Why Charging Membership Schemes Will Not Work

Electric cars are here and here to stay. There can be no doubt now that the major manufacturers are also convinced of this as they are pouring billions into producing 100% electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. However, it must also be recognised that with the launch of electric cars so there is the issue of where to charge their batteries.

It has all happened at once it seems. Nissan launched the Nissan Leaf and then very quickly after that a whole raft of manufacturers announced that they too had electric offerings in the pipeline. The government launched the Plugged in Places schemes and sudddenly the electric car was on the agenda of many. The problem is that the launch of the Nissan Leaf sparked everyone into action but it takes time to install a national charging infrastructure and so right now we are in between states. The Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-Miev and a few others are already out there with drivers needing places to charge and there are a bunch of others coming in 2012 (Renault Fluence ZE, Zoe ZE, Twizy, Vauxhall Ampera, Ford Focus Electric etc) but the charging infrastructure is still being defined. This has lead the current batch of EV owners to feel that the charging infrastructure is lacking and that isn’t helping EV take up.

As far ass I know, Plugged in Places was never meant to be a permanent project. It was set up by the government as a set of pilot projects. Data would then be collected by these projects to determine how a national infrastructure could best be developed and then a national charging infrastructure would be rolled out. Unless I have got it all wrong this is not exactly what has happened. It seems to me that the Plugged in Places projects have each spawned a commercial “arm”. For example… One North East, the north east PiP project, has spawned Charge Your Car. CYC is now operating the charge points installed by One North East PiP project on a permanent and commercial basis. This is not unexpected. How else will they be able to fianncially support the operation of their installed infrastructure when the PiP money is withdrawn (due next year)?

A similar thing has happened elsewhere with the PiP projects now being considered a permenent fixture in their respective areas. This has spawned Source London, Source East and others. The problem with that is this: If they were designed as pilot projects then surely the data would be assessed and the best taken from each and that would then be applied to all areas. It seems that this is not going to happen. Each of the PiP areas have developed their own systems and they have all opted for membership schemes controlled by complex back-office systems and using RFID cards issued to each driver. This means that to charge your electric car anywhere in the country right now you need to be a member of 10+ membership schemes each one with their own fee structure and each one requiring a separate card. To get a card the EV driver must pre-register with each scheme in advance in order to get their card through the post prior to travel. Clearly this is complete madness and is totally unsustainable!

In an effort to try to make this rediculous system work the government has launched a “Common Whitelist” (CWL) project. This project is designed to support these membership schemes by allowing each scheme to share the RFID codes of other schemes thereby allowing an EV driver to register with one scheme, get one RFID card and then be able to travel nationwide with just the one card.

The very concept of a CWL is hugely flawed. The sharing of RFID data would be necessary across all membership schemes for this to work and there is no legislation in place to compel any private scheme, such as POLAR, Pod-Point or others, to participate. The very objective of the Common Whitelist can never be achieved.

There is another rather more fundamental objection I have to membership schemes like this and that is one of privacy. I am not convinced it is a good idea to have these schemes effectively spying on our driving habits. OK, I am not suggesting that there is any intention to spy right now but by having an RFID card and having to use it to charge up our EVs everywhere we go so our driving habits are logged on the schemes system. There is the potential for that data to be used against our will and without our knowledge.

All in all the very idea of membership schemes and RFID cards is quite frankly rediculous. Currently we fill our petrol and diesel cars without the need to register with the oil companies. We turn up, fill up and pay up! Easy. I can see no reason why this model cannot be applied to electric cars and I fail to see why the concept of RFID cards and membership schemes were even adopted by the Plugged in Places projects in the first place.

To me the future of electric car charging will be determined by the drivers and not by Plugged in Places, POLAR, POD-Point or any other closed membership scheme. Talk to any EV driver and they will say the same thing… they do not want to be forced into joining any membership scheme and to pay monthly fees. They just want to charge their car and to pay for it as and when they need it similar to the way they fill their petrol cars… turn up, charge up, pay up. No RFID cards, no membership schemes, no logging our movements and driving habits, no complicated back-office systems. These simple “pay-as-you-go” charge stations are coming and when they do who in their right mind will want to join a membership scheme? No one!

So this is how public EV charging will go… pay-as-you-go charging stations where drivers pay for the power they use at the time they charge through credit/debit cards or SMS.

Most EV drivers will charge their car overnight at home or at work but there is another important way EV drivers can charge and that is by using charge stations that have been installed by businesses for their customers use whilst using their services. Zero Carbon World is a UK charity that gives away free charge station hardware to businesses. The business can then install a charge station usually for just a few hundred pounds or even less. They can then offer this to the customers thereby increasing their business turnover and exposure for very little cost. EV drivers can then use these charge stations to charge their car whilst eating, staying in a hotel, shopping, attending an attraction etc. I like this model. It is a win-win for everyone. The businesses get more people through the door. The EV drivers can charge their car wilst doing the things they would be doing anyway and often for free as the business often offers EV charging for free in return for your custom. All in all it just works! No memberships, no RFID cards!

So, it is very clear to me which way public electric car charging will go… people will charge mostly at home overnight but when charging away from home they will either use a pay-as-you-go charge station, paying a fee there and then to charge, or they will visit a business that they needed anyway and charge there, often for free, while using the services of the business.

There is no place in the long-term for any membership schemes or RFID cards. These closed systems will all eventually fail and open systems such as the ZCW network and other pay-as-you-go networks will prevail. In the short-term though I can see closed systems like POLAR being used reluctantly by some EV drivers until the open system networks are available. Hells bells! I may even have to join POLAR myself to get access to the current network of closed charge stations but mark my words… once I can charge without needing to join any membership scheme then I will never join a membership scheme again – and neither will any EV driver – why should they?

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