Charge Point Operator 101: Everything You Need to Know About EV Charging Networks
If the last decade is any indication, electric vehicles are here to stay, and they’ll bring with them a slew of industries dedicated to keeping them on the road. The most important of these are charge point operators (CPOs), companies that provide charging stations to keep the vehicles of tomorrow powered up along the way.
For those new to EVs, the terms and technologies surrounding and supporting their use can take some getting used to. Below, we’ll take a look at what CPOs do, how they work, and where they fit into the emerging EV industry. Let’s dive in.
What Is a Charge Point Operator?
A charge point operator is a company that operates a pool of charging stations. They’re responsible for purchasing, installing, and maintaining charging points and upgrading equipment as needed to keep up with the latest developments in charging technology.
It’s important to distinguish between CPOs, charge point owners, and e-mobility service providers (EMSPs). A CPO operates charging infrastructure, whereas an owner is just that – the owner of a station or a collection of charging points. Owners are responsible for financing and managing the construction of EV charging infrastructure projects, and for determining marketing, pricing, and branding.
An e-mobility service provider is a company that provides a charging service and payment options for that service to EV drivers within a local or regional charging network. CPOs provide the owner of a charge point with a connection to an EMSP.
These terms can be confusing and are often used interchangeably, but they represent important distinctions in the EV charging industry. They can also overlap; for instance, a CPO can also own the charge points it operates, or an EMSP can double as a CPO. Usually, however, charge point owners are the prime movers behind new EV charging projects, and CPOs and EMSPs are contractors hired by the owner.
What Do CPOs Do?
CPOs oversee the day-to-day operation and operability of charge points. That includes:
- Carrying out on-site and remote maintenance and troubleshooting
- Running remote system diagnostics for quality assurance
- Collecting and compiling charge point data, such as peak period usage
- Maintaining price settings and software
Different CPOs’ services may vary, but all such companies will offer these basic services to charge point owners. Charge point operators are also usually responsible for reaching agreements with power companies to provide electricity, which they can then sell to drivers.
What Are Some Leading Charge Point Operators?
The barrier to entry into the EV industry for prospective CPOs is relatively low, which is why a number of new operators have sprung up in recent years. Here are a few of the top companies you might encounter on the road.
ChargePoint is an American company that currently operates one of the largest EV charging networks in the world, with over 48,000 stations worldwide and 31,000 in the United States alone. They’ve partnered with major automakers, including BMW, Volkswagen, and Tesla, which has driven their rise to prominence and will probably make them a prominent EV industry player for decades to come.
EVBox, a Netherlands-based CPO owned by French company Engie SA, maintains a presence in over 70 countries with more than 350,000 charging ports, including 700 DC fast charging stations. The company also offers home charging solutions for EV drivers.
Global energy giant Shell was one of the first oil companies to recognize the trend towards sustainable transportation. For that reason, they moved into EV charging in 2017, purchasing smaller companies like Greenlots and NewMotion before combining their charging operations into Shell Recharge in 2022. Today, the company operates over 140,000 public and private charge points, with plans to expand its network to more than 500,000 charge points by 2025.
CPO Trends to Look for in 2023
The EV industry as a whole is constantly in flux as the technology becomes more accessible and widespread, and CPOs are no exception. Here are a few promising developments to come for charge point operators.
As EV ownership numbers continue to climb, many new drivers are finding it increasingly difficult to find available public charging stations near them. Compounding the issue is the fact that many drivers leave their vehicles plugged in and parked after charging is complete.
A short-term solution to this issue is the use of parking sensors to alert EV owners via an app when their vehicles are blocking charging points. CPOs may charge owners of EV blocking stations additional fees as part of the effort to ensure drivers can access the power supplies they need.
Adopting OCPP 2.0.1
The Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) is a communication protocol, developed in 2009, which connects EV charging stations to a central management system. This is what enables CPOs to carry out many of the remote monitoring and maintenance tasks they’re responsible for.
OCPP 2.0.1 will add several valuable features, such as improved security, enhanced remote operability, new smart charging functions, and increased capacity for high-volume transactions. That means more reliable, flexible charging stations with more options for drivers and CPOs alike.
Expanded Local Energy Storage
When an EV battery has been in use for about 10 years, its power capacity drops to 85% or less. At that point, they’re no longer powerful enough for individual vehicles, but they form a valuable energy resource as second-life EV batteries.
These are being installed at a growing number of charging stations for local energy storage. Second-life EV batteries give CPOs the ability to store renewable energy generated on-site or purchased at lower costs outside of peak demand periods for sale to EV drivers. That way, charging stations will make a more impactful contribution to the shift to renewable energy while minimizing waste and environmental hazards.
In the realm of electric vehicles, charge point operators (CPOs) stand as the crucial architects of a charging infrastructure that powers the future. As the EV landscape evolves, their role in maintaining, innovating, and expanding charging networks will remain pivotal, propelling us toward a cleaner, more sustainable transportation era.