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Plug and Charge – An essential step towards seamless e-mobility

Dr. Philipp Haaf
January 17, 2020

Although we are in the decade of customer centricity, the process of using a public charging station still looks complicated to e-car drivers. Yet there is no need for complexity, because technological solutions are available now to significantly improve the customer journey for those using public charge points. One such solution is Plug and Charge (PnC) technology.

Charging today is highly inconvenient

At present, if electric car drivers want to be able to use as many charge points as possible and to benefit from the best conditions – for example, the lowest prices – they need to register with a wide variety of Charge Point Operators (CPOs) and Mobility Service Providers (MSPs). They then have to manage the various RFID cards or apps, each with its own PIN, needed for the authentication process at different types of charge points.

This often leads to confusion about when to use which RFID card or app. Drivers do not always have the right RFID card to hand, which results in frustration at the charging station. In addition, the manual authentication process at charge points creates unnecessary complexity. This approach is inconvenient and outdated.

PnC can help

PnC neatly counteracts these frustrations. With this technology, a digital certificate located in the vehicle enables it to communicate with the charging station via a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) communication protocol. This enables a seamless end-to-end charging process, including automatic authentication and billing.

What that means for drivers is that they can charge their vehicles at many different types of charging points without manual authentication. So there’s no longer any need to juggle multiple RFID cards and apps, or to remember PINs. An additional advantage is that payment happens automatically. All the driver must do is insert the charge plug into the car, wait until the car has charged, and drive away. Everything else happens automatically in the background.

The case for implementing PnC

Clearly, PnC eliminates some of the most frustrating and error-prone aspects of the charging customer journey. In the automotive industry (like many others) it is becoming more and more apparent that customers are willing to spend more money for convenience.

PnC therefore has compelling advantages not only for the end-customer, but also for the entire e-car industry, and for the individual automotive OEM. The e-car industry will benefit because PnC can increase the appeal of electric vehicles. Individual OEMs can benefit too, because if they make early and effective use of PnC they will be able to offer a superior customer experience that will increase brand loyalty.

The implementation challenge: integration and alignment across multiple stakeholders

Given the compelling advantages of PnC for customers and the e-car industry, and the fact that the technology already exists, it’s surprising that implementations of PnC are scarce.

The reason is that, simple though it looks to customers, PnC presents a significant implementation challenge for the industry. Like most innovative services in the e-car sector, PnC requires integration and alignment across a wide variety of stakeholders. In this instance, the four major stakeholder groups are OEMs; Charge Point Operators (CPOs) such as E.ON, IONITY, and Allego; roaming platforms such as Hubject; and Mobility Service Providers (MSPs) such as Plugsurfing or NewMotion. MSPs are the companies that currently maintain the charging contract with end-customers and offer them access to charging stations via RFID cards or apps.

Each stakeholder group has its own role in making PnC work. OEMs must equip e-cars with digital certificates. CPOs need to offer charge points with PnC functionality. Roaming platforms can act as backend aggregators for the various CPOs. MSPs should utilize the CPO network of roaming platforms to offer their customers a wide range of charging options.

To ensure seamless operation for PnC, stakeholders have to exchange contract and charging information in real time. That requires frictionless operation of interfaces between car, charging station, MSP, and payment provider – about 40 interfaces in all according to Capgemini’s calculations. Clearly, stakeholders will need to collaborate closely to design, build, and test these interfaces.

Collaboration will be required at a commercial level, as well as at a technical one. For example, new cross-stakeholder service and support structures should be established in order to avoid customer frustration over questions and issues arising from PnC.

The target PnC customer journey and its implications for OEMs and others

During a PnC-enabled customer journey, help and information are required at various points. For example:

  • During the interest phase, customers should be told that the functionality is available and have the benefits explained to them.
  • During the purchasing process, customers should be told about the prerequisites for using PnC (e.g. PnC-capable e-car, active MSP contract). Customers should then be offered a suitable MSP contract by the dealer or via the car configurator. Afterwards, customers should be able to indicate whether they want the car to be delivered with PnC functionality already activated to minimize set-up times.
  • During a journey, when the car needs charging, customers should have the option to tell their navigation system that they want to be directed only to charge points that are PnC capable.
  • In case e-car owners lend out their cars and do not want to be billed for charging by the other user, owners should have the option to temporarily deactivate PnC functionality.
  • If owners sell their vehicles, they should have the option to easily cancel the MSP contract so that the new owner can’t charge the vehicle at the previous owner’s expense.

Summing up

PnC represents a major opportunity to leverage available technology in order to improve the charging customer journey, thereby making electric cars more convenient and attractive for customers.

To discuss these ideas, you can get in touch with me, and my colleagues – Christoph Jentsch and Jan Huppertz.