If you’re one of the many EV drivers who occasionally makes a trip beyond the range of your car, you’ll know how utterly frustrating it can be to arrive at a public charging station to find you don’t have the right RFID or ‘smart’ card to replenish the battery pack of your parched EV. If that sounds familiar, you’ve probably wondered why you can’t easily roam between EV charging networks like you can with your mobile phone — or pay for what you use with your credit card.
The Open Charge Alliance agrees. Officially declared an organisation yesterday, the OCA exists to promote and facilitate interoperability between EV charging networks and consists of representatives from many different charging providers and charging equipment manufacturers.
“The biggest challenge facing the adoption of EVs today is no longer related to ‘range anxiety,’ but rather stems from access limitations to the public charging station that line our highways, streets and communities,” the OCA says in its first ever press release. “Many of these early stations are accessible only via proprietary, subscription-based networks. Unfortunately, the closed nature of these networks has generated deep frustration for both EV drivers, who expect the same accessibility that they enjoy at the gasoline pump, as well as charge station owners, who as a result of proprietary protocols are locked into a network system that prevents them from making changes as their needs evolved or price points get too high.”
Essentially, while there are accepted standards for the way in which a charging station connects to your car and delivers power, the the way in which the charging stations authenticate who can charge and who can’t, as well as how they handle any communication protocols back to a central server, are essentially standards-free.
That’s where the OCA comes into play. Although it is only officially a day or so old, many of the OCA’s founding members have been working for years on developing a free and open standard which defines not only how charging stations authenticate users, but how different charging networks communicate with one another. The result is the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), a set of peer-set standards which many charging providers in mainland Europe and parts of the U.S. already adhere to.
Just like other open source standards and open-source ideas, no one person owns copyright to the OCPP and the standard itself is free to examine and adopt. Just like open-source operating systems, the OCPP slowly evolves as features are added and new technologies emerge, making it a continually improving standard.
At the moment, OCA claims around 10,000 charging stations around the world already work to OCPP standards, many of them in Northern European countries where it’s easy to drive from one country to another in an EV without worrying about having the right card. Sadly for the British residents of the Transport Evolved team, the standard has failed to make much of an impact on U.K. charging networks.
However, with version 2.0 of the protocol due to release in the next few months, which includes much more advanced support for pay-as-you-charge and inter-network status reporting, the OCA is confident many more tens of thousands of charging stations will adopt the standard.
But with way too many closed networks still operating a ‘members-only’ policy resulting in EV drivers carrying around wads of access cards, the OCA is faced with some tough campaigning and educational work within the industry before charging station access truly becomes as easy as filling up at pump number four with regular.
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