|One of the best things about automated teller machines is that they accept cards from many different banks, a convenience not available to electric car owners plugging in at some fee-based public chargers. Public charging companies tend to develop their own billing networks, smart card access and other features, so an E.V. driver who is running on empty can be out of luck if the only available station is operated by an “out of network” provider.
That’s changing with the announcement of Collaboratev, a joint project of two major charging companies, ChargePoint and ECOtality. By the end of the year, the partners say that they will offer a system making a wide range of public chargers available to electric car owners signed up to many different services. Ravi Brar, chief executive of ECOtality, which makes Blink-branded chargers, said in an interview, “The time is right to put together a seamless experience when it comes to public charging. Just as A.T.M.s and cellphones can operate across platforms and networks, it makes sense for E.V. drivers to carry one card and get one bill.”
Both companies are working with the National Electric Manufacturers Association, a trade group representing electric equipment companies, to develop hardware and software specifications and protocols that charging networks will use to talk to each other. If adopted, they will enable Collaboratev to work seamlessly across different platforms, the partners said.
Pat Romano, president and chief executive of ChargePoint, said in an interview that companies would be able to exchange mapping information, so consumers looking for a public station will get a guide to what’s available in driving range. “A big factor now is can I find a station, and if I find one, can I use it,” Mr. Romano said. “Drivers may have a preferred network, but that goes out the window if you really need a charge.” Customers will retain their current smart cards and get billed a fee for charging through another network. The Collaboratev partners compare this with the fees charged for using another bank’s A.T.M.
Colin Read, an ECOtality vice president, said in an interview that coordinated standards could also help reduce the cost of charging stations for consumers.
Mr. Romano said the office of Gov. Jerry Brown of California, which last month issued an action plan on expanding the use of zero-emission vehicles in the state, had been “extremely proactive” in encouraging a universally accessible charging network. “Industry efforts to make charging networks open to all drivers are a big step forward,” Wade Crowfoot, deputy director of the governor’s office of planning and research, said in an interview.
Together, ChargePoint and ECOtality operate about 14,000 public charging points in North America, or about 90 percent of publicly available stations, the partners said. Mr. Romano said that public charger operators are “moving away from free.” Today, he said, only a quarter of the chargers on ChargePoint’s public network have payment requirements, but the trend is toward billing consumers for the electricity they use. A much higher 90 percent of Blink public chargers assess fees, Mr. Read said.
“Some of our chargers are getting pretty significant use, and there’s a real cost associated with it,” Mr. Romano said. “Much of public charging started as a free convenience for consumers, but now that means the operators are giving away a substantial number of dollars. The industry will be hurt if public charging stays free.”
The Collaboratev partners, who split the cost of developing the new organization, said they hoped to add other participants before the introduction. “We’re actively recruiting to get more companies on board,” said Mr. Romano. “If we don’t help people get comfortable with driving E.V.s, we will end up competing for a much smaller pie.”