PlugSurfing: Why Driving an Electric Car Is Already Paying Off

Electromobility is catching on, but progress is slow - many potential new users are still put off by the charging process, and afraid of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere with an empty battery. The PlugSurfing app wants to simplify things: declaring war on the confusing jungle of charging stations, energy providers and billing systems.

Author Simon Dupree:

Translation Terri Kafyeke, 03.09.17

Electric cars only make sense when users have access to several small charging stations: in front of the garage door, at the grocery store or right in front of the office. And the currently situation is admittedly not ideal: every country has many different providers, each with their own billing and charging system. Without careful planning, a long trip with an electric car can become a difficult endeavour. It’s something we’ve already looked at in detail here at RESET.

Way back in 2012 an innovative app called Plugsurfing appeared and made it its mission to break down the barriers around charging an electric car – by offering one single entry point instad of the long list of charging cards, apps and different providers. RESET already interviewed PlugSurfing back in 2014. But since then, quite a lot has happened.

PlugSurfing – The Solution for Increased E-Mobility?

Experts say that the real problem in the world of EVs is not the quantity of charging points, but the large number of different energy providers and the billing systems available to users. In Berlin, for example – where the PlugSurfing app was founded – there are both large energy providers such as Vattenfall and RWE, but also very small companies such as ebee, The New Motion and Belectric. And all of them have charging stations. In theory, someone who wishes to be able to use all charging points would have to request a card from each company – and are no standards in regard to billing either. Some providers bill by charging time (by the minute), and others use power consumption (kilowatt-hours). This makes it very difficult to compare prices.

PlugSurfing clients sign a contract with the company, have a single account and can automatically use 35,000 charging stations in 15 countries throughout Europe. Just in Berlin alone – where the app was founded – drivers using the app have automatic access to around 260 charging stations. PlugSurfing either receive a universally compatible RFID card, a type of payment chip, or they can use the free app. They can see what billing system is used at each charging station, whether the right plug is available and if the station is currently in use by another driver.

The app also facilitates the payment process. In a way, it’s a sort of PayPal for electric vehicles – with the user receiving just one bill at the end of the month. The service is free for clients, but the company receives a 10 per cent commission pro charge.

In addition, PlugSurfing partners with Hubject, the “biggest international digital B2B market place for services related to the charging of electric vehicles”, bringing together 40,000 charge points on three continents and different market players in order to create “a digital and cross-border charging network for electric vehicles”. Hubject was founded by BMW, Bosch, Daimler, EnBW, Innogy and Siemens, with VW joining in 2017.

Similarly to PlugSurfing, Hubject’s eRoaming platform allows drivers to unlock charging stations with their navigation system or an app, and to pay for the electricity. Further evidence that conventional car manufacturers are very interested in facilitating the breakthrough of e-mobility – BMW, Daimler, Ford und Volkswagen announced that in the next few years they will create a European network of electric stations for EVs, running along Europe’s most important transport routes.

Enough Information! What Is the Take-Home Message?

First things first: criticism of the e-mobility market is justified. As well as an ongoing lack of consensus regarding how sustainable they actually are, some aspects of the current charging infrastructure are still holding some people back from buying an electric vehicle. Until now, access and billing systems were generally varied and incompatible, meaning that electric road trips required careful planning, and a lot still needs to happen before we can fill up as easily as with petrol or diesel. Platforms such as PlugSurfing, although they might help, probably won’t completely solve the problem. Maybe we need to change the way we think about refuelling all together?

At the same time, e-mobility looks like something that we will have to take seriously if we are to reach climate protection goals. In the transportation systems of the future, it’s looking like on-demand, shared or automated e-mobility systems will become increasingly important. Coupled with green power from renewable sources, this would be a huge step towards sustainable transport solutions.

Progress and transformation often come hand in hand with personal inconveniences (at least for a time), while new systems pass through their teething stages, are refined and optimised. So even though the negative points we made above are at least partly justified, they shouldn’t discourage drivers. Switching to an electric car already pays off today! PlugSurfing’s pioneering work should be praised, for the simple reason that the easier and more convenient a system becomes, the greater the number of people who will use it.

The future looks bright for e-mobility. Want to find out which countries are leading the way, how electric vehicles are now holding their own against the rest of the market, and what innovative startups are doing to keep e-mobility moving forward? You can find all the articles here: RESET Special E-Mobility.

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