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Friday, September 24, 2021

How an open charging network could boost EV adoption [Q&A]

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Electric car charging

Although there has been a surge of interest in electric vehicles brought about by governments legislating to phase out internal combustion power, many people are put off by the difficulties of charging, made more of a challenge by the number of different networks each needing its own app, card or token.

A new company EVPassport wants to build an open charging network, allowing EV drivers to use an API-based system integrated into an app like Google Maps, or simply scan a QR code on the charger. We spoke to its CEO and co-founder, Aaron Fisher to find out more.

BN: What challenges do current EV charging networks present to the charging experience and EV adoption?

AF: There are two distinct groups of EV charging networks — automaker and non-automaker. Each presents its own challenges to EV charging underpinned by proprietary hardware and software and a lack of interoperability.

Automaker networks, such as Rivian’s Adventure Network, provide a tremendous user experience — if you own a Rivian. The more accurate statement is if you can afford a Rivian. The network’s 3,500 fast chargers are only compatible with a Rivian EV, which starts at $75K. Tesla offers a similar locked-in experience, only for Tesla owners.

Non-automaker networks are compatible with a variety of EV brands, but the user experience is far from ideal. I learned this the hard way during a failed EV trip from New York City to my grandmother’s house in Hartford, CT. ChargePoint, Electrify America, Blink, Greenlots, and other networks required me to download their apps, create accounts, top-up balances, and use either apps or key fobs to unlock their chargers. Despite downloading all the apps and preparing prior to departure, multiple layers of hardware and software failures turned what should have been a two-hour drive into a seven-hour journey, and an upset grandmother because I missed dinner.

The poor driving experience is what drove me to launch EVPassport as an open, app-less, API-driven platform to remove the barriers to EV charging — as this is the reality EV owners face every time they need to ‘get gas.’

BN: The Biden administration recently unveiled a massive infrastructure proposal, dedicating $174B to electrifying America and a national EV charging infrastructure — what are the keys to making these plans a success?

AF: The government will likely incentivize the adoption of EV charging equipment for brands and property owners through a variety of rebates and tax incentives. With any federally aided efforts, focus must be placed on incentivizing not only interoperable charging hardware with standard CCS plugs, but software that provides open data and access through APIs and integrations so anyone with an electric vehicle can easily locate stations, seamlessly pay, and charge their vehicle.

Working with utilities to upgrade the power grid is going to be crucial to success. Many property owners currently lack the electrical capacity for Level 2 and DC fast chargers. The government should emphasize ‘make ready systems’ and create programs that bring the necessary power to properties, and from there allow EV charging companies to submit a bid or RFP to install equipment. If utility companies are given six months to a year to make upgrades — this will hamstring the success of infrastructure efforts. If this is done quickly, we’ll see a massive boom in the availability of quality infrastructure.

In progressive states like California and New York where these programs already exist, they must be strengthened and implemented nationwide.

BN: EVPassport is noted for its API-driven software and open platform approach — how does this lower the barriers to EV charging for drivers?

AF: A lack of EV charging availability has long been a top barrier to widespread EV adoption. More than availability, it’s accessibility that’s the challenge.

Proprietary networks make it difficult for EV owners to locate stations and even more difficult to charge and pay. An API-driven approach removes these barriers.

For example, we provide REST APIs for location information, real-time availability, billing rates, and more. Through an integration with Google Maps, drivers can see charger locations and click directly through to start a charging session, all without having to download an additional app or create a separate provider account. If a driver approaches a charger unprompted, all they have to do is scan a QR code, pay, and go.

An API-driven system allows these types of integrations so drivers can find available charging stations and seamlessly charge and pay without any kind of account.

BN: How does API-driven software create additional incentive for brands and property owners to implement EV charging stations?

AF: A byproduct of federal efforts to electrify America will be increased opportunity for brands and property owners to engage with consumers through the EV charging experience. Commercial real estate, retail, hospitality, and additional verticals will be incentivized to install EV chargers.

With API-driven software, developers can integrate live chargers directly into their existing consumer facing applications and services, electric vehicle dashboards, and more to control the user experience and drive brand engagement.

Whether it’s allowing hotel guests to book a charger for their weekend holiday, or allowing a QSR customer to make a mobile order while charging their vehicle, APIs allow brands to make the charging experience their own and drive additional revenue.

BN: Why has the US lagged behind Europe and other global regions in EV adoption?

AF: It boils down to different entities that push the most aggressively for zero emissions adoption. For years, the EU has had a federated commission across members nations pushing for zero emissions, standard plug charging mandates, etc.

In the US, there are currently no requirements at the federal level for electrification like there are for fuel economy, and those are significantly more lax than in the EU. It basically comes down to California’s requirements, and the more than a dozen states that independently follow its aggressive push for zero emissions adoption with initiatives like special provisions to set air quality standards, mandates on a percentage of vehicles sold in-state being partial or zero emissions vehicles, and more. Additional states are beginning to follow suit, but it’s currently a patchwork, ad-hoc system.

In order to catch up, federal standards must be established and enforced. Thankfully, it appears we are now on that path.

Image credit: miflippo/depositphotos.com

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