plug and charge electric vehicle charging station in Oslo Norway
Mer charging station for electric vehicles on Oslo Gardermoen airport in Norway.

EV Society’s Stephen Bieda took a spin around Norway in a rental EV while at EVS35. Turns out even the world’s leading country in EV adoption struggles with a fragmented public charging network, Bieda tells Electric Autonomy Canada

Norway is widely known as the global epicentre of electric vehicles and for good reason.

With the highest EV adoption rate (and 79 per cent of new car sales), the greatest number of EV brands available, a tremendous deployment of charging stations across the country (many of which are DC Fast chargers) and the largest EV owner’s association in the world with over 115,000 members, Norway feels like a home away from home for a Canadian EV driver.

From June 11 to 15, Oslo was the location for EVS35, the world’s largest electric vehicle conference. While there were many technologies and companies featured, charging infrastructure and the EV customer charging experience was the most prominent theme throughout the agenda.

Erik Lorentzen is the head of analysis and advisory services at the Norwegian EV Association. In a feature session during EVS35, Lorentzen explained that, based on responses from a member survey, the golden rules for EV-friendly charging are: build enough chargers; make sure stuff works; and the customer is always right.

In terms of user feedback, the top items on Norwegian EV drivers’ wish lists were to have credit card payment enabled for charging stations, easy-to-use EV network roaming solutions in place and transparent charging pricing information.

EV rental road trip

At home, I’m a Kia EV6 driver and so, while attending EVS35, I decided to rent an EV: the brand-new Ford Mustang Mach-E. But owning an EV and driving it in your native English-speaking country is a very different experience than renting an EV in Norway, I soon found out.

Five days and 450 km into my trip, I had downloaded nine parking and charging apps and my public charger success rate was less than 50 per cent.

Ironically, the Circle K site that I tried, owned by Canadian company Couche-Tard did not accept my Canadian credit card. The Mer Connect Sverige — a charger finding application and a charging network — required multiple attempts to setup as it didn’t like my French-based cell phone SIM card. EasyPark was far from easy due to language translation issues. The Recharge station at Kiwi Mini Pris was “out of order.” And Vipps required an 11-digit “identity number or d-number.” (I wasn’t sure what ID number was required, but I tried my Canadian driver’s licence. No surprise, it did not work.)

My story may sound a little grim, especially when one compares it to the seamless interoperable experience at any Tesla Supercharger in the world. Fortunately, there is hope for non-Tesla drivers in the form of ISO 15118, otherwise known as Plug and Charge, and it was much discussed at EVS35.

The key feature of Plug and Charge is that smartphones and related apps are replaced with IT certificates which communicate autonomously, seamlessly and securely between the car and the charging station, said Steffen Rhinow, the head of Plug and Charge at Hubject, operator and consultant for an e-roaming charging payment platform, when I met him at Hubject’s EVS35 booth.

Plug and Charge eliminates the friction from EV charging by enabling a digital handshake between a Plug and Charge-capable vehicle and charger. Essentially, the charging process starts automatically without any input from the driver.

Right now, there are only a few models of EVs that are Plug and Charge ready. On the network side, while many charging network providers in the EU offer Plug and Charge, in Canada, only Electrify Canada has adopted it so far.

A bridge to Plug and Charge

Plug and Charge is in its infancy right now. But the Norwegian EV Association has developed an app to bridge the gap between my struggle and fully scaled Plug and Charge technology.

While (sadly) only available to member Norwegian drivers, the Association’s app extends charging network roaming services using an RFID tag. The RFID tag works at many of the popular charging networks. More networks will be added to make it truly great, but members seem to love it already.

For non-Norwegian EV rental customers, though, the charging experience in Norway has room for improvement. Plug and Charge will be a major step forward, but it could be some time before the industry gets there.

In the meantime, Canada should take a leaf out of Norway’s book and employ a similar interim solution like RFID tags while we wait for Plug and Charge technology to arrive en masse. With Canada being about 31 times bigger in size than Norway, having the freedom to easily and reliably travel across any area of the country with access to a robust and seamless charging network is a powerful tool for nationals and visiting EV drivers alike.

Stephen Bieda is a board member of the EV Society.

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