Navigant Research Blog

EV Charging Networks Join Forces

John Gartner — March 7, 2013

The two largest EV charging networks are creating a joint venture to solve the most critical technical and business challenge facing their fledgling industry – authenticating users across networks and creating a centralized payment clearinghouse.

ChargePoint and ECOtality will each own 50% of “Collaboratev” (pronounced “collaborative”), which will develop de facto standards with the goal of enabling EV drivers to own a payment/authorization card that will work across any charging network.  This will allow drivers to “roam” to any service provider, much like mobile phone customers, and have the card recognized by the network and any fees added to the customer’s account.  EV drivers may pay additional fees for accessing other charging networks, much like ATM fees.

The industry has discussed the need for a consistent back-end payment processing and authorization system – that will utilize QR codes, RFID cards, and other technologies – almost since the first companies formed more than 4 years ago.  The combined company will build on standards work being done by NEMA (the Association of Electrical and Medical Imaging Equipment Manufacturers) and will make the protocols and interoperability standard available to any EVSE network operator for a small licensing fee, according to Pat Romano, president and CEO of ChargePoint. Romano said “a few” preliminary discussions have occurred with competing EVSE networks, but now that Collaboratev is formed, they will now more aggressively pursue partnerships.

Better, Not Just Bigger

The Collaboratev interoperability initiative is mostly likely to affect the United States market first, though it may also affect Europe and Asia.  Europe is developing the Open Charge Point Protocol and has a broader initiative to promote EVs and charging infrastructure known as Green eMotion.

If Collaboratev’s efforts to create a de facto standard are successful, they will accelerate EV charging and EV adoption by reducing consumer confusion and eliminating the hassles of joining multiple EVSE networks.

Streamlined roaming across networks will force competitors to increase the differentiation of their service, since simply touting a large exclusive network will no longer be a competitive advantage.  However, whether companies that have been battling each other in an EVSE land grab (see the  graphic below depicting the EVSE competitive field from Pike Research’s Pike Pulse Report: Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment) will be able to convince shareholders and investors that cooperating with a competitor-backed company is a smart strategy remains to be seen.

EVSE Competitive Field


(Source: Pike Research)

In the EV battery industry JVs among competitors have had more trouble staying together than Taylor Swift and her paramours, in other industries such as banking (e.g., the formation of MasterCard) and airlines (the SABRE data clearinghouse) have been much more successful.

The piece that could become contentious in future years is Collaboratev’s initiative to also “accurately provide aggregated EV charging station location data.”  A number of organizations, including PlugShare, Recargo, and the Department of Energy, are developing websites that will assist EV drivers in finding an available charging point.  Today the business opportunity is mostly limited to ad-supported services for a finite audience, but in a few years, hundreds of thousands of EVs will use charging stations, with impacts on utilities and grid operators.  That data – about where and how people are charging – will have tangible value to power providers looking to incorporate EVs into ancillary services, as well as to EV makers and marketing companies.

The charter of Collaboratev currently does not address licensing or sharing the revenue from such data.  Sorting this out sooner rather than later (when the financial value becomes more apparent) would be a wise move for the group.  Collaboratev’s founders acknowledged that this needs to eventually be addressed – but interoperability is the first task.

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