Hogeschool van Amsterdam

Intelligent Data-driven Optimisation of Charging Infrastructure

Varying costs to charge

By Robert van den Hoed and Rick Wolbertus
Posted at: 27 Oct 2016 | IDO-Laad

Dutch consumer oriented TV show AVROTROS Radar aired an item on the non-transparency of charging costs. The show referred to IDO-laad research by Rick Wolbertus which showed the complete spectrum of charging costs by CPO’s and service providers. The show rightfully concluded that EV drivers should have more transparent prices to be able to make smart and low-cost choices. The suggestion however needs some nuance, charging costs (varying from €0,18 to €1,10 per kWh) cannot always be tarred with the same brush.

Varying charging prices is not a problem in itself, gasoline stations and utility provides also compete on price and service level and we assume that consumers can make a well-informed and deliberate choice. Service providers that add little service but do ask high prices will price themselves out of the market. The non-transparency in the EV charging market makes it however impossible for these market forces to do their job. It already cost the IDOLaad team a lot of time to be able to compare the prices of 10 charging point operators (CPO) and service provides as they were often very hidden. For an individual consumer it must be even harder. The TV show thus has a point, transparency is needed and luckily the market parties are thinking the same as we found out after speaking to them.

Apples and oranges

However nuances are needed when comparing charging costs, especially when it comes to differences in home, public and fastcharging. Comparing home charging (+/- €0,18/kWh) to public charging without discounting the costs of installing the charging point and comparing fast to regular charging, higher prices but different service are not fair. Each of these charging modes has their own pros and cons depending on your charging behaviour and needs.

Differences between municipalities

Besides the different charging modes a common price difference is that between municipalities, further explanation is needed here. Bluntly comparing these prices would not take into account the effort that different policy makers put into promoting charging infrastructure which can have significant effect on charging costs.

One of the most important distinctions are the different models used: (i) concession agreements, used by the four major cities in the Netherlands and the metropole region around Amsterdam (MRA) and (ii) the open market model used by many middle and smaller sized municipalities. In concession agreements the CPO is allowed the opportunity to install charging infrastructure for a period of time in which the municipality can demand a certain price as they partly subsidize the charging points. The municipalities participating in the IDOLaad project have such demands and therefore prices vary between €0,25 and €0,28/kWh (without VAT). The municipalities try to ensure lower prices for a longer time and therefore promoting EVs especially among those that rely on on-street parking facilities. The prices are kept articificially low by subsidizing the CPO something these larger municipalities can do because of their budgets.

Medium and smaller sized communities however do not have this budget but they do seek the opportunity to promote and facilitate electric mobility. The open market model allows CPO the freedom to choose their own charging tariffs and prices allowing them to recoup their investments. This allows for a higher per kWh price but can also lead to a per session or per hour fee.

Comparing prices in e.g. Utrecht (Concession model) vs. Dordrecht (Open market model) is comparing apples and oranges. This adds to the non-transparency of the market but is not illogical from the perspective of both municipalities and CPO’s. The table in which the charging costs are compared should be viewed with this in respect. A simple top 3 would not do justice in explaining the differences.

Bills, bills, bills

The TV show also showed two examples of the service providers monthly bills using the punchline that the average kWh-price can deviate even at the same charging station. The suggestion is factually not wrong (we saw the bills ourselves) but needs a further explanation.

Charging costs can be made up of (i) energy price, (ii) a per session starting fee, (iii) a per hour fee. A long session with a similar amount of kWh charged can result in much higher costs when using a per hour fee. Charging sessions with a low number of kWh can be much more expensive when a starting fee is included. So instead of boiling down the costs of charging to a per kWh fee it would be more useful if the bills of these service providers would specify which tariff is used at each charging station making it more clear for the EV driver when picking his charging station.

Call for action

Although the pricing of charging for electric vehicles is complex driving electric remains cheaper than on fossil fuels. The industry however needs to move forward especially if they want to tap into the consumer market. 5 calls for action to make this happen

  1. CPO’s and service providers: Make prices transparant on your websites allowing for smart choices. We are heading in the right direction but we are not yet there!
  2. CPO’s: Make pricing clear not only digitally but also physically by using stickers or displays. This reduces searching costs and removes the depence on mobile technologies.
  3. Service providers: Make bills more transparent by including the used tariff structure instead of only stating the price per session.
  4. EV drivers: Use information on apps that is currently available to at least check your most regularly used charging points. Keep in touch with the IDOLaad website as we are planning to evaluate the different apps that are around.
  5. App/web developers: Start developing price comparison apps. Most EV drivers have fixed habits and use no more than 5 different charging points. Allow comparison between CPOs and service providers to check if cheaper alternatives are in the proximity. The OCPI protocol which is being developed could help you along.