Despite COVID-19 leading to a drop in new car registrations, 2020 saw continued growth of pure-EV and hybrid sales.
However, the UK still faces many barriers in its journey towards widespread driver adoption.
One such issue is the state of UK EV infrastructure. The current public charging station user experience leaves a lot to be desired. EV drivers are faced with needing to sign-up to multiple charging point operators (CPOs), many with their own unique access and payment requirements (charge cards, apps, subscriptions etc.).
UK Government watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), have recently acknowledged that charge point anxiety is a key concern when it comes to drivers making the switch to electric.
In today’s society, users have come to expect simplicity and ease-of-use as standard – and will steer clear of disjointed and time-consuming services.
‘Interoperability’ as an EV roaming solution
Fortunately, it doesn’t actually need to be so complex, and EV pioneers across Europe have demonstrated that charging point operators (CPOs) can offer a more seamless experience for users, by teaming up and participating in ‘interoperability’ models such as EV Roaming Agreements or EV Roaming Platforms.
‘Interoperability’ is the ability of any EV driver to access, charge and pay at any public charging point. And also ‘implicitly refers to the ability for companies to seamlessly share information with each other.’ (Renewable Energy Associaion Position Paper)
EV Roaming Platforms are typically set-up by automotive manufacturers, and consist of a network of CPOs. They enable a customer of one CPO within the network to access charge points run by any of the CPOs within the same network. For a fee, the platform arranges the payment for the CPO and monitors electric vehicle supply equipment usage.
An example of such a network is the platform hosted by French firm Gireve. It currently spans across 31 countries, consists of 183 charging networks and is able to offer EV drivers access to over 106,955 charge points.
The All-party Parliamentary Group believes such agreements in the Netherlands, France and Germany have helped fuel the switch to EVs. (Source).
An EV Roaming Agreement on the other hand, removes the need for a Roaming Platform. It is a commercial agreement between a group of CPOs, enabling an EV driver to sign-up to one of them, but gain access to charge points run by any of the providers within the agreement, and only receive one bill. Roaming Agreements are already in use across the EU and are starting to get attention from some CPOs in the UK.
How ‘interoperability’ was made possible
The Netherlands has played a large role in making EV charge point ‘interoperability’ possible globally, with organisations including the ElaadNL and the NKL funding the development of projects such as the Open Charge Point Interface Protocol (OCPI) – ‘an independent open protocol that supports connections between Mobility Service Providers, CPOs and Navigation Service Providers’.(Source)
The benefits and criticism of ‘interoperability’
The Renewable Energy Association (REA) which we are a member of, believes ‘‘interoperability’ between EV charging networks in the UK should be an industry priority.’
The potential benefits of ‘interoperability’ for EV drivers include:
- An increased number of charge points available
- More visibility into the location and live status of charge points
- Simplified billing and enhanced price transparency
- Increased driver confidence around charger access
- It could support fleet electrification – a key step towards wide-spread adoption
- It creates the potential for future value-add-services (e.g. the option to opt to charge with green energy and advanced charge point booking)
- It could assist in managing the strain on the national grid.
And there are clear benefits for CPOs:
- A faster ROI for CPOs thanks to an increased user base
- Higher customer retention for CPOs due to better UI and access to other networks
- A faster and more cost-efficient route-to-market in new regions – CPOs can start up in a new region just by joining an existing roaming platform.
Overall, the benefits point towards an increased likelihood of widespread EV adoption.
But it’s not all positive, and criticism and fears have been documented:
- Roaming Platforms have faced criticism around the amount of data they have access to and don’t share with the CPOs, the high fees commanded, and the requirements to fit in with the platform’s communication protocol. In addition, the level of maintenance, auditing and customer service involved has raised concerns. On top of this, there are fears around the security of having many CPOs using the same communication systems
- Roaming Agreements have also been criticised due to the time and costs involved in negotiating legal and commercial arrangements.
Will ‘interoperability’ work for the UK?
With the introduction of their ‘Road to Zero’ plans, the Government have been clear on their ambition for the UK to have ‘one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world’. And the announcement in 2019 that all new UK rapid EV chargers must accept contactless debit or credit card payment from all EV drivers by spring 2020 was in line with such a vision.
However, ad-hoc contactless payments are less practical for smaller AC chargers and REA believes that enforcing contactless across the UK could result in higher costs for consumers and slower deployment.
Continuing, REA pointed out that such an initiative is ‘only a first step towards an interoperable system and does not result in a seamless experience of charging between networks partly due to the diversity of possible implementations’ and doesn’t address the ‘potential value-added services that shared communications and information between CPOs can bring’.
In October 2020 the REA & REAL (Renewable Energy Assurance Limited) announced the introduction of a new service called ‘EV Roam’, to help facilitate roaming agreements between EV charging networks in the UK. Pleased with the move, Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said on the matter “As more drivers than ever are making the switch to zero emission vehicles, paying for charging should be seamless and easy.”
Perhaps the biggest potential blocker to real ‘interoperability’ in the UK right now is the fact that many of the CPOs operating in the country have proprietary back-end systems. Incompatible back office software and the lack of common communication protocols presents a big issue for collaboration. Many CPOs would need to invest significantly to be able to rectify this issue and incorporate OCPI and it would seem there are also concerned that such agreements and platforms would be detrimental to their market share.
The UK is in a favourable position of being able to assess the potential of ‘interoperability’ and at the same time, avoid many of the problems other countries have experienced in their attempts to create a more seamless offering for users. However, the financial investment required from many CPOs to participate means this won’t be a straightforward journey, and may require government intervention and/or financial support.
Mer are fully supportive of EV charge point ‘interoperability’ in the UK, as demonstrated by our recent roaming partnership with NewMotion. Our partnership Agreement will enable NewMotion customers to access our 160+ public charging points across the country. We’re setting up more roaming partnerships for this year and beyond, and are aiming to ease driver concerns about range anxiety and ease of acces.