct a thorough risk assessment of your premises to identify potential fire hazards before installing EV chargers.
  • Ensure there is adequate space between charging bays and choose locations that minimize the stretching of cables. Implement proper cable management systems, such as cable trays and covers, to minimize trip hazards.
  • Place chargers in areas with adequate lighting and security to prevent vandalism to equipment.
  • Install, inspect, test, and maintain charging systems in accordance with local regulations and the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Use curbs or bollards to protect chargers from vehicle impact.
  • Operate chargers on a dedicated circuit, separate from the main circuit, ensuring it can handle the electrical load.
  • Label electrical isolation points clearly and make sure they are accessible for safe shutdown.
  • Ideally, place charging stations outside. If indoor installation is necessary, ensure the area has automatic fire detection, sprinkler protection, and proper ventilation to remove smoke and heat from an EV fire.
  • Ensure charging equipment is electrically interlocked to automatically disconnect upon fire detection, sprinkler activation, ventilation, or electrical malfunction.
  • Develop and communicate an emergency response plan specific to EV-related incidents, including evacuation procedures and emergency procedures on how to deal with an EV fire.
  • Post clear charging instructions and warning signs around charging stations and provide clear marking to indicate safe areas for pedestrians and vehicles.
  • Conduct annual infrared thermographic scans of the electrical equipment to help identify possible electrical faults.
  • Place fire extinguishers in accessible areas near charging stations.

Cyber security risks

An often-overlooked risk of EVs is their susceptibility to cyber-attacks. EVs are often connected to the internet to monitor the vehicle during charging, provide charging location information and provide software updates for the vehicle. This connectivity makes them particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks, including unauthorized access, malware/ransomware attacks,

and denial-of-service (DOS). Hackers can access personal information through mobile apps or public charging stations, which require user authentication and data exchange for payment processing, charging monitoring, and firmware updates.

Here are a few preventive steps to avoid a cyber attack:

  • Ensure the vehicle is regularly updated to the latest software security patches and firmware updates, preferably under a trusted, secure network at home or work.
  • Utilize strong Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), such as two-factor authentication (2FA), to prevent unauthorized access to personal information and vehicle systems.
  • Implement secure communication protocols to encrypt data.
  • Segregate the charging station network to prevent attackers from accessing the main company network systems.
  • Conduct regular backups of critical data related to the charging network so it can be restored following a cyber attack or a system failure.
  • Implement Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDPS) to detect and prevent suspicious activity.
  • Provide education and cybersecurity awareness training.

Protect your self and your property

As EVs and the charging infrastructure become increasingly prevalent, it is essential to acknowledge the potential risks they pose to your premises. While these risks are minimal, their consequences can be catastrophic. By following these risk mitigation measures, you help to reduce the likelihood of an EV-related incident. To learn more, visit our home insurance page today!

This blog is provided for information only and is not a substitute for professional advice. We make no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information and will not be responsible for any loss arising out of reliance on the information.

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