EV charger theft on the rise, could it tarnish the appeal of EVs?

June 14, 2024
The thieves have targeted the charging stations with the hope of stealing cables which contain copper wiring.

Across the U.S., thieves have been targeting electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to steal the cables that contain copper wire. The price of copper has reached a record high on global markets, making it a potentially lucrative steal for thieves.

When these cables are removed, often the entire charging station becomes inoperable, forcing EV owners to find another location to charge their vehicles. In areas where charging station options are limited, this can be an especially taxing situation. 

According to the Citrus County Chronicle, about 4 in 10 U.S. adults say they believe EVs take too long to charge or they're unaware of any charging stations nearby. With an increased loss of chargers due to the thefts, U.S. automakers face a new obstacle in their efforts to convert more Americans to EVs. 

The possibility that a charging station could be available but disabled from the loss of integral cables, has the potential to push already skeptical buyers to stick with traditional gasoline-fueled or hybrid vehicles. This poses a threat to major automakers who have placed large financial wagers on buyers making the switch from combustion engines to EVs due to increased consequences from climate change.

Stellantis is one manufacturer that could feel the effects of these robberies. By the end of 2030, they predict that 50 percent of its passenger cars will be EVs. Ford set a target of two million EVs per year by 2026 but has since suspended that goal. General Motors pledged to sell only EV passenger cars by 2035. 

As with any financial bet, the success of these endeavors is dependent upon the response of would-be EV buyers and the ability of these manufacturers to convince such customers to make that switch. If they can't assure customers that they'll be able to find operable charging stations for their vehicles, then achieving these goals becomes difficult. 

According to Electrify America, which runs the second-largest network of direct-current fast chargers, a cable might be cut perhaps every six months at one of its 968 charging stations, with 4,400 plugs nationwide. Through May this year, the figure reached 129. Anthony Lambkin, Electrify America's vice president of operations, said that a Seattle station had its cables cut six times in the past year. 

Flo and EVgo, two other EV charging companies, have reported an increase in thefts as well. In the Seattle area, these stations seem to be a frequent target. Just this year, Seattle police have reported seven cases of cable thefts, matching the number for the entirety of 2023. Additionally, sites in Nevada, California, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Tennesse, Texas, and Pennsylvania have also been hit. 

EVgo reported that law enforcement is investigating these thefts while it tries to repair inoperable stations and looks for a long-term solution. 

In the past month or so, Houston has reported eight or nine thefts, said Sgt. Robert Carson, leader of a police metal theft unit. Before this, the Houston police had no knowledge of cable thefts in the area. In one case, a Tesla station had been targeted, with 18 of the 19 cords stolen. According to Carson, in the first five minutes he was there, around 10 EVs had to be turned away. 

"They're not just taking one," Carson says. "When they're hit, they're hit pretty hard."

Charging companies believe that thieves are after the copper that the cables contain. In late May, copper hit a record high of nearly $5.20 a pound, a result, in part, of rising demand to cut carbon emissions with EVs that use copper wiring. The price is up around 25 percent from a year ago.

However, charging companies claim that the amount of copper in the cables isn't very high and extracting it is a difficult job. Carson estimates that for one cable a criminal might get anywhere from $15 to $20 at a scrap yard. 

One issue for the charging companies is the cost of replacing those cables. In Minneapolis, it costs around $1,000 to replace just one cable, says Joe Laurin, project manager in the Department of Public Works for the city. 

In an effort to fight back, Electrify America has started to install more security cameras around their charging stations. In Houston, police have begun visiting recycling centers to look for stolen metal. It's hard, though, for scrap yards to determine whether or not the metal being sold to them came from a charging cable as thieves often burn off the insulation and sell only strands of metal. 

The Recycled Materials Association is issuing scrap-theft alerts from law enforcement officials so that members can be on the lookout for suspects and stolen goods. 

"We'd like to get them stopped," says Carson. "And then let the court system do what they're supposed to."

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