The roaming 20s
The EV charging industry may be a 21st-century invention, but in many ways, it is stuck in the 1950s. During the pre-Visa and Mastercard decade, paying for things was a hassle. Currency exchanges and physical cash were necessary. “Traveller’s checks” were frequently used, as well as rotating credit accounts at individual stores, an ancient twist on the loyalty card, except you often needed a credit account to merely buy an item
Fast forward to 2023, EV drivers are frequently forced into the modern-day equivalent of carrying cash or store-specific cards - even in their own country - just to charge their vehicles. This 21st-century version means downloading a new app or subscribing to a new charging card. Drivers travelling through Europe might have to deal with incompatible cards and hours spent creating an account, registering an address, and uploading a bank card for new apps, which is time-consuming as well as frustrating.
Time for consolidation
Visa changed everything for consumers when they consolidated the many cards people were carrying into a unified credit card that could work across merchants. In their current incarnation, people swipe away all over the world, with little regard for the payment rails operating behind the scenes. It was a genuinely major innovation that transformed the way a basic transaction is made.
Sadly, EV charging is some way off its Visa moment. A charge point might have a QR code, RFID, or a physical card reader, however, those will accept classic bank cards or maybe network-specific cards and without registering to the network, the charger can’t be activated. If the EV driver’s phone doesn’t have any service, downloading the right app is not even an option. Or a map may show a charger in service and available, only for a driver to show up to find a broken charger. It can get messy.
Our commitment to the roaming boom
What is Monta doing about it? We are tripling down on roaming this year. Why? As we scale amidst a fractured European charging landscape, we feel that if we provide the most complete offering to EV drivers while concurrently bringing on the largest charge point network operators, each will fuel the success of the other. That is why we now have 300,000 charge points available via roaming on our App and why we continue to sign the biggest operators and hardware manufacturers across Europe. Our growing, dedicated roaming team is also working on many more exciting projects.
Just as we at Monta are trying to add as many charge points in our primary markets as possible, so too are the hosting platforms continuously adding to their offering. Hubject has more than 400,000 charge points on their platform. Gireve has 254,000. But just because an operator’s charge points are “available” on one of those platforms, does not mean we can sign a virtual contract tomorrow and add them to our list of available charge points. Many put prohibitive pricing on their networks, others slow-walk the process. Charge point protectionism is a real thing and free(ish) trade agreements need to be signed.
The issues to overcome
But why are certain charge point operators stingy with their charge points? Some are totally comfortable with their current users and utilisation rate and don’t feel the need to open up their networks. For others, it is a question of capacity and capability. Hubject’s CEO Christian Hahn was a guest on Monta’s In-Between Charges podcast where he noted that many companies tell him they simply don’t have the developer resources necessary to handle the technical and contractual elements of managing outbound roaming to a bunch of different players all at once.
Those elements can slow our mission to build the most comprehensive roaming offering, but it doesn’t stop our determination. Once you have offered those charge points to Monta drivers, it is then a question of syncing up demand and supply. We have thousands of drivers across Scandinavia, and essentially every charge point in Denmark is available through our App. Supply and demand aligns nicely here. And in Sweden too, where we have solid coverage.
Conversely, we need to continue working closely with our partners and promoting the benefits of enabling their charge points for roaming. What are those benefits? Essentially, more money, which should be incentive enough. That money comes from higher utilisation rates of their charge points. Utilisation rates vary widely from charge point to charge point, depending on various factors, like location, supplied power, and access. Charge point operators can place their charge points in a great location, but if they have an insufficient network and restrict access to holders of a particular charge card, utilisation of that charge point will suffer. An underutilised charge point is an unprofitable one. Opening up charge points also leads to an improved experience for EV drivers, who have access to a wider pool of charge points, easing any lingering anxiety issues.
In sum, a lot of work remains to build a harmonised EV charging environment. There will probably never be one EV super app - although that would be great - given the challenging nature of cross-country and cross-operator harmonisation. Even Visa and Mastercard don’t dominate every country in the world, but everyone in the industry can clearly do better when it comes to delivering a charging experience akin to swiping your bank card at a gas pump. We’ll keep working on it.