Devang Mistry, Co-Founder and Tech Lead at Pulse Energy, explains the OCPI protocol, its origin and the need to identify a more suitable roaming and interoperability solution for the Indian EV charging ecosystem.
2023 is the year when EV charging interoperability will be put in the spotlight. India is nearing its inflection point when it comes to EV sales, and EV users are going to start demanding interoperability. Here is a eye-opening quote from an EV user –
“When I can fill fuel from any fuel station irrespective of brand, why must I download 40 different apps to charge my EV? Why do I need to download an app in the first place?”
With 40+ charging point operators (CPOs) and 15+ battery-swapping operators in India, there is a debate about how Indians will consume energy from such a fragmented set of operators.
What is OCPI ?
OCPI (Open Charge Point Interface) is an API contract between two parties on how to search, start, stop and bill for chargers/charging sessions. It is one of the most popular interoperability protocols in the world. The below image from Netherlands-based EV charging platform Greenflux shows where OCPI plays its role.
The genesis of OCPI was to help conduct cross-border billing reconciliation and authentication amongst CPOs in Europe, mainly because tax rules were different across borders.
OCPI was meant for CPOs who already wish to partner with each other to figure out how they can authenticate users between their networks and perform billing reconciliation.
What are the flaws of OCPI?
OCPI has its roots in solving billing reconciliation issues at the end of the month amongst European charge point operators. European CPOs allow “out of network” users to charge at their chargers, and it is expected that this user will be billed at the end of the month by the network that the user is tied to. This works when you are in a country with one or two large charging networks, and service providers are able to collect money as expected from users (via Credit Cards with no two-factor authentication). In India, however, there are 40+ charging networks, varying from really large charge point operators like Jio-BP and Tata Power to small and medium scale charge point operators like GOEC, K-Charge, etc.
There are several disadvantages to adopting OCPI as is for India.
OCPI has three major flaws today based on the interviews with CPOs
1. Multiple contractual agreements
A contractual agreement is necessary between two parties wishing to exchange information about their chargers with each other. This means large players can choose not to get into any contractual agreements with a smaller player, wishing to either acquire them or starve them out of the market. This is applicable even in a roaming hub scenario.
Hubject (Europe’s largest roaming hub) succeeded because it is a joint venture set up by EV OEMs like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, etc.).
2. Risk of cannibalisation
OCPI integration via a roaming hub or P2P agreement means the participating CPO has to willingly be okay with sharing their charger utilization (e.g. how popular is a charger location) with other CPOs. A large CPO could look at the utilization of a particular location and decide to cannibalize the location for its own interest, leaving the participating CPO at a loss.
One such case has already been reported in India.
3. Walled garden
Today all 40+ charging operators have their own charging apps and force EV users to use their own apps to access their chargers. Suppose a MapMyIndia, Google Maps, a PayTm, or Park+ wishes to offer a seamless charging experienceacross any charger anywhere in India. In that case, they need to approach each CPO individually and set up OCPI agreements. This is a considerable investment that prevents them from entering this space for the foreseeable future till the time private EV ownership picks up in India.
In order to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles, we need a decentralized network where even a small local entrepreneur with land can set up their own hyper-local EV charging network and earn.
One approach could be to have all CPOs adopt an open API spec to participate in a decentralized interoperable network in exchange for certification as a CPO from a central nodal agency. In such a decentralized world, there won’t be roaming agreements between CPOs or roaming hubs. Instead, each user transaction becomes a micro contact that’s negotiated in real time between the user and the CPO via the decentralized network, thereby ensuring CPOs still have full control over what rate is negotiated with the user and access to the user data.
Article contributed by Pulse Energy Technologies, which is an Electric Vehicle SaaS startup based in Bangalore, built by ex-Amazon engineers. Pulse Energy says that CPOs leveraging its platform have seen their charger utilization percentage increase from single digits to double digits (>20%) in less than 45 days. Currently, Pulse Energy’s platform is connected with 554 DC chargers and 13,326 AC chargers. This article was originally published in Pulse Energy Insights and has been reproduced here with their permission.
This article was also published in EVreporter March 2023 Magazine, which can be accessed here.
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