EV Charging Is About To Get A Whole Lot Less Frustrating

Charging up an electric car looks set to get a whole lot easier, with a new Plug&Charge system promising to do away with membership cards, apps, or swiping a credit card. The system turns the electric charging socket on the EV itself into an authentication system, enabling it to communicate with the charger it's plugged into.

Currently, pulling your electric vehicle up to a charger can be a recipe for a rapid headache. With multiple charging networks in operation, each with their own way of authenticating membership and payment method, it's no surprise that EV drivers often have a keychain full of RFID cards and a folder full of apps on their smartphone, just to get the juice flowing.

Plug&Charge would be very different. After plugging the charging connector into the vehicle, a secure, encrypted data connection is established. Over that, the identity of the car can be established and the charging begun, without needing any active involvement by the driver.

It's been developed by German company Hubject, which has been running a pilot scheme of the technology. Authentication can take place even if the car and charger are offline, the company says.

Hubject may not be a household name, but its shareholders certainly are. Among the roster is BMW Group, Mercedes-Benz and Smart parent Daimler, and Volkswagen Group, which includes VW, Audi, Porsche, and others. Bosch is on the list too, one of the major tier 1 automotive parts suppliers worldwide.

At the heart of Plug&Charge is ISO 15118, the international standard for communications between electric vehicles – whether plug-in hybrid or entirely battery-powered – and the grid. That's applicable not only for charging the car from the grid, but bi-directionally too: feeding power from the car, back into the electricity infrastructure. Although published in its current form back in 2013, it's taken until now for a charging system to actually be developed that's compliant with the standard.

Importantly, while any Hubject partner will be free to use Plug&Charge technology, automakers and charger companies won't need to be shareholders in order to be compatible. Since ISO 15118 is an international standard, simply complying with that is enough. That won't do away with the headache of finding your EV of choice doesn't have the same port as the next public charger you pull up at, but it's certainly one less frustration.

For the moment, only one EV actually offers Plug&Charge support. That's the Smart EQ Fortwo, Daimler's two-seater all-electric city car. It's the vehicle Daimler and Hubject used to develop the system, indeed. Smart had already confirmed that, as of this year, it'll be the only model the company offers in the US and Canada, with the gasoline Fortwo retired.

It seems likely, though, that Mercedes adopt the technology for all its future EVs under the umbrella "EQ" brand, and we can't see other Hubject shareholders being left out. Down the line, the ISO 15118 standard paves the way for a much smarter use of the grid, too, with battery-electric vehicles being used to intelligently feed power into the infrastructure when required, in addition to only charging up when rates are at their lowest.