Easy, quick, convenient? The problems with the e-car charging network


Fast and cheap, comprehensive, convenient and transparent: this is how the charging network for electric cars should look like. But so far there have been too few fast charging stations and many consumers are still at risk of getting lost in an impenetrable tariff jungle. Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) told the German Press Agency: “We have to make sure that the prices, like the petrol pump, are transparent for everyone, across the providers, to make it clear that charging is always and everywhere possible.”

The number of newly registered electric cars in Germany has risen significantly in recent months, thanks in part to higher government subsidies. The boom is politically wanted – and necessary so that climate targets can be met in traffic. Because it is expected that charging will primarily take place at home in the future, the installation of private charging stations is also being promoted.

The publicly accessible charging network is also growing. According to the Federal Network Agency, there are currently around 45,000 public charging points in Germany – but only around 6,500 of these are fast charging points. Through tenders, which are due to start soon, charging stations with a capacity of over 150 kilowatts are to be built at 1,000 additional locations, for example on highways, by 2023 with state funding. But is that enough?

Especially with a view to range and suitability for everyday use, there are still reservations on the consumer side about electric vehicles, said ADAC traffic president Gerhard Hillebrand. That is why progress in charging infrastructure is so important. “Charging has to be as easy as refueling. At the moment, charging is often still a complex process – especially in view of the payment options and the numerous different tariffs.” From the consumer’s point of view, it would be important to create uniform standards and more transparency with regard to prices. Markus Emmert, board member of the Federal Association for eMobility, said that the customer had to know in advance what his charging process would cost.

In the case of prices, more comparability is necessary, which is severely limited by the very different pricing at the moment, said the Baden-Württemberg consumer protection minister Peter Hauk (CDU). There should therefore be a market transparency point for charging tariffs – the consumer protection ministers’ conference in May supported this on the initiative of Baden-Württemberg and Berlin. Charging station operators should be obliged to report prices, price components, occupancy status and payment options to this point and to update them on an ongoing basis. This data could ensure transparency via the drivers’ apps.

So far there is still a jungle of tariffs, said Thorsten Storck, energy expert at the comparison portal Verivox. “There are countless combinations of prices per kilowatt hour, per charge, per minute, basic charges, roaming charges and extra charges for fast charging.” There are also a large number of charging cards and apps that only work on certain charging stations. This leads to large price differences. It would be easiest for customers if they could decide on a tariff that would then apply to every charging station. “This would require a mandatory transmission model that is already available for the power grid, for example.”

A uniform payment system for ad-hoc charging at publicly accessible charging stations is the aim of the new charging station ordinance. In the future, operators will have to offer at least one contactless payment with common debit and credit cards. The regulation applies to all charging stations that are put into operation from July 1, 2023; charging stations that are already in operation do not need to be retrofitted. Even people without a smartphone should be able to charge and pay for electricity at the pillars at any time, argued the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

The energy industry, however, is raging against the new obligation – this creates additional costs for providers and customers, according to the head of the Federal Association of Energy and Water Management (BDEW), Kerstin Andreae. “There is a problem with the expansion, spontaneous ad-hoc charging is becoming more expensive and the price transparency that is ensured digitally today is lost with the card readers.” Scheuer said: “I think it is wrong that new charging stations have to be equipped with EC and credit card readers.” He had made a protocol statement in the cabinet. “This is a regulation from yesterday.”

In terms of price transparency, the market has made enormous progress in recent years, said Andreae. “Every e-car driver can charge at every charging station in Germany and see the associated price before the charging process.” Tariffs based on kilowatt hours are now the rule across the board. “The vast majority of charging contract service providers offer their customers fixed and transparent tariffs for normal and fast charging.” As with mobile phone tariffs, customers have a large selection of tariffs that suit their user behavior best – such as frequent driver tariffs or flat rates. Anyone who does not have a charging contract or whose charging contract does not cover the relevant charging station in individual cases can call up the price per kilowatt hour at the charging station when charging ad hoc, usually via a QR code.

“Typically, electromobility customers, similar to cell phone customers, charge with a charging provider,” said a spokeswoman for the provider and energy supplier EnBW. A uniform price applies to around 95 percent of all charging stations in Germany. This means there is price transparency across providers. With ad hoc charging, as with refueling at a petrol station, the price of the respective provider applies.

With contract-based charging, the contract providers would need access to all charging points, said the President of the Association of the Automotive Industry, Hildegard Müller. “One thing is clear: Electromobility can only be ramped up in the future with simple, transparent and customer-friendly charging solutions.”


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