Engenie, an electric vehicle charging network operator specialising in rapid chargers, has announced that it’s on the next stage of its mission to develop public charging services with a focus on being user-friendly for EV drivers through ‘open’ technology. So what does this mean? We interviewed Engenie’s new Chief Technology Officer James Wehner to find out more.
The discussion started off with James – former Global Product Director at McDonald’s – quoting his personal experience of needing a collection of RFID cards and/or apps for different charging providers if you have to drive around the UK in an EV – as a typical business user would have to do. This is a situation that Green Car Guide also has experience of, along with many of our colleagues in the industry.
The obvious solution to this is to make all different charging networks interoperable so that it’s possible to turn up and use a charger from any network that you’re not a member of. This is something that the industry has been pushing for over a number of years, but which still hasn’t happened (although it has happened with Engenie – no membership is required to use its chargers). So this is one of the items on James’s to-do list, with the aim of working with other charge point networks, as well as government bodies and others, to make interoperability a reality. The outcome is for drivers to be able to use chargers from other networks without all the memberships, but if required, to still have a record of charging costs.
The next issue is to make it possible to turn up at a charge point and pay for ‘fuel’ without having to receive an RFID card in advance in the post, or download an app when you’re desperate for a charge, and then have to set up account details and enter credit card information etc. However offering ‘pay as you go’ via debit card is also another thing that Engenie already does – and has done since day one. Contactless payment for charging is also now mandated by the government, although it hasn’t yet resulted in all charge points throughout the UK being easy to use with a bank card. This is another area that Engenie will be looking at.
So, if Engenie can crack the interoperability of different networks and help to accelerate more chargers accepting payment by bank card, what else is on the list? What about finding charge points? There are already ways to do this of course, but James believes things can be improved and made easier for drivers, potentially by finding charger locations and the rate of charge that are the most convenient for individual people. Finding the best charge points for people is something that would be delivered by technology such as apps and satnav – and through other in-vehicle connectivity.
And then there’s the issue of trying to reduce the cost of charging, which Engenie is looking to do by using systems such as smart charging and vehicle to grid charging that could utilise cheaper – and potentially greener – off-peak electricity (although every Engenie charge point is already powered using 100% renewable electricity).
James says that Engenie is now on the road to making progress with all of these issues – and more – using open technology, which could be accessed through apps or other means. But with his retail background, James is keen to stress that the main focus is not on the technology, which is merely a tool, instead it’s on electric vehicle users – ensuring that there’s no hassle involved in charging an EV. This is something that we at Green Car Guide are fully behind, especially as millions of ‘mainstream’ motorists rather than early adopters will be shifting to EVs over the coming years, and they won’t put up with any inconvenience when needing to refuel.
However judging by the recent slow progress in the area of making public charging user-friendly, the challenge won’t be the technology. Instead it will firstly require the will to do it, which Engenie evidently possesses, and secondly, it will require the forging of collaborations and partnerships with the rest of the charging industry, car manufacturers, government/public sector bodies, etc – which is likely to be the biggest challenge.