Every few months I see articles released by major electric vehicle charging companies in the United States such as ChargePoint, Electrify America, and various others claiming that electric vehicle charging is going to be easier “in a few months”. While networks in the Europe are generally more open to developers and innovation, in the U.S. there are two ways charging companies are attempting to make it easier for consumers— releasing proprietary mobile apps or by joining an open alliance.
The mobile apps released by charging networks are walled gardens containing one or two networks but have the same problems such as a lack of information, poor design, and product by committee.
When it comes to charging companies joining open alliances, consumers have been told charging companies have adopted a standard known as the Open Chargepoint Protocal (OCPP). This protocol is an excellent system that in theory allows users to roam from one charging network to another, all while maintaining the use of a single application. In theory, it will be useful for market leaders such as EVgo, as they can maintain their stranglehold on customers all while pushing megawatts of electricity with a poor user experience. Electrify America is no better. ChargePoint may be the worst offender. There are dozens more. They are all claiming to adopt OCPP so individuals can use their mobile app but charge on another charging networks chargers. What they don’t tell you is the barriers charging companies put up to maintain a stranglehold on the market. It’s an old boys club and it’s slowing down progress.
Do you see a trend here? OCPP is the buzz phrase used to create a false sense of openness. In the United States, electric vehicle charging networks are not required to be truly open, which leaves them to create bilateral agreements that benefit the established players but keep out any new company or new developer from building something new, something better. Recharge has had discussions with EV charging networks for years about opening up their networks in the U.S. and we are just now gaining the trust needed to break into the club. In many instances, we have had to find ways around the roadblocks charging companies have erected. In short, it’s collusion among the top players to not open their data, their transaction flow, and their networks to outside eyes.
Not a single major electric vehicle charging network in the United States has open APIs.
Some don’t even have APIs. They will tell you it is for security, that opening the floodgates could be malicious… but consumers and developers know better. If companies want to maintain proprietary data and not open up their networks to competition, it is not because they can’t, it is because they are afraid of competition from a startup.
You might be asking, what kind of data should be open to any developer? We’ve outlined them below. Developers should be able to signup for an account, similar to how they can for Stripe, Braintree, and thousands of other services, and receive the following from all electric vehicle charging networks.
None of this data is open. Developers must negotiate agreements with charging networks or beg aggregators like Plugshare to provide API keys. Recharge has reached out to Plugshare a half dozen times to request data access and we were met with either resistance or their inability to understand our request.
Beyond location information, which can be used to create innovative new experiences for electric vehicles, APIs should also be able to provide the following functions.
This is not revolutionary. The average consumer uses APIs hundreds of times a day. Accessing your bank data via Robinhood requires APIs, as does Expedia pulling flight information and being able to book a Delta Airlines ticket.
In short, OCPP is what charging companies are using to create bilateral agreements and to freeze out independent developers. There have been some moves to open up EV charging networks, but only in a limited capacity. California is now requiring new EV chargers include credit card readers and “tap to pay” payment technologies such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. It should not surprise you that charging companies pushed back. This requirement helps alleviate part of the problem but why not simply require EV charging networks to open up websites such as developer.chargepoint.com, developer.electrifyamerica.com, developer.evgo.com? Why force EV charging companies to adopt old payment methods and not open up their networks to startups and innovators?
Stripe offers simple and secure APIs, infrastructure companies must also.
Recharge has pledged to opening all our data up so third party developers can access whatever data we’ve collected and displayed in our forthcoming apps and services. We believe innovation occurs where you least expect it and closed minds lead to closed companies, which greatly reduces the runway we have to help solve the climate crisis.
Data and universal access must be required if we want to create next-generation transportation and infrastructure systems. It should only take 5 minutes to setup a developer account and gain access to data. For the geeks out there, here is an example of an open API request response in our system for an electric vehicle charger location:
"name": "Whole Foods Market",
"address": "1765 California St, San Francisco, CA 94109",
“apple pay:” “yes”,
“google pay:” “yes”,
Down with data borders, we’re open to everyone!