Charging stations and services are not really designed as comprehensive solutions that meet drivers’ needs. Consequently, they are often difficult to use. In this article, Gofore’s new mobility expert Marcus Anlauff describes how the world can move towards better charging solutions.
Little to no planning and design has gone into the existing charging infrastructure we have today. The operator has simply decided on the location, brought in the charging station and connected it to electricity. The charging stations of different service providers look different, making it difficult for drivers to recognise them. There are also significant differences in the signs used to indicate charging stations.
When the driver finally makes it to a charging station, they have to figure out which charging points are available and which ones are occupied or otherwise out of use. This is often only indicated by a small light.
Most EV owners also find that they need to have several applications on their phone, typically with significant differences in how they operate.
“In the current situation, charging an EV is a technical process that is in no way fun or enjoyable. It does not attract motorists to electric motoring. In fact, it has the opposite effect: the problems associated with charging are slowing down the growth of electric motoring,” says new mobility expert Marcus Anlauff from Gofore.
Anlauff has eight years of experience in driving an electric vehicle around Germany. He has faced many unexpected situations on the road.
“On one occasion, the charging stopped and I didn’t know why or whether I was charged a payment for it. There was no customer helpline number indicated at the charging station even though it is a legal requirement. I contacted the charge point operator. They said they would refer the case to their legal department and asked me not to disturb them any further.”
From bubbles towards user-driven standards
The producers of charging solutions must not work in a bubble. If charge point operators, eMobility Service Providers, the companies that maintain charging stations, the companies that develop charging applications and back-end systems and the energy companies that operate in this industry want to be successful, they need to adopt consistent operating practices and standards. This will make it possible to develop comprehensive charging solutions that are seamless and user-friendly for the end user. To accomplish this, the companies operating in this field need a partner that not only specialises in customer experience development but also has an understanding of charging technology, software engineering and the business logic of the industry.
“Ideally, the planning and design of charging solutions should start from a blank slate, with every component serving the ultimate goal of a great customer experience. The various aspects that need to be considered include how customers connect to the service, how payments are automated, how the customer is provided with advice and support, how the service can be made more interactive and what supplementary services could be added to EV charging,” Anlauff explains.
Quality instead of quantity
One of the problems with the development of charging solutions is focusing on quantity instead of quality. This is motivated by the global urgency of the shift to zero-emission transport. Even subsidies don’t help if consumers perceive electric motoring as awkward due to difficult charging solutions.
“The government subsidises EV purchases by €6,000. Subsidies are also available for building charging stations at residential buildings and restaurants. Significant funds have been allocated to these policies, but the quality of charging stations has hardly been discussed at all.”
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel: Charging stations are increasingly being installed by businesses that understand consumer needs. When hypermarkets, car rental chains and motorway service stations add EV charging to their service selection, they require the hardware and software vendors to deliver customer-driven solutions.
A new perspective on software development
The reason why EV charging solutions are awkward and difficult for consumers can be traced back to software development driven by the requirements of electricity companies’ back-end systems. The same developers who have produced high-quality systems for technically proficient experts in the energy industry are now coding charging solutions intended for consumer use.
“Each local electricity company has its own charging card, payment system and back-end system. This stems from the existence of old protocols that the charging solutions need to be compatible with. In many cases, this is a highly complex process. Even a small error or delay during charging can result in an error message and the charging stops. The customer gets confused and annoyed.”
While integrating the existing systems with consumer-friendly services is possible, it takes more work than building a new service from the ground up. The basic pillars of development are the same in both cases: the key priorities are the customer experience and having the various service components work seamlessly together in all circumstances.
“Even though it takes a lot of effort to develop new services on old back-end systems, it is possible to create modern services as long as you listen to the customers. You can even create interfaces on top of thirty-year-old systems as long as the developers have extensive competence and experience.”
In all service development projects, the quality of the comprehensive service solution is ensured in all stages of development by modern and automated software testing. The best outcome is achieved when the service is developed from the ground up. Anlauff provides an example.
“One of our clients is a rental car company that wanted to provide customers who rent an electric vehicle with access to charging stations across Germany. We started to work on adding EV charging to the company’s existing application, which many of its customers already used. We developed a solution that enables the car’s software to use navigation to find the rental company’s charging station when it’s time to charge the car and guide the driver to the correct address. The fee for the electricity used is added to the invoice for the car rental.”
Charging solutions for image reasons
Anlauff says that the application developers for charging solutions are often not sufficiently familiar with customer needs.
“I have asked application developers whether they drive an electric car and whether they understand the user needs regarding charging stations. Many of them have told me they don’t drive an EV and that they only received brief training about this field before they started to develop the application. They focus on coding and lack insight into user needs.”
One reason for the slow development of charging services is that charging is not a significant business, especially for large electricity companies. The profit margins are small, so they only invest the bare minimum.
“Many companies offer their charging solutions purely for image reasons. They want it to be a sign of their focus on sustainability.”
Anlauff says the industry is in a period of consolidation. Companies are making acquisitions and harmonising their services, which is in customers’ interests. Companies with larger customer volumes will also be more motivated to develop their services.
A dream for 2025
The development of charging solutions can be compared to mobile phones. In the early 1990s, their user interface was clumsy and clearly developed by engineers with a technical focus. When competitors began to enter the market, Nokia started to pay attention to the ease of use. As the 2000s rolled along, Apple showed how to make customer needs the core focus of product development, software development and service development.
“Charging solutions must be developed from a user-driven perspective, not based on the needs of the manufacturer, system owner or system administrator, as is the case right now. This change in thinking is the only way to get EV drivers to use charging services and feel satisfied,” Anlauff says.
Despite the many problems, Anlauff believes that charging solutions will develop in the following years towards automatic charging, which means that the charging station will automatically recognise the vehicle. Charge points will be installed where drivers naturally park their cars, and people won’t need to go out of their way to look for charging stations.
“In the future, drivers won’t need to worry about their battery running out. Wherever they park, they will be able to charge their car and be confident that the service will function properly,” Anlauff says, summarising the world of electric mobility in 2025.