Data secrecy hindering charging rollout
CPOs treating entirety of customer charging as competitive may end up punishing whole industry
Infrastructure rollout in the US and EU is being hindered by the reluctance of charge point operators (CPOs) — including charging specialists and automakers — to share material volumes of data on what actually happens when customers charge, industry experts say.
They call instead for firms to adopt a non-competitive view of certain relevant elements of the charging experience.
Frank Menchaca, president of non-profit SAE International, says that CPOs wanting proprietary systems to dominate the landscape is hindering adoption and diminishing the attractiveness of EVs to consumers. Menchaca describes an alternative approach he wants to see around charging.
“To use the word that is super-important to us, ‘non-competitive’, or we like to say ‘pre-competitive’,” he says.
“There should be certain things that are not something we are going to compete on. Gas stations do not compete on what kind of nozzle it is. I think the same kind of thing is super-important,” Menchaca adds.
In terms of the aspects of the charging experience that would benefit from a more collegiate approach, Menchaca says “the plug is one of them, the payment system, how that information gets reported”.
Menchaca is of the view that this competition manifests in what hardware and software get installed at new charging locations. But he also warns that, in a landscape of increasing interoperability and a coalescence around NACS in North America, in particular unwillingness from OEMs’ own-brand networks to share data about how their chargers interact with cars from other automakers is another thing that must change.
“I will not dance around this — OEMs are very sensitive about allowing information about the charge to become public. Some amount of that information has to be made public if we are going to benchmark it and understand how effective we would be,” Menchaca says.
Chargers collect data from EVs and the grid as they charge, using a protocol to ‘communicate’ with the grid to determine the amount, power, and current of electricity that is needed. In turn, the charging process generates data that can be used to measure and improve the user experience, as explained in a 2022 report from Brussels thinktank the Centre for Regulation in Europe (Cerre).
“This data-governed transaction would include information on the battery — including state of charge, power setpoint and capacity — the user needs — including priority of charging compared to ability to wait, pricing for different times of download and potentially dynamic battery charging depending on exact network balancing needs and prices as they evolve over time — charging location and ownership, and pricing structure of the charging point,” Cerre says.
And it may be no surprise that a Brussels thinktank shed light on the data openness issue back in 2022, as it has been a talking point in the EU well before it attracted widespread attention in the US.
Indeed, while similar concerns abound in Europe about the benefits of competitor CPOs opening up for the good of the wide industry, some recent strides made towards charging standardisation could let the EU function as a model for the US charging buildout.
“We now have on standard connector for the European market, and focus on EV user aspect is definitely helpful,” says Philippe Vangeel, secretary-general of lobby group the European Association for Electromobility (Avere).
But an obstacle for European charging still remains the debate over data exchange during the charging process, about which talks are currently ongoing, and even who ‘owns’ data on charging.
“On the EU side, there is a data act. It is really on the higher level and will certainly impact our industry. There is an upcoming revision to the access to vehicle data and that will really help us in discussions,” Vangeel says.
“There are two worlds, one where the vehicle manufacturer says, ‘it is our data,’ and one where organisations say, ‘you have to share this data.’ Also, as a user, I am buying an EV, I make that investment to buy that car, I could say it is my data because I am driving around, I am producing that data,” he continues.
“What the outcome will be, we are not there yet, but I can assure you it is a very tense discussion,” Vangeel adds, concluding that “we need to find a compromise”.
But the Avere chief is positive about strides recently made in the EU to make EV charging a more attractive experience for prospective EV users.
“The EU has understood that there are some gaps, and they are addressing these elements in the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulations (Afir). Interoperability is mandatory now and secondly, on highways, bank card payments are mandatory,” Vangeel says.
“By making a minimum of recharging and refuelling infrastructure available across the EU the regulation will end consumer concerns about the difficulty to recharge or refuel a vehicle. Afir also paves the way for a user-friendly recharging and refuelling experience, with full price transparency, common minimum payment options and coherent customer information across the EU,” the European Commission says.
But while there are green shoots of a European model for greater data sharing, CPOs need a business case to compel them towards a new approach. And while critics may say that treating charging as non-competitive could undermine the very idea of a business case, Kameale Terry, co-founder and CEO of EVSE services firm Chargerhelp, believes that the easing of EV adoption that will result from greater charging rollout is all the incentive the whole EV industry needs.
Terry cites as an example the widespread coalescence around NACS — even if OEMs may have had concerns about throwing in with a CPO who is also the largest EV-making fish in their pond — because the reliability issues of CCS threatened the foundation on which future US EV adoption stood. In Terry’s view, anything that makes EV adoption more attractive is a win for all competitors in the industry.
“Sometimes the pain of the problem has to be relevant enough for folks to invest their time. And I think we are getting there right now — to the point that they are at with reliability and all the bad press the US is getting around reliability — that we might be further forced to work with one another to remove the competition,” Terry predicts.