How boosting UX can drive e-mobility
The stimulus package of the German Federal Government and associated funding for electromobility once again underlines the will to push e-mobility forward. Even with subsidies still making up a major impetus for the growth of e-mobility, subsidies alone will not suffice to realise the goal Germany has set for itself, of six million electric vehicles1 (BEV2) by 2030, if it does not go hand in hand with improvements to the user experience. The following table clearly illustrates that e-mobility is forging ahead in both Germany and Austria, but that more rapid expansion is required over the coming years to reach both the e-mobility and closely related climate goals. In Austria, however, the share of purely electric vehicles relative to the overall stock of vehicles is currently already twice as high as in Germany.
The expansion of e-mobility still lags behind expectations, and this is in no small part attributable to a limited user experience. Users still have to navigate a jungle of market players and rate options, and making sense of it all requires very intensive market research. Other challenges users face revolve around the installation of Wallboxes in rental properties as well as a variety of available subsidy options, which differ from one German state to the next. The following recommendations should therefore comprise measures to improve the user experience, which is necessary for the development of e-mobility in the end.
Expansion of the charging infrastructure
One of the decisive criteria when opting to buy an electric car is the expansion of the charging infrastructure as well as the accessibility of charging stations. If every trip requires extensive planning to make stops at available charging stations, usability is severely restricted. Making sure that users have a dense network of charging options available is necessary for any possible expansion of e-mobility.
The table clearly illustrates that Austria is far ahead of Germany when it comes to expanding the charging infrastructure, as a share relative to every 100,000 registered persons. This clearly correlates with a proportionately higher share of the Austrian stock of electric vehicles. In Austria, the state utility companies ensure a grid for the charging infrastructure, which is complemented by private providers. Crucial here are strong connections between the various providers, to allow customers to use a comprehensive charging infrastructure network across providers by roaming. By contrast, the German network is characterised by a greater plurality of providers, resulting in fragmentation of services.
Focus on usability in the field of e-mobility
In e-mobility, focus must be placed on the user. Rigid concepts, such as the strict separation of public and private charging, must be overcome for the sake of usability. What’s more, artificial intelligence (AI) can open up the automation of processes to both ensure user friendliness as well as the efficient use of power resources, with loads distributed to serve grid stability.
- EMP customer app: Electromobility providers (EMPs) are generally the only players in e-mobility with direct customer contact. They provide the RFID card and app, which should make public charging much easier for customers. An intuitive interface, offering users a clear map overview of charging stations with a structured representation of information such as availability and rate – above all with charging stations of third-party providers – is crucial in this respect. Usability should be ensured by meeting UX design criteria. To name an example, direct app navigation to a charging station should be possible.
- E-mobility software: Standardised e-mobility software should bundle all features of e-mobility in a single application. APIs give users an overview of private and public charging, including charging times and rates, allowing them exact monitoring. The API of the e-car ideally makes it possible to automatically control charging processes in a straightforward manner, showing the charging volume and required charging duration in real time. An API to grid operators ensures that data on grid loads are transmitted in real time. The Open Charging Network (OCN) currently offers support and an API for direct peer-to-peer transmission of charging data from the back-end of charging stations to the EMP. This is currently primarily geared towards commercial providers. If this option would also be provided to private individuals in the form of an OCN Box, this would allow for a sort of “Charging Point Crowdsourcing”, which would bridge the gap between private and public charging stations and put the user experience centre stage. The e-mobility software should allow for easy activation of other users and presentation of charging stations with availability should be ensured through the OCN network.
- Grid-stabilising load management: The e-mobility software should additionally automatically and intelligently control charging, to contribute to grid stability. The API interface to grip operators transmits grid load data. The user now simply enters the time at which the e-car should be fully charged into the e-mobility software, and the charging process is started at the most grid-stabilising – and thus, for the user, the cheapest – moment thanks to AI. This also requires flexible electricity rates for users, as is currently in use with awattar, who offer a rate that allows for billing with accuracy down to the hour and uses spot electricity prices. Whenever there is a very large share of renewables (for example, wind or solar power) available, users can save money by making use of the cheap electricity while simultaneously contributing to climate neutrality through grid-stabilising load management. However, this requires that each car be fitted with an API that can connect to the e-mobility software. You can read more on this in the Expert View by Florian Eisermann on Artificial Intelligence and the Energy Economy.
- Home charging: Easy Wallbox installation must be guaranteed for home charging. A draft law published in Germany in March of 2020 offers a solid foundation, guaranteeing a legal claim to e-charging stations, also in rental properties. Contrary to Austria, there still is no uniform subsidisation for the installation of Wallboxes in place in Germany, with options varying from one federal state to the next. To drive the expansion of e-mobility, these obstacles must be remedied, and regulations put in place that are as easy in operation and as uniform as possible. Users should have the option of using their e-mobility software to start the charging process conveniently and simply.
- Public charging: Strong connections between the individual e-mobility providers is another key element in the seamless expansion of e-mobility. Through roaming platforms or with peer-to-peer processes using the OCPI protocol3, users with third-party providers can also charge at the stations, opening up a large network of charging options spanning providers. The option of ad hoc payment at the charging stations without having an electricity contract should guarantee additional flexibility for charging station customers and be integrated into the back-end of the charging stations. Another important matter to consider here is transparency concerning the costs incurred with third-party providers.
Integration into the customer ecosystem
The fundaments for UX described above are key to the expansion of e-mobility, but only constitute basic requirements for seamless processes within the field of e-mobility. In the future, in addition to costs savings and climate-protection aspects, it should offer better UX than users of combustion engines have available. Charging stations are automatically fitted with a back-end, into which simple ecosystem functions can be integrated. One can imagine the following use case scenarios:
- Company car park: Directly checking in and out using the time tracking tool with an RFID card, as soon as one parks and charges
- Hotel car park: Automatic check-in and automatic processing of the payment process using the credit card data stored on the RFID card, as soon as one parks on the hotel’s car par and charges
- Public car park: Automatic billing of parking fees
The scenarios described above created added value and make certain processes easier than with combustion engines, which in turn can be another reason to buy an e-car. Therefore, the objective should always be to improve the UX design of e-cars to such an extent that e-car users have a clear benefit, and time savings make up another reason to buy an e-car.
Bottom line & look ahead
Only an optimal mix of education, expansion of the charging infrastructure, a uniform state subsidy programme across the country, and not least improvements to user experience will make it possible to reach the e-mobility goals of the governments, which are in rough waters. A large number of players on the e-mobility market must come together, which demands a high degree of interoperability and connection from all those involved. To make sure that the customer experience does not suffer, there are already several standard protocols for data transmission in place. It’s important to connect the isolated solutions currently available even more strongly through APIs. You can read up on which specific actions must still be taken and what our vision for Digital E-Mobility 2022 looks like in detail in the report we will publish shortly – stay tuned!
2 BEV stands for Battery Electric Vehicle
3 The so-called Open Charge Point Interface (OCPI) allows for direct communication between the back-end of the charge station management and the electromobility provider