With the energy transition more pressing than ever, electric mobility (eMobility) is becoming big business. There’s now a whole eMobility value chain, offering opportunities to the automotive sector, electricity suppliers, oil and gas, charge point operators, and services and hardware companies among others.

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Meanwhile, new business models, partnerships and ecosystems make eMobility work. Think about existing electric vehicle (EV) propositions: EV leasing to individuals and fleets; charging in the garage and at the office; green tariffs to go with all that; packaging it all up for the customer (whether B2B or B2C).

And the opportunity is big, with EVs expected to make up 57% of all passenger car sales worldwide by 2040.

But for electrification to make sense within a more sustainable energy system (i.e., based on renewables) then EV charging must be smart. That means creating flexibility for electric grid operators to manage grids; and cost savings for energy suppliers by controlling and shifting demand. All of which adds up to better alignment between charging activity and availability of renewable energy.

Charge point operations (CPOs) can also benefit, with new business models emerging. If customers (mainly building owners) save money on grid connections, those same customers may be willing to pay a monthly fee for a charging service.

It’s really a human story

But here’s the thing. All of this only works if EV customers opt in at scale. Because if your customers don’t buy services that include smart charging, there won’t be any smart charging at all.

So, what does it take to get the customer (you, me and all of us) on board? Attractive pricing, naturally.

But in my experience, it really comes down to three other things. People need to feel they are in control; they need insight; and they demand simplicity. Whether they’re an individual with a single EV; a fleet owner; a building operator with on-site charging; or a charge point operator (CPO).

Before we look at the individual customer, let’s pause and think about the B2B customer, a depot for example. How does smart charging help a depot? Because it integrates basic load balancing, meaning you may need fewer chargers and/or less grid reinforcement, and less capacity from the grid and thus cheaper installation cost for charging infrastructure

Similarly, the grid operator needs to use existing grid connections in the most effective way; to avoid having to upgrade connections, which is labour-intensive for their mechanics and more importantly very expensive in terms of infrastructure investments.

Smart charging may mean those existing grid connections and the grid itself (i.e., the cables through which the electricity flows) suffice.

Now let’s think about the individual customer and what smart charging means in practice for them. Stay with me…!

The EV owner (insert your name or anyone else’s!)

“I worked at home today but tomorrow I have to drive two hours each way to my client meeting. But I’m not sure how much charge my car has. I mean, will it get me there and back?

Ah, but wait! “I have this smart charging service app, right? Ah yes, so I left the car plugged in since the day before yesterday and it got charged when it was cheapest for me (I let my electricity provider decide when that happened. They said something about the grid. I didn’t know what that was all about, but same difference to me and I know I can find out any time what my bill looks like).

And I’ve just checked my charger and it shows I’m at 100%. I can tap on the screen for more detailed information if I want it, but honestly I’m happy with the really simple display option. Ok, I’m all set for my client meeting. One less thing to worry about.

Oh and I’ve just remembered my “override” button. Because tomorrow night I’ll have to go out again for that work dinner. Which will only give me a couple of hours to top up the batteries of my car. I’ll set myself a reminder to hit “charge now” when I get back.

Apparently I can even sell charge I don’t need back to the grid. I’ve made a note to look into it.”

Packaging it all up for the customer

The crux of all this is packaging up smart charging in a way that resonates with the customer. In my experience, here are four things to think about:

  • Don’t call it smart charging! Nobody wakes up deciding to buy a smart charging proposition. Find a way to explain it in the “what’s in it for me” vein, as part of the story you tell your customer. Customers want connected, clear stories about the impacts they’re making. Check out 2021 Fjord Trends utilities perspective for more.
  • Enable customers to dial up or down the insights: for many, all they want to know is their car is charged and they’re saving the maximum money. Give those people the minimum information to meet that need, while enabling the “prosumer” to dial up the insight and consume their home-generated renewable energy.
  • Give control: Make that “override” button a reality. There will be times customers need to reassert control and they’ll lose trust fast if that’s not an option. They may be few and far between—in one client’s experience, it can be as little as 3% of instances. But the psychology of control matters, even if the effect is minimal.
  • Reward the customer: If the customer allows the service provider to decide when to charge the vehicle, they must get rewarded for the cost savings that generates. For instance, a loyalty program. And this may particularly resonate when their car is a fleet car, and they’re not paying the bill. Incentivising smart charging in a sustainable way is particularly key!

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In short

The success of smart charging rests on the customer. We think the odds look good, with our analysis suggesting more than 80% of future EV owners are interested.

And getting it right is about demystifying smart charging, telling customers a story they can identify with, solving their pain points and catering to their needs. It’s about control, insight and simplicity. And the time to act is now.

Thanks to my colleagues Johan Van Kooten and Maurane Deboutte for their contribution and please contact me to keep talking.

Sanda Tuzlic

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Utilities, Energy Transition

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