electric car charging station
Credit: EVBox/handout
Megha Lakhchaura is director of policy and utility programs for EVBox North America, part of EVBox Group, which provides flexible and scalable electric vehicle charging solutions that ensure electric mobility is accessible to everyone.

Creating a cleaner transportation system, where everyday driving is fully electric and emission-free, is a goal that many of us in the EV industry share. But getting there will require a broader commitment, on the part of companies that make EV charging stations and software, to openness and flexibility.

In the United States, there’s a vast gap between the supply of EV charging stations and driver demand for them. According to a 2019 Electric Power Research Institute report, nearly 1 million public charging ports will be needed by 2030 to support nearly 19 million EVs. (A charging station typically has one or two ports.) Other studies project that far more EVs will soon be on the roads. Yet currently, fewer than 100,000 public charging ports are available to U.S. drivers, and many impose limits on their use.

This gap between the charging stations we have and the number we need only stands to widen as more affordable EV models designed for mainstream drivers continue to arrive from Ford, Volkswagen, Volvo and others.

Businesses, municipalities and property owners that purchase and install charging stations can fill that gap and accelerate society’s shift from gas cars to a cleaner mobility future. For that to happen, however, potential station owners need greater choice and flexibility in the products they buy. Charging stations and software that are built on open standards are the solution, giving prospective owners the confidence they need to meet the nation’s rising demand for EV charging.

Now is the time to act, with President Joe Biden calling for 500,000 new EV charging stations and trend-setting states such as California, New York and New Jersey dedicating billions in rebates and tax credits for utilities and charging station owners. It is essential that this new spending goes toward stations and software that are built on open standards.

Europe shows the way

Fortunately, Europe provides a roadmap for how the industry can move forward in the U.S. Across the pond, openness and flexibility are cornerstones of EV charging infrastructure.

How do they do it? With Open Charge Point Protocol, or OCPP. OCPP is an open-source communication protocol for charging stations and the software that runs on them. When stations and software are OCPP-compliant, they can talk to and work with each other, even if they’re created by different companies.

In the U.S., some companies offer OCPP-compliant stations and software. Others have “closed systems,” in which their products talk only to each other.

Open systems make life easier for companies, cities and other entities that purchase and operate charging stations. Open systems give station owners more choices, both when they are shopping for an EV charging setup and as time goes by. They also help station owners protect their investment over the years.

Benefits to charging station owners

When a company — for example, a supermarket chain, parking garage, or office park — buys one or more charging stations, they don’t want to get locked into a closed-system setup that can use only one kind of software. Most owners’ software needs will change over time, and new products and features offered by competing vendors are always around the corner.

Owners of charging stations that are built on open standards have the freedom to choose from a growing market of software providers, because their stations will work with multiple providers. These owners can put together a software/hardware combination and pricing that works best for them. Later, they can switch to a different software provider without needing to buy a new set of charging stations — and losing their initial investment.

Open standards also ensure that station owners can keep pace with evolving technology. Open standards are what enable a charging station’s software to be continually upgraded with new capabilities, such as the ability for station owners to set custom charging fees, publish their stations on EV-charging maps and gain real-time insights into their users’ charging behaviors.

Driving innovation

Another way that open standards benefit station owners is by pushing EV charging software companies to constantly innovate and be competitive in their pricing.

When a customer owns charging stations that can work with software from multiple vendors, the customer is in the driver’s seat. This motivates vendors to keep coming up with new features and services that customers want and to avoid major price increases.

Ensuring that our EV charging infrastructure is built on open standards will instill confidence in charging station owners, spurring them to buy and install more stations in communities throughout the U.S. The more charging stations we have, the more quickly society can shift from carbon-emitting gas-engine vehicles to electric ones. Open standards can pave the way to a cleaner transportation future. Now is the time to get there.