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Report: Fat public EV charging cables are a magnet for thieves

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Copper remains lucrative for thieves, enough that public EV charging cables are now a target, reports the Associated Press.

Charging cables contain large amounts of copper, prices for which are now at record highs. And charging-station operators are reporting increased instances of cut cables and thefts, according to the AP.

Two years ago, Electrify America noted a cut cable at one of its stations about every six months. Through May of this year, the number of reported cut cables reach 129—four more than in all of 2023, according to the report. At one Seattle charging station, cables were cut six times in the past year, Electrify America vice president of operations Anthony Lambkin told the AP.

2023 Toyota bZ4X at EVgo charging station

2023 Toyota bZ4X at EVgo charging station

After the report was shared by the AP’s official account on X (formerly Twitter), Electrify America reposted it, adding that “cable theft across the electric vehicle (EV) charging industry is on the rise.” The company said it is “committed to cooperating with law enforcement to swiftly address this issue.”

Flo and EVgo also reported a rise in thefts, and Tesla charging stations have been struck by copper thieves as well, according to the AP report. At one Houston-area Tesla station, thieves stole 18 of 19 charging cables, local police told the AP.

Copper prices hit a record high of nearly $5.20 in late May (up about 25% from a year ago), and analysts expect further increases, according to the AP. Yet charging companies said there isn’t much copper in their cables—perhaps $15 to $20 per cable—and what metal there is can be difficult to extract. That metal often ends up at scrap yards, which often can’t tell it was extracting from a vandalized charging cable, according to the report.

Tesla charging

Tesla charging

In many respects, it’s for the same reason that hybrids became a target for thieves several years ago—because their catalytic converters included higher amounts of platinum, rhodium, and palladium to accommodate the frequent starts of their engines. Prior to that, Prius owners also needed to worry about battery theft itself.

Charging-station operators are left with frustrated EV drivers and big repair bills. Minneapolis has paid $1,000 to replace just one cable at its city-owned charging stations after they were vandalized, according to the report.

2022 Hyundai IONIQ 5 at Electrify America DC fast-charging station

2022 Hyundai IONIQ 5 at Electrify America DC fast-charging station

For now, charging companies and police are taking some steps to guard against cable theft. Electrify America is installing more security cameras, and Houston police are spending more time plying scrap yards for stolen copper, according to the report. But technological changes could also help.

Higher-power 800-volt charging means thinner cables without the same cooling needs, so at least at the charger and cable level it helps cut costs. Charging companies have been aiming to provide faster charging without bulkier cables, involving some innovative cooling methods. Wireless charging could also lessen the need for bulky copper cables, but it’s expensive.

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