If you want to flummox a pair of research analysts, tell them you are launching a new product that no one has to pay for. At last week’s Plug-In 2013 conference in San Diego, electric vehicle (EV) software and services company Recargo announced a system to let users of its charging station finder app, PlugShare, pay for their charging sessions through the app itself. As Forrest North, Recargo’s chief operating officer, explained to my colleague, John Gartner, and me, the company is offering this service for free – not only to EV drivers, but to any EV charging network operator that agrees to participate. Its first partner is U.S. EV charging company SemaConnect, which has 300 public stations accessible through this app.
Why would Recargo offer this for free? One reason is that PlugShare’s customers are EV drivers, not charging equipment companies or site hosts. The company says that a key part of its mission is to make EV driving as easy and seamless as possible, and this new service helps to do that. Recargo gave a demonstration of the system, Pay With PlugShare, at the Plug-In show. The interface is clean and simple. Once drivers have entered credit card information, it remains available for any charger. Drivers simply select the charger they wish to use and begin charging. The app shows how much the station charges drivers, how long the car has charged, and the total fee.
Forget About It
If Recargo can sign on more network operators, this app has the potential to address the major barriers in the EV world: charging network accessibility and ease of use. Today, drivers must carry a separate access token for each network of charging stations. For non-members, many stations have a phone payment system or a phone number a driver calls to get an access code. Even a slight inconvenience in accessing a station will turn off some drivers, and, as we have discussed, public stations really need to maximize usage to make any kind of business sense for the operators.
Some companies argue that the easiest solution to this problem is simply to equip public chargers with credit card readers. Indeed, this is already happening, and the new Pay With PlugShare app will not replace that as an option. But, there is an attractive simplicity to using the same app to find the station to pay for charging at it, as well.
The app is designed to work with the payment scheme configured by the network operator and the charging station host. It is easy to see why participating in this payment app would be attractive for companies that are competing against the two giants in the U.S. EV charging market, ChargePoint and ECOtality (although the fate of ECOtality’s Blink network, in the wake of the company’s bankruptcy, is not clear). Ironically, Pay With PlugShare will be competing with CollaboratEV, the venture launched by these two companies to establish cross-network access for EV drivers.
While Recargo is not charging for the Pay With PlugShare service, North was quick to note in our conversation that it aims to be a revenue-generating venture. The company says PlugShare has more than 20,000 charging stations in the United States and Canada and 30,000 reviews from users. This gives it a tremendous amount of data on EV charging habits, which should have real value to the industry. Pay by PlugShare may drive more users to its app and add to this valuable data stream.
Tags: Electric Vehicles, EV Charging, Finance & Investing, Smart Transportation Program
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