Electrify America aims to simplify electric car charging

Electrify America recently announced plans for upgrading the electric car charging user experience. In the immediate term the company will launch a mobile app to help customers find charging stations, reiterated its commitment to keep charging stations open to all through allowing payment using a credit card, while announcing membership options for a reduced price on charging. Over the long term Electrify America discussed a most interesting plan where car owners simply plug their car in, and that’s it, and charging fee payments are handled automatically.

The immediate term plan is just like every other charging network. Offering a mobile app is normal for charging networks, for example, as is a membership plan with preferred pricing. One issue with requiring membership to charge is it locks out non-members from charging, so it was always refreshing for Electrify America to support payment with a credit card.

The plan to allow folks to simply plug in, with the car identifying itself to the charging station, is extremely interesting. It is a concrete step towards a plan discussed at the CharIN meeting last year.

CharIN is an industry alliance focused on promoting the Combo Charging System as the industry standard. While CCS was developed within the SAE J1772 committee, the CharIN alliance is where the electric car industry puts marketing oomph behind that standard. Electrify America joined CharIN earlier this year.

Several presenters at the CharIN meeting discussed the IEC15118 protocol and how its use could greatly simplify electric car charging in exactly the same way Electrify America is promising. In January, Electrify America announced an alliance with Hubject to bring IEC15118 technology on board.

IEC15118 covers communications, over the charging cable, between an electric car and an electric car charging station. What’s communicated is the identity of the car. Electric cars will have a “digitally signed encrypted certificate” that uniquely identifies the car. That “certificate” is to be sent to the charging network, and the charging network can use it to validate the charging session and arrange for payment from whatever charging network is associated with this car.

That was a lot in a few words, so let’s unpack it a bit.

Identifying cars and charging network membership automatically

The digitally signed and encrypted certificate is similar to the digital certificates used on the Web. When visiting a website supporting the HTTPS your web browser shows a green icon next to the URL meant to help you feel safe. The HTTPS protocol requires a digitally signed certificate that positively identifies that website is authentic, rather than a fake website. The implementation uses public key encryption, and a distributed system for authentication.

A similar sort of certificate is defined in IEC15118 that will positively identify cars. In the simplest form — think of it as an ID Number for your car. When you plug your car into a IEC15118 charging station, the charging station retrieves that ID Number to look up information in a database. That information is then identifies the person who owns the car, and any payment information.

In January they had this quote for us: “We are looking forward to supporting Electrify America with the implementation of ISO 15118 technology and our Plug&Charge ecosystem services,” said Paul Glenney, North American CEO of Hubject. “Our highest priority is to enable a premium EV customer experience to our partners and as the industry leader in Plug&Charge technology it is a natural fit that we would work together. This will make it easier to charge an EV than to use a gas pump.”

At a gas pump you use a credit card — at an EV charging station you’ll simply plug in.

At one level this seems like one of those First World Problems. Is it so hard to use a credit card? Why are charging station networks so reluctant for folks to simply use a credit card?

Gasoline car owners aren’t forced to become members of gasoline station companies in order to refuel their car. They just pull into a gas station and pay using a credit card at the pump. No muss, no fuss, no engagement with a charging network, no membership card, etc.

In any case – electric car owners have for years been required to maintain memberships in multiple electric car charging networks.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview Pat Romano, CEO of ChargePoint. He claimed that ChargePoint adds value to the charging experience by requiring a membership. Such as the ability to reserve a charging station, or to send text messages as the charging station progresses, and to provide a history of charging usage.

To try and get back on course, an alliance between Electrify America and Hubject could bring something more than just IEC15118 and starting a charging session just by plugging in.

Evade blocked charging stations with one of these handy J1772 extension cords.

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In Europe, Hubject acts as an intermediary between charging networks. When I interviewed Pat Romano, it was because of a plan between ChargePoint and Blink to implement mutual identification so members of either network could use charging stations of the other network. That plan, CollaboratEV, fell apart when Blink went bankrupt a few months later. In the meantime, Hubject implemented their own plan in Europe.

Pat Romano described it as being like our ATM cards. On the back of any ATM card are several icons related to the ATM Networks this given card can access. An ATM Network acts as an intermediary between banks, so that someone using an ATM for one bank can withdraw money from their own bank account in another bank, and the ATM network takes care of making everything right.

Similarly intermediaries for electric car charging will enable user authentication across charging networks, and settle up payments later in the day.

Electrify America continuing to build EV charging infrastructure, starting Cycle 2 investment plan

Back in February, Electrify America announced its Cycle 2 plans for EV charging infrastructure. Cycle 2 is a 30-month investment period that begins in July 2019.

Where the Cycle 1 plan built some inter-city charging infrastructure, in Cycle 2 the company plans to focus more on metropolitan areas. According to EA, this is because EV drivers most often charge inside metropolitan areas. I think this may be short sighted since with longer-range electric cars we’ll be taking longer trips more often, and that requires inter-city charging infrastructure. Witness what Tesla car owners do with Tesla’s inter-city charging infrastructure.

The full plan is online at: https://www.electrifyamerica.com/our-plan

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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