Supporting A Booming EV Market Through A More Seamless Charging Experience

Business

This article was written in collaboration with Amit Bhonsle, Director of Plug&Charge at Hubject.

A conventional gas-powered vehicle driver will rarely bat an eye when it’s time to fill up the tank. Wherever travel plans take you, it is very likely there will be a gas station around, and the process of filling up will be pretty standard across station locations and providers. For electric vehicle (EV) drivers, on the other hand, the public charging experience isn’t quite this simple.

Instead, when EV drivers approach a new public charging station, they may find that they don’t have a compatible charging card or smartphone app, which can slow down the process and cause some frustration. And while EV drivers are generally very tech savvy and take the time to do the research, there will be a learning curve for new adopters who are used to the ease of filling up their internal combustion engine vehicles at any gas station they pass. At this point, most EV charging network providers (also referred to as charge point operators or CPOs) are doing their own thing with unique software and access requirements, without any set standards across the industry.

There’s a lot of attention on the electric transportation space right now, with new funding to support the growing adoption of EVs from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). EVs currently represent single-digit percentages of vehicle sales in the United States, but that is projected to grow to more than 50% by 2030.

With this continued growth and new attention comes prime opportunity to take a critical look at what the industry can improve upon in order to maximize benefits for drivers. There is significant room for improvement in accessibility of EV charging infrastructure to bring the “gas station model” to the EV experience.

A solution to increase accessibility? Greater interoperability across the EV charging space, so drivers can charge their EVs at any public charging station, no matter the network.

What is interoperability?

Interoperability is defined as the ability of different systems, applications, or products to connect and communicate in a coordinated way, without effort from the end user. When it comes to EV adoption, it’s a major opportunity to make EV charging more accessible and seamless for drivers.

Many people are hesitant to buy an EV because of the lack of available charging stations, whether real or perceived, and the limited range of EVs. This challenge only becomes more of a concern for people who don’t live in a single-family home or have access to residential charging.

This is where interoperability can make a big difference. It allows EV drivers to more easily use any publicly accessible charging station, regardless of the network provider. This simplifies the entire charging experience and provides more access to EV charging to more people, which will help smooth the adoption pathway.

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Creating industry standards through interoperability should be a top priority, and some networks and stakeholders are already teaming up to make it a reality. Ideally, an EV driver will be able to use a single method of authentication to initiate a charging session, whether that’s an RFID, mobile app, or through the vehicle itself (with Plug&Charge), and a single payment model, whether that’s a subscription plan or traditional form of payment, to charge at any network. Plug&Charge is a feature based on international standards and allows the EV driver to, as the name suggests, plug in their EV and start charging. This increases access to public charging and makes the experience more seamless, like it already is for filling up gas-powered vehicles.

The benefits of interoperability for existing and future EV customers is evident, and should be a key consideration to drive adoption forward. As it stands now, drivers are often met with a laundry list of challenges in accessing public charging, including payment options, pricing, availability, and vehicle compatibility. With interoperability, the EV charging experience moves closer to the gas station model, which is currently favored because of its familiarity and ease of use.

Making interoperability in EV charging a reality

The way to move adoption forward and increase accessibility and efficiency of EV charging is to bring more attention to the topic, both at the federal and local level.

We’re starting to see this change, with steps toward new minimum federal standards resulting from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program. This move is focused on establishing a unified, user-friendly network of chargers and includes interoperability requirements for EV-to-EV charger communications.

Another way to move adoption forward is to learn from those who have embraced interoperability. Take the European Union (EU) as an example. In the EU today, across 27 countries, there are more than 355,000 charging stations managed by hundreds of CPOs. With so many CPOs, many of them operating small networks, there was a real need for interoperability to allow EV drivers to easily charge across charging networks in different cities and countries throughout the EU. The Netherlands, one of the leading countries in terms of EV adoption, has pioneered proactive policies and interoperability protocols to foster the market for several years now. Looking to the EU provides a glimpse into a more standardized, more efficient, and easier EV charging experience we might see here in the U.S.

Interoperability of EV charging will be a key aspect of forward progress for the EV industry, as a way to not only support the growing number of EVs on the road, but also to ensure greater accessibility and a positive user experience.

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