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Trans-Atlantic alliance aims to change the face of electric car charging

What connects this year’s failures of US charging network operator ECOtality and Shai Agassi’s battery-swapping paradigm-wrecker Better Place?

Well, according to Onoph Caron and Brett Hauser, the key issue was one of proprietary, rather than open, standards. Caron and Hauser are founding members of the Open Charge Alliance (OCA), a coalition of around 40 companies working to promote a common model for electric vehicle (EV) charge points.

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They say the problem for both ECOtotality and Better Place was the focus on developing “member only” closed charging systems. Instead, they favour making all chargers available to all EV drivers and providing site hosts with the flexibility to mix and match different types of chargers and supporting software.

“What happened in those roll outs is they provided charge points but kept a proprietary protocol,” says Hauser. “The companies have now gone bankrupt and have left behind 12,000 charging stations that are running the risk of being a stranded asset. No one wins in that scenario.”

It seems obvious that the very last thing you want as an electric car driver is to pull up to a charger almost out of juice only to find it doesn’t fit with your car. But, as Haser says: “Common sense isn’t all that common.”

The problem was first recognised in Europe, where a 2009 initiative by Dutch grid company E-laad, of which Caron is a director, laid the foundations for the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) advocated by the OCA to be launched in 2010. The system has been almost universally adopted across Europe and is now used at 10,000 charge points worldwide.

Hauser says manufacturers recognise the benefits of marketing their technology to as many customers as possible in the growing EV market, as well as mitigating the risk of future technology changes. OCA will today launch the latest version of the OCPP, dubbed 2.0. Like the two previous versions, it was developed in collaboration with members and industry – using Wikipedia as a role model – to ensure it continues to meet evolving market requirements.
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