Navigant Research Blog

EV Charging Networks Start to Unify

John Gartner — October 18, 2013

For EV drivers to use public charging equipment to its fullest (and for charging networks to make money providing the service), the experience must be simple and uncomplicated.  While today’s public charging experience is quite the opposite of that in most locations, there is considerable industry movement toward open standards that will someday enable drivers to plug in almost anywhere.

Currently, many EV charging networks have proprietary systems that require a personal identifying device, such as a fob or contactless card, to initiate charging.  The networks have legitimate business reasons to push customers toward signing up for membership plans.  However, based on the lackluster usage rates of public charging so far, a common framework for sharing data and customer authorization that exists apart from payment schemes is needed.

The Open Charge Alliance, which started in Germany and spread throughout Europe, recently landed in North America and aspires to unite all chargers globally.  The 50+ participating companies use the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), which enables charging stations to connect with each other within a network or data to be aggregated across networks.  Interoperability is important because it allows charging equipment to be centrally managed regardless of the hardware.  It also enables charging station information to be aggregated and shared with drivers regardless of the software and systems used by each network provider.

Pay as You Go

The Open Charge Alliance made its U.S. debut at Plug-In 2013 in San Diego.  The group announced that an updated OCPP 2.0 standard would soon be out, supporting “pricing, smart charging, and charging station health and maintenance, including device event notification and statistical reports.”

U.S.-based companies, including Greenlots, ChargePoint, Eaton, and EV Connect, have gotten on board with the standard.  As a result, data about the concentration of EV charging events across networks can be tracked for the first time and vehicle data can be passed between networks.  This is important for utilities to be able to understand how the proliferation of EVs is affecting load.  If the standard becomes ubiquitous, it will enable hardware to be easily swapped out, making the market even more competitive.  Fleets can buy EV chargers from multiple suppliers and not have to worry about being tied into a single vendor’s software solution.

On top of this basic communication are payment systems, which can share personal account information and transaction data.  In Europe, Hubject is emerging as a common payment platform.  In the United States, the poorly timed Collaboratev venture (between networks ChargePoint and now defunct ECOtality) has been challenged by a new system from Recargo.

EV drivers can’t wait for the day when initiating a charging session at any location is as consistent and simple as withdrawing cash from an ATM.  Once this happens, the motivation to plug in whenever a charger is close by will increase significantly.

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