I recently encountered a tweet picturing an NRG eVgo charger due for replacement with a sign posted saying as much. Unfortunately, eVgo had messed up the charging rate nomenclature on the warning sign (perhaps a sign of the still maturing market). The snafu prompted a reply from an EV savvy tweeter correcting their mistake. What struck me about the reply though was that they also hoped to at least be able to use their credit card at the charger once it was replaced. This caused me to ponder the payment methods being employed at today’s electric vehicle chargers.
I had previously seen a few articles written about the frustration EV owners experience at public chargers as many of the EV service equipment (EVSE) manufacturers have taken a proprietary approach to their networks and, as a consequence, payment options. Users are forced to subscribe to the EVSE’s exclusive network despite the fact that most have few installed chargers from which to use. This exclusivity apparently came about as a result of separate DOE grants initially given to developers of chargers without any oversight to avoid what EV Connect classifies as an EV infrastructure “land grab.” The DOE is now working to clean up this mess by pushing adoption of the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), which originated in the Netherlands and has now proliferated throughout Europe and Asia. This helps EVSE customers with interoperability among different charging stations but nothing about OCPP helps EV owners when it comes to payment options. I’m wondering when businesses, especially startups, will learn that open systems always generate increased adoption and popularity despite the concern of competition. Perhaps they need to take a tip from Elon Musk who recently released Tesla’s patents for open use. Nevertheless, I did some research and came up with some interesting conclusions as well as ideas regarding payment methods.
The array of available electric vehicle chargers is dizzying. I counted over 40 suppliers of Level 2 and Level 3 EV chargers on the market today. The only comparison I could find among these was located at plugincars.com but it’s in its infancy and covers only the 5 top selling brands. I investigated some of the available payment methods for these and dug around their sites to find more information but it’s clear that the EVSE’s are more interested in providing marketing information to the institutions they’ve targeted than to the EV owners themselves. I found most were very disappointing; preferring to preserve a proprietary system despite OCPP, and basing access, pricing, and payment on cards unique to their network. Fortunately though, over 50% of the installed chargers in the US are free despite still needing multiple proprietary cards in your wallet to access whichever public charging system might be available. Of those that do charge for charging, most require their card to be tied to your credit card so that once you’ve accessed and completed your charging session, you can be billed accordingly or replenish the amount on their card by executing a transfer from yours. No doubt somewhere built in to their pricing structure are transaction fees for this. Several indicated that they had 1-800 #’s on their charger displays for you to call if you want to directly use a credit card. But, in addition to being inconvenient and passé, they also charge more.
Nonetheless, I did find some commercial EV chargers that have the ability, as an optional or built-in feature, to use credit cards or more progressive forms of payment. Eaton, as an option, employs an ePort™ card reader from USA Technologies, which accepts all major credit cards and is Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant. GE’s WattStation provides an app which enables remote charger access with which you can link your PayPal account for payment. I’m not usually a big fan of GE but they’ve done a nice job on many aspects of the charger including the sleek design by Yves Béhar. However, the biggest complaint here is that if you don’t have a smart phone or don’t want to use PayPal, you’ll need to use their WattStation Connect Payment card available for $6.99 plus shipping from Amazon. The other EVSEs provide their cards at no charge.
My question is: Do EVSE’s feel the need to be so different than gas stations that they refuse to adopt the convenient payment method at today’s stations or is just that they want to control the consumer to force them to use their meager network of chargers?
Let me first provide a little history lesson. Some will recall that banks began adopting the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in the late 1960’s making it more convenient for customers to get access to their accounts using a card. Of course, initially the cards were restricted for use only at the bank where the account existed and it was some time later before it was opened up for use at rival banks (though even today they charge a hard-to-explain fee for this). Shortly, afterward, Paul Luthra observed his manager, Bill Fessler make two trips from the pump to the cashier for a gas-up. Ever the time and motion engineer, Paul subsequently came up with the idea that perhaps an ATM-type system employed at the pump would be more convenient. Following $3 million in funding from Mobile Oil, “pay at the pump” systems were born making it extremely easy for customers today to purchase gasoline at almost all stations throughout the US. Another interesting milestone was a 2012 innovation between Diebold, Incorporated and Verizon Communications involving 4G LTE-enabled communication technology for ATM’s. Banks today are now offering smart phone communication with their ATMs for customers to access cash and make deposits as well as make payments.
So being as progressive as the EV industry is purported to be, why did these EVSE’s not immediately latch on to these technologies? Many of us can probably guess at the answers and it’s not pretty.