What will it take for electric cars to go from niche to norm? A wide network of easily accessible and user-friendly charging stations is something which might encourage people to make the switch - and the app PlugSurfing is here to help. We spoke with Plugsurfing's managing director, Adam Woolway, about how PlugSurfing works and why an app like this is needed now more than ever.
Electric cars are coming! While certainly still not an every day sight - at least in most cities of the world - if you look at the numbers, electric cars are beginning to gain ground. According to the International Energy Agency, the number of electric vehicles on the road doubled between 2014 and 2016, crossing the one million mark for the first time in 2015. And when it comes to other kinds of electric vehicles, the numbers are even more impressive, with 2015 clocking up a huge 200 million electric two-wheelers and 170,000 buses, most of them in China.
So it's not surprising that the major car manufacturers are slowly (and ever more frequently) releasing electric models to the market, but a range of different factors and preconceptions among buyers means that mainstream uptake of them is still certainly not guaranteed. Convenience is still one of the biggest factors: electric cars only really make sense when people are able to charge them at a variety of well-located spots. And while opportunities to charge your electric car are becoming more numerous and more diverse by the minute, making sure people can find available charging stations and organising payment can still be a challenge.
The founders of PlugSurfing, Adam Woolway and Jacob von Zonneveld, have developed an app that could help change that, showing where charging stations are located throughout Europe, whether or not they are in use and also how you can pay. The start up launched in 2012 and has been developing rapidly ever since.
We met Adam Woolway at the 2014 Ecosummit in Berlin and were really impressed with the PlugSurfing concept. We chatted with him about how the idea for PlugSurfing came about, why they are based in Berlin and what the future holds.
Jacob (left) and Adam (right), the founders of PlugSurfing
What is PlugSurfing about?
PlugSurfing is about removing all of the barriers to charging an electric car and therefore killing this so-called ‘range anxiety’ (the theory that electric cars are not being adopted on a wide scale because people are scared about running out of power). We found two problems which we are fixing: the difficulty of finding a charging point and then the difficulty of paying for it (because the networks do not work with each other meaning that you need a separate contract to charge at each one). We therefore produced an app with a great database of charging points across Europe and, starting this week, you can now pay for charging at RWE and Belectric stations across Germany. All you need is one thing: your smartphone. And, we’ll be adding more operators soon to help our community of users.
How did you get the idea?
Jacob and I worked together before and were exposed to some of the beginnings of this new electric vehicle movement. We saw the problem of a lack of a good charging point finder early on and started making basic excel lists. Then, as we looked further into it we saw more problems that needed to be solved, such as payment, and we couldn’t stop ourselves fixing that as well so we crowdfunded some seed money and built a team!
Is PlugSurfing really needed in Germany?
Yes, the electric car market has doubled every year and a boom is now forecast thanks to models coming out from BMW, Daimler, Renault and Tesla (and more). However, no one is considering how the driver will pay for charging and, right now, you could need up to 70 different charging passes to charge at all of Germany’s infrastructure alone. We know our users are frustrated by this and they need a solution, and this is what we provide.
Why is your main office in Berlin?
Jacob and I both moved to Berlin a number of years ago but it is also the perfect place for a startup: rents are cheap, the scene is buzzing and there is a supportive network to help you out. Germany is also the scene of Europe’s biggest car manufacturers and energy giants, such as RWE: perfect for a startup like us.
How did you manage to bring all the different providers together in one app?
We’ve started with three providers (RWE, EnBW and Belectric) and more are coming soon. We’ve got a large community of users and the providers want more usage of their charging points. By bringing the two together we create a classic ‘win-win’ situation which also, crucially, benefits the user.
Where do you see e-mobility within the next 10-20 years?
Expanding massively. Research has forecast 7 percent of global car sales being electric by 2020, huge companies such as BMW are marketing their new releases and government policies across Europe are geared towards lowering emissions and increasing charging infrastructure.
What are your next steps?
Finalising more cooperations in Germany, and then rolling out across Europe by the end of 2014.
TIMES Pieces is a monthly editorial series on RESET.org where we speak with people who are employing TIMES principles (Telecommunications, IT, Mobile, E-Commerce, Service Provider) for social and environmental good. Read more in the series: TIMES Pieces