What is EV roaming?

EV roaming allows EV drivers to charge at charging stations run by different charge point operators (CPOs) than the driver is subscribed to. This way, EV owners can charge with a single customer account at any charging station that’s a party to a roaming agreement.

Applications of EV roaming

CPOs and electric mobility service providers (eMSPs) can work together under an EV roaming agreement to grow and scale their operations by opening up to and reaching a wider net of customers and providing them with better charging service.

The role of a CPO is to manage charging stations, while eMSPs are customer-facing businesses that facilitate access to charge points for EV drivers through mobile apps and web portals. Often CPOs also take on the role of eMSPs as well. In essence, eMSPs make charging networks visible to the public and facilitate the interaction between the charge point and the EV driver.

Another role in the EV charging mix is EV roaming hubs. These organizations connect different CPOs and eMSPs, thereby making it possible for EV drivers to charge at many locations even if they are not subscribed to them.

The benefit that CPOs and eMSPs get from EV roaming is that they can attract EV owners from other networks, provide their own customers with access to a broader choice of charging points, or both. EV owners are likelier to choose a CPO or eMSP that gives them a broader selection of charging stations without registering with multiple providers. Such a benefit is especially attractive for EV owners who travel across regions or internationally.

EV roaming works through bilateral (P2P) agreements between charging providers or through EV roaming hubs such as Gireve and Hubject.

Networks with numerous charging points and a high volume of customers and charging sessions often use direct roaming agreements between charging networks (a.k.a. bilateral, peer-to-peer, or P2P agreements). One of the main reasons is the fees charged by roaming hubs, which can accumulate quickly with large-scale operations. Larger charging operators may also opt for bilateral agreements when it is not practical for them to partner with smaller charging networks. However, P2P agreements can become complex when multiple networks are involved.

On the other hand, EV roaming hubs provide a simple solution for operators to collaborate with multiple other companies, as they only need to establish one agreement—with the hub. Small-scale businesses may be affected by the fees associated with joining roaming hubs. Nonetheless, smaller operators can benefit from the more expansive customer reach and better brand recognition that they gain.

Hubs make EV roaming between multiple operators possible by communication protocols such as:

  • Open Charge Point Interface (OCPI) 
  • Open InterCharge Protocol (OICP)
  • Open Clearing House Protocol (OCHP)
  • eMobility Interoperation Protocol (eMIP)

Importance of EV roaming

EV roaming is essential for mass electric vehicle adoption because it addresses one of the main barriers to EV ownership: charging anxiety. Charging anxiety is the fear of not having access to working or reliable charging infrastructure. The term is a “successor” of “range anxiety,” which was commonly used to refer to early EV models with limited range. This is no longer a common concern now that electric cars and batteries have become much more efficient and capable. As far as charging goes, EV roaming gives drivers access to a much wider charging network than what is available through a single-network subscription. This applies to local as well as cross-border trips.

From a business perspective, EV roaming enables CPOs to reach more customers, get more utilization per charge point, and offer ancillary services to users outside of their network. eMSPs, in turn, use EV roaming to offer added-value services to EV drivers by leveraging existing CP networks. Such services are usually presented in the form of apps that give drivers single-point access to charging network locations and other features such as starting/stopping charging sessions, booking charging spots, etc.

Examples of EV roaming

  • Small CPOs can use EV roaming to expand their coverage by partnering with larger CPOs and eMSPs. For example, a local CPO can partner with a nationally covered operator to offer wider coverage to users. This is especially useful when individuals travel to different locations on a short-term basis. However, as already discussed, typically, large operators do not have an incentive to partner with smaller networks.
  • Fleet operators can benefit from roaming as it allows them to access charging networks at any time and in any location that their drivers may require. For instance, a fleet operator can partner with a CPO to offer drivers access to EV charging stations across a wider area. This can significantly enhance the fleet’s productivity and decrease the chances that a driver gets stranded due to a lack of charging.
  • CPOs operating international charging networks can use roaming to offer their user base a more seamless charging. As an example, retail chains with a global presence can use EV roaming to give their customers an uninterrupted charging experience across different countries. 

Additional information about EV roaming

EV charging brings many benefits, but it also faces some challenges. For EV roaming to function efficiently, charging stations operated by different CPOs must be interoperable and technically compatible. This involves ensuring compatibility between charging standards, authorization processes, payment methods, and communication protocols. Protocols such as OCPP, OCPI, and OICP are commonly used to tackle these challenges.

Moreover, a fair and transparent pricing structure is necessary for EV roaming to succeed, and this is crucial for both EV drivers and CPOs. Participating businesses must pay due diligence because communicating tariffs over the OCPI protocol can get complicated and lead to calculation errors, resulting in a poor customer experience. EV drivers want to know the exact cost of charging at a station run by a different CPO, whereas CPOs aim to recover their expenses smoothly.

In an ideal case scenario, pricing would be unified across all networks. This would make it easier for EV drivers to compare prices and choose the most affordable option. It would also make it easier for CPOs to manage their pricing and ensure that they are not losing money on EV roaming.

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