From Plug and Charge technology to roaming agreements to answering customer concerns, industry experts joined Electric Autonomy Canada to break down the different ways the charging experience can be simplified for EV drivers
Public EV charging networks across Canada are growing and while the extended coverage is welcome news to drivers, many want to simplify the experience since the current fragmented and inconsistent experience remains a barrier to wider adoption.
Electric Autonomy Canada recently published an open letter from a new EV owner, detailing many of the challenges and frustrations drivers experience at public stations including chargers being broken, payment not being accepted or needing multiple apps to find and access chargers.
To examine how these problems can be fixed and the charging experience simplified, Electric Autonomy hosted industry leaders from Hyundai Auto Canada Corp., BC Hydro, Shell Recharge Solutions and ABB E-Mobility for a webinar. The session was the third in a five-part series taking place this month that is studying public EV charging in Canada.
Their discussion explored issues including a charging standard, Plug and Charge technology, roaming agreements and the government’s role in enhancing charging for customers. Highlights are summarized below. You can watch the full webinar, sponsored by ABB, in the video player.
Access to chargers and payment
Both BC Hydro and Shell offer multiple ways for customers to pay for charging sessions. Dedicated apps, RFID cards and credit card payments are all accepted in order to make charging more streamlined and accommodating to all users.
“With different billing models, you want to be focused on convenience and delivering that simplified, easy customer experience as a whole,” says Stephen Bieda, regional sales manager for Ontario/ Eastern Canada at Shell Recharge Solutions. “It’s really all about providing turnkey solutions.”
But in addition to accommodating different transaction types, BC Hydro, Shell and other charging station operators are also anticipating being able to explore different billing structures as well.
Charging is currently billed according to the time of use. However, many customers have argued that this is unfair as vehicles charge at different speeds. If they used energy-based kilowatt-hour billing instead, then all customers would be charged equally for the energy they consume, rather than the time it takes them to charge sufficiently.
Measurement Canada — the federal body responsible for setting billing standards — is now temporarily allowing the option to bill by the energy consumed for Level 1 and Level 2 chargers, rather than the time spent at a charger. By the end of the year, Measurement Canada is also planning to allow users of DC fast chargers with the same billing option.
“We’re following Measurement Canada’s dispensation process very closely but at the same time, we’re not really sure just yet what’s the right rate model,” says Curman.
The utility is looking into ways of combining kilowatt-hour-based charging and time-based charging to prevent people from “dwelling too long at a certain station.” Curman says the path forward for BC Hydro, at least, maybe “a combination of the two.”
But Don Romano, president & CEO, Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. says that regardless of what billing structure or payment types are available, the EV industry still faces the major issue of not having enough chargers for customers to access.
“We need to put more outlets out there,” says Romano. “We all agree, absolutely we have to make it simple, but first we have to make it accessible. Before simplicity comes in let’s make sure access is [the] top priority.”
Developing a charging standard
Adding to the inconsistent experiences of charging, at a DC fast charging station, there are two different types of connectors available depending on the needs of a driver’s vehicle: CCS and CHAdeMO.
“The way to orient it in your minds is that CHAdeMO is older technology; CCS newer technology,” says Matthew Bartolone, national sales manager for cars and fleets at ABB E-Mobility. CCS chargers are able to support a faster charge for vehicles, but CHAdeMO chargers were available first.
In the near term, Bartolone thinks CCS will dominate the market as the preferred plug of choice. But that does not mean innovation in the area should stop.
“We need to be entertaining better and newer technology,” says Bartolone. “As that happens, I think we need to deploy that to the market in a very controlled way.”
Bartolone says charging standards should be developed to ensure that the best technology is in use and consistently available at charging stations.
“The reason standards are important is to avoid confusion with customers. Just when people will start to feel like they’re wrapping their head around one connector, then all of a sudden there’s something different in front of them,” says Bartolone. “If [the technology] hasn’t been deployed to the market with very clear messaging, we’re going to create a very confusing consumer experience.”
Roaming agreements and Plug and Charge technology
Shell has plans to install over 500,000 charging stations by 2025 and 2.5 million chargers by 2030 worldwide. Convenience, reliability and interoperability with other networks is a top priority, says Bieda.
One of the ways Shell is trying to maximize convenience for their customers is through roaming agreements with other network operators in order to allow drivers to move freely between networks and, preferably, on just one app.
“Having multiple roaming agreements with various brands like we do is essential because nobody wants to be fumbling around with multiple apps on their phones and all kinds of RFID cards,” says Bieda. “Having roaming agreements with different networks, with different cards for payment options, is a good thing.”
For Romano, the success of EV charging hinges on this type of cooperation between network operators and industry stakeholders: “[Customers] want to know that an EV can be easily charged anywhere. It takes a village.”
But there is another option, too — Plug and Charge technology goes a step beyond roaming agreements by adding another layer of convenience that eliminates the use of cards or apps altogether.
Bartolone calls it “a seamless charging experience that removes the use of apps, credit cards and scanners.”
Plug and Charge is a protocol that enables secure communication or “digital handshake” directly between the EV and the charging station. Drivers can simply connect their cars to the charging station and built-in backend technology handles the vehicle and station authentication, charging and payment.
Tesla drivers share a similar user experience where they can just roll up to a Tesla Supercharger, plug in and charge, without needing any apps or cards (although the backend technology differs since it is a closed system).
Today only some vehicles and some public charging stations have Plug and Charge technology enabled. It will take widespread hardware or software updates for all OEMs, vehicles and networks to be able to use Plug and Charge technology. But before that happens, Bartolone says the technology must be proven to work.
“The purpose of this panel today is to simplify the charging experience,” says Bartolone. “While Plug and Charge is a good mechanism to do it, we need to make sure that we don’t confuse and complicate things for the consumer either if ever a technology that’s supposed to work a certain way doesn’t.”
Increasing accessibility of chargers
“When I think about accessibility [and] making things better — we need to evolve,” says Romano. “We’re talking about mass adoption and bringing everybody into the EV world.”
So, what does that evolution look like?
To understand what current and potential EV drivers want in their charging experience, BC Hydro conducts customer research.
“We use design thinking principles in terms of really getting out into the field and put ourselves in the shoes of drivers across the province,” explains BC Hydro’s Curman.
The areas of public charging that are most important to EV drivers, per BC Hydro’s research include:
- Improving the reliability of the charging network;
- Expanding the network to have more sites across the province and more charging ports per site;
- Bettering driver experience by installing chargers near amenities such as bathrooms, shopping areas, banks, etc;
- Ensuring chargers are safely located in areas that are well-lit and with security;
- Integrating etiquette rules on signage and online; and
- Enhancing the accessibility of the chargers.
Romano confirms BC Hydro’s survey responses echo what he hears in Hyundai dealerships across the country. But, he adds, the government also has a role to play in making charging easy and seamless for customers. Romano says all condos, new homes, parking structures, and strip malls should be equipped with the infrastructure needed to put up charging stations. And laws need to be implemented to ensure designated charging spaces can only be used by EVs.
“We as an industry need to come together to be able to help all customers transitioning from [internal combustion engine] vehicles to EVs,” says Romano.
“And while we all currently have our individual ways of doing that, I don’t think an individual way is the ultimate solution to get the level of adoption, at the speed at which we need it to take place. We have a lot of work to do.”