EV Connect CEO Jordan Ramer has led financial, business and product strategy for clean energy, transportation and efficiency companies.
Although electric vehicle (EV) charging is still relatively new, a steady stream of funding and legislation assists in the rapid implementation of thousands of new charging stations in the United States. To take advantage of the added value of EV charging, station operators should focus on adopting the right software. Electric vehicle charging software started out as a means of locating stations and processing payments, but today it supports operational processes such as charging, energy management, interaction with the grid and utilities, and countless transactions and data flows. As more EVs enter the market, the industry’s software ecosystem will connect everything: vehicle telematics, charging stations, enterprise resource management systems and transaction platforms, and real-time energy usage and production data systems.
Installing chargers should be just like any other business system, and collaboration and interoperability will ensure that the complexity of managing charging is not at the expense of owners’ businesses.
How technology affects electric vehicle charging
Like all technology-driven innovations, there has been a steady evolution with EV charging. Outside of credit card reader modems, the earliest charging stations had no internet connection. Even when later equipped with data communications, they were unable to provide detailed, remote error reports such as native factory-installed Internet connectivity. Now newer charging stations with full-time internet connections can report operational data, charging usage statistics and basic error reports. Most connected charging stations can also alert EV charging smartphone apps if a station is available.
These are huge improvements, but station owners still miss advanced diagnostics on disconnected charging stations. This means that site owners may not become aware of issues until they study the chargers’ monthly electricity bills or income statements. Once a problem is identified, site owners are faced with diagnosing and arranging repairs and spending time restoring the station’s reputation for charging apps. Modern, networked charging stations protect site hosts from these interruptions and the resulting loss of revenue.
The quality, capability and openness of charging station software, networks and infrastructure will determine whose investments pay off over time. Given how EV charging stations are generally unattended, unlike traditional gas stations, the right software enables automated processes and call center assisted troubleshooting. Remote monitoring and predictive maintenance systems can help ensure uptime to protect station reputation and revenue. Owners of EV charging stations powered by smart, connected software can keep their devices performing and their customers happy, transforming EV charging from a basic utility to an advanced business opportunity.
What should owners of EV charging stations take into account?
While EV chargers offer different ways to monetize– business owners can, for example, charge drivers for charging and parking or attract retail traffic with charging incentives – there are pain points in operating these stations. For entrepreneurs who want to run a side business with a handful of charging stations, maintenance and downtime are annoyances. Meanwhile, a national retail chain with different types of chargers risks its investment and reputation if its chargers don’t perform.
Likewise, when a charging provider changes its system or pricing or imposes a prescribed hardware list, known as a walled garden, the company has little recourse and few options. The limitations of these schemes hinder owners of EV charging sites, create long-term hidden risks and do little for the success of the switch to electricity as a transportation fuel. To understand whether a software system is manageable and flexible over time, future owners and entrepreneurs of EV charging stations should look for providers that offer more than aesthetics and minimal options. Charging electric cars is a long-term investment, so it’s essential for business owners to consider everything.
In addition to providers, owners should ask themselves essential operational questions such as:
• If pushed into the corner of a walled garden, will they double down by switching carriers and hardware – at great cost – or stop offering charging altogether?
• If customers and renters come to expect electric car charging, how will the financial costs of replacing chargers compare to the reputational costs of unreliable or unusable chargers?
• If charging station owners want to sell their business, are there problems with chargers that can make it difficult to find buyers?
As the demand for electric vehicles continues to grow, as well as the demand for the charging infrastructure that fuels them; both are huge business opportunities. The right EV charging management platform gives entrepreneurs confidence in the viability of their investments. As with any other business system, it’s critical to evaluate charging offerings: do the homework, kick the tires, ask tough questions, and make long-term plans.