Vehicle electrification is beginning to change the way we fuel our vehicles.
It’s early days for electric vehicles, and many of us have never driven one or are just getting started. So how does electric vehicle (EV) charging work?
The first thing to note is that if the charge point is used by multiple people (e.g., employee charging, fleet charging, apartment complex, etc.), then you will need to authenticate your identity before pulling any energy from the plug.
User authentication is one of many important security steps that need to be in place to avoid unauthorized charging and enable accurate energy billing to customers. Some of today's most common forms of access to electric vehicle charging stations are RFID cards or local payment terminals.
In this article, we’ll explore the most common options and discuss the differences.
How does electric vehicle charging work
Local Payment Terminal
Local payment terminals are touchless credit card terminals that can be attached to the EV charger. This is the same technology used at traditional gas stations. Like a traditional gas station, you swipe or touch the payment terminal, and the charger will allow you to begin the charging process.
The main benefits of local payment terminals: No registration is required, and anyone can charge using a credit card, apple pay, etc.
The downside of local payment terminals: The installer will likely need to install an additional hardware device and might be responsible for credit card processing. Additionally, the operator may face compatibility issues, especially if a site has different charge point brands.
Today's second most common form of payment processing for EV chargers is using RFID cards. Instead of touching a terminal with a credit card, the user will touch the terminal with a unique plastic card that they have been given by the owner of the charger.
The owner of a network of chargers is called a charge point operator (CPO). The charge point operator may own hundreds or thousands of charging stations in a given area or across the county.
The user will tap the card against the terminal, and the charger will communicate with its cloud-based backend. The cloud-based backend will verify the ID token, and the system will allow the user to start charging.
The whole process takes just a matter of seconds.
At the end of the given week or month, the user will be billed for the charging sessions at the agreed-upon rate.
The main benefits of RFID cards: RFID cards are frequently used by fleet operators. They provide a very cost-effective and convenient way to provide charging access to a large number of people. Also, RFID cards can be easily managed and connected to commercial billing systems, with operators able to block RFID cards if required.
The downside of RFID cards: RFID cards may get lost quite easily (because they are so cheap), might stop working due to wear and tear and are not always the most secure. There have been cases where dishonest people have cloned RFID cards and gained free access to EV chargers.
Web App or Mobile App
Although RFID cards may be sufficient for the present day, they are considered a bridge solution within the industry.
EV drivers don’t want to carry multiple RFID cards if they have to drive extended distances or use different charging providers.
Mobile or web apps will likely replace RFID cards in many areas. Mobile or web apps, combined with QR codes displayed on the charging pole, are a powerful tool for CPOs.
Instead of carrying another piece of plastic in their pocket, the driver can simply scan the QR code with their smartphone. The user is then taken to a web app connected to a phone application.
In a similar process to the RFID card, the user is given instant access to charging and will then be billed at a later point.
The main benefits of mobile or web apps: Web apps don’t require any installation on phones, work pretty much across all devices, and allow quick configuration changes (e.g., allowing CPOs to show the charging status on the web app).
The downsides of mobile or web apps: If you need to charge in adverse weather conditions, it isn’t pleasant to stand outside and scan a QR code with your phone when it is raining, snowing, or freezing cold to start the charging process. For fleet operators, web apps also mean that drivers either need a business phone or would have to use their private phone.
Plug and Charge
Plug and Charge is the latest trend in the industry but is also the most complex one.
Plug and Charge is a technology that allows drivers to immediately start a charging session after plugging the charging outlet into the vehicle. The vehicle authenticates with the CPO and starts the charging session.
The technical industry term for the plug and charge process is called ISO 15118.
Certain brands like Tesla have already implemented this technology, but it requires several updates to the vehicle and on the charge point side.
The main benefits of Plug and Charge: It’s fast, doesn’t require any card or phone, and is probably the most convenient user experience among all options.
The downside of Plug and Charge: ISO 15118 requires market adoption, and not all charge point and vehicle manufacturers are ready for nationwide deployments.
As you would expect when it comes to new technology, the landscape of EV charging authorization and payment processing is evolving rapidly at the moment.
Here are some brief takeaways for each technology:
- Local Payment Terminals involve paying contactless with a bank card. They require no registration, but the CPO needs to install extra hardware.
- RFID Cards involve issuing a special card to authorize charging. They are quick and easy to use but may need extra hardware, and they are not 100% secure.
- Mobile or Web App relies on the use of a smartphone and QR code. Web apps require no installation and are versatile, but they are less convenient than other options.
- Plug and Charge is the most convenient and quickest option as the charger and vehicle link automatically. However, ISO15118 is not standard across EVs and chargers yet.
We believe the ISO 15118 Plug and Charge will become standard across the EV market in the coming years, but the other options are a good bridge to use in these early adoption stages.
How you authorize electric vehicle charging impacts not only the charging experience but also the way you track key data. This data can be essential for optimizing charging operations, billing system, and even smart charging capabilities.
Read more about the challenges and solutions to electric vehicle charging here: The Future of EV Fleets: 4 Examples of Fleet Electrification and their Challenges.