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EV Charging Infrastructure Moves Toward Interoperability

Electrify America has worked out a deal with EV Connect, Greenlots and SemaConnect to allow members of all three charging networks to use its electric car recharging locations.

Charging an electric car will get easier thanks to streamlining the access to a range of charging networks across the country.

Electrify America, which is leading the buildout of thousands of public charging locations, has reached agreements with other electric-car-charging networks to enable members of those networks to use Electrify America charging locations.

“I think the primary hurdle it addresses is the perception of charging station access, among drivers. And gives drivers really an easy way to interact with charging infrastructure, as they are ‘charging in the wild,’ so to speak, and not having to worry about, ‘do I have the right account, or membership or car?’” said Jordan Ramer, founder and CEO of EV Connect, a maker of EV charging infrastructure and the related software needed to manage the charging points and customer accounts.

Clearly, drivers of electric cars have multiple options when it comes to recharging their cars. Many choose to have them charge overnight while sitting in the garage. Others — to stave off range anxiety — will turn to public charging locations on roadsides, shopping centers, workplaces, campuses or other areas.

Public chargers generally require payment via an account-based membership with a company like EV Connect, Greenlots, SemaConnect or others. Under a new agreement with Electrify America — to take effect June 30, 2019 — account-holders of all three of these companies can now recharge at an Electrify America location.

This interoperability among EV charging providers has been compared to the early days of ATM banking when banks issued cards that generally had to be used at the bank issuing the card, rather than any ATM. Today, ATM cards are widely used across all cash-dispensing machines.

“I can’t remember the last time I tried to use my ATM card and it didn’t work,” remarked Ramer.

Electrify America is based in Virginia and formed in the wake of the far-reaching Volkswagen emissions tampering scandal in 2016, and plans to invest $2 billion in the U.S. in the next 10 years to incentivize the adoption of electric vehicles. The move to bring multiple charging providers under one operational umbrella is seen as another step toward making the operation of an electric car easier and more hassle-free.

“Drivers will now be able to roam between charging networks without the need for additional cards or accounts,” said Brendan Jones, vice president and chief operating officer of Electrify America, in a statement. “It will be seamless for EV owners that you can charge when you need one — comparable to getting cash at an ATM even when it’s not your bank.”

Other public-charging hurdles such as issues related to certain car brands not being compatible with particular charging cable connectors have been largely solved, said Ramer.

“For lower power charging, there is a standard connector that all vehicle manufacturers have adopted. The only exception there is Tesla, but Tesla does give all of its drivers an adaptor,” explained Ramer. “So essentially, there really is no issue at the lower power level.”

Direct Current (DC) fast-chargers are becoming increasingly common at public charging plazas. They can charge a car in minutes rather hours. Electrify America currently has 30 fast-charging locations across the country, with plans to grow to about 500 DC fast-charging sites offering 2,000 chargers by June 2019, said Mike Moran, a spokesman for Electrify America. .

When it comes to DC fast-charging connectors, there are essentially two standards — plus Tesla. One of those connector standards accommodates Asian EV manufacturers, known as CHAdeMO; while European- and U.S.-made EVs tend to use the SAE Combo connector.

“The reality now is that pretty much anybody that’s deploying DC fast-charging is putting in dual-standard fast-chargers,” said Ramer.

Still, the electric car market is not without its challenges. One of those is the phasing out of a $7,500 federal tax credit for a number of models. The tax credit is structured to no longer be available once 200,000 cars of a particular model have been sold.

“The federal $7,500 tax credit has been a significant enabler that is starting to go away for certain manufacturers,” said Ramer.

“And so that’s going to have an impact when the three manufacturers that have most committed themselves to vehicle electrification are now at a disadvantage from that $7,500 credit,” said Ramer, pointing to companies like Nissan, General Motors and Tesla.

Another challenge to EV adoption is charging infrastructure, and having enough chargers widely available, offering drivers a sense of charging security.

“There has been a lot of work done on the infrastructure to make it available, but people are still unfamiliar with how much is available,” said Ramer.

“There’s definitely a mismatch with the number of vehicles on the road, relative to the amount of charging infrastructure,” he added. The U.S. is, “still pretty far away from being at the optimal ratio of public charging to vehicles.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.