Reliable charging service in electric mobility - Metacharge and Tallence create predictability

An interview with Frank Moll (Tallence AG) and Joachim Köpf (Metacharge GmbH)

Highlights, Tech // Eva-Maria Cromm // Aug 28, 2023

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Joachim Köpf

  • Managing Consultant

The electromobility industry is facing major tasks, because not everything runs as smoothly as the e-motors in the rapidly growing number of electric vehicles on our roads. One challenge is to reconcile the steadily increasing demand for charging with the sometimes still sluggish expansion of the charging infrastructure. Occupied, defective or blocked charging points are a source of frustration. While the absolute number of externally chargeable vehicles is increasing rapidly, the industry is struggling with the availability of network connections, suitable locations for charging stations and the quality of digital services related to charging.

Varying charging needs on the one hand meet varying power availability of the network on the other - but so far they are still charged with static tariffs. Binding charging date bookings are just as much a wish as a reality, as are user- and usage-specific or even dynamic tariffs. So far, the offer is not sufficiently differentiated or user-oriented. Commercial users in particular are faced with major challenges and risks when they opt for an e-fleet. A lack of planning means immediate loss of time for commercial enterprises and a directly cost-generating component. Unfortunately, environmentally friendly and cost-optimised driving often remains an ideal. In the German car market, which is dominated by fleet business, this is another hurdle on the way to mass electrification.

Joachim Köpf, founder of Metacharge GmbH in Berlin, and Frank Moll, CEO of Tallence AG in Hamburg, want to change that. With two decades of expertise in telecommunications and almost as long in electromobility, they both want to enable charging station operators and charging service providers to better coordinate charging needs and network capacities - and thus make charging processes more reliable and more fairly priced.

Eva-Maria Cromm, editor of Tallence AG, met Frank Moll and Joachim Köpf to get to know their joint plans and to find out the background:

Joachim, not everything is running smoothly in the shop landscape yet. But you are about to change that. How are you proceeding and what exactly is Metacharge?

Metacharge develops a software interface and a planning service to match the charging needs of users with the availability of suitable charging stations. On the one hand, our aim is to make the charging process for electric car drivers so reliable that it can be guaranteed by the charging provider in the future. On the other hand, our Open Charging Rights Interface (OCRI) enables charging services to be priced more fairly and in line with usage - for example, according to the actual charging speed used.

So it's all about reliable planning of charging processes and demand-oriented mediation of supply and demand, right?

Yes, exactly. In the first step, our solution is used for commercial fleets, i.e. companies that operate fleets and those that provide charging infrastructure.
Our offer is particularly interesting for commercial customers or their drivers who have a high mileage on daily changing routes and are completely or predominantly dependent on charging on the road, e.g. because suitable charging options cannot be sufficiently realised at the company headquarters or at the employees' homes. This includes, among others, care services, security services, delivery services and a multitude of other service companies. Especially for transport companies with high mileage, such as taxi companies or driving services, multi-shift operation is difficult without a reliably usable DC fast charging infrastructure. The public DC charging infrastructure, both in terms of the number of charging points and availability, is often not sufficient for the high demand. However, it is usually not economical for individual entrepreneurs to build their own DC infrastructure, as this would often not be sufficiently utilised with their own vehicles.
However, there are enough apps that provide access to currently available public charging stations. They don't solve the operational challenges of these fleets?

But there are enough apps that provide access to currently available public charging stations. They don't solve the operational challenges of these fleets?

For us, it's about creating predictability. And a station that was just shown as available is often occupied by someone else during the journey - unplanned and ad-hoc. Our goal is for companies to use charging stations with booked and guaranteed appointments and thus integrate charging into their processes. For example, the Metacharge charging solution can support the multi-shift operation of vehicles that need to be charged quickly and reliably in short time windows so that they can continue to be used immediately. Especially for transport companies, but also for delivery services or social services, this aspect is crucial in order to avoid turnover losses or unnecessary waiting times of the staff.

What about businesses that have their own charging infrastructure?

Businesses that provide their own charging infrastructure on their premises can be integrated into the network, and the charging offer then becomes available to other Metacharge members at scheduled times. The model is attractive, for example, for business parks, multi-storey car parks or housing associations that have suitable private parking space and are ideally also electricity providers within their customer facility. In general, this means for companies that want to better utilise their charging infrastructure and see charging as a business model. The advantage of this is that it is not made available to the public, but access for third-party users is guaranteed individually and can be defined by the location operators themselves, while they still benefit from increased utilisation. For many, this is the first time that charging infrastructure can be transformed from a cost factor into a business model. Topics such as charging infrastructure sharing or reservability are also clearly called for in the Federal Government's Master Plan for Charging Infrastructure II.

To classify the many innovative aspects in the current market situation: Is there a concrete USP or is it rather the holistic approach in total that makes you "unique" with your offer?

I have to elaborate a little on that. At the moment, numerous players in the industry are busy solving the day-to-day challenges - from the provision of network connections for fast charging stations to the procurement and installation of hardware, reliable technical operation and many other topics related to availability data, authentication or billing of charging processes. Our many colleagues are doing a great job here, and the industry as a whole has already achieved a great deal!
We are therefore deliberately focusing on higher-level, complementary topics, specifically: a standardised collection and description of charging demand, charging network capacities and the administration of access rights and tariffs - so-called policies.
In the future, these interfaces will be used by a service to decide in almost real time, based on rules, which service quality is guaranteed for a charging process - for example, charging speed, type of charging or charging duration - and how this charging process is to be billed.

This also means that you are creating a complementary rather than a competitive offer?

Absolutely right. We address all charging providers and want to create the basis with them today for offering even more user-oriented, reliable charging services with highly differentiated pricing in the future. In doing so, our focus is on knowledge transfer in partnership and the provision of interfaces and integration services, with which we support and complement market players, and that's right: we are not in competition with them. With a view to the diverse challenges and partly already established technical solutions in e-mobility, our offer is conceivably flexible. Every task, every integration looks different, and we see our services as enablers for the right customer solution. And that's exactly where there is a large overlap with Tallence, the experts in the field of individual digital services.

Good keywords and a great transition, thank you very much!
Frank, what convinced you and Tallence of the Metacharge idea?

Enabling in the field of digitalisation, individuality and also innovation are indeed strong connecting keywords. Metacharge has the future of the shop in mind and integrates the solution to the challenges of today and tomorrow into the established market structures. I like the fact that two real pioneers of electromobility with a high level of practical relevance are setting up a functioning solution for planned and guaranteed charging!

How and where exactly, with which services and capabilities does Tallence come into play?!

Tallence has been on the market for a long time and is very experienced in the telecommunications sector with its solutions and consulting services in the core processes around tariff design, user and usage management and billing. The similarities to the challenges and design possibilities in e-mobility are very great. Through the knowledge and technology transfer that we would like to represent with Tallence and Metacharge, we enable the e-mobility industry to make their charging offers even more lucrative and customer-oriented.

So synergies are obvious. Are there other connecting factors between Metacharge and Tallence in terms of strategy and objectives?

Tallence's goal from the beginning is to accompany customers on their individual path of digital transformation with expert expertise. First and foremost, it is important to answer what the digital transformation can contribute to the company's value creation. In our view, value creation is the key driver of every transformation, especially every digital transformation. We see sustainability as a hygiene factor that is an absolute must. These perspectives and ambitions connect us with Metacharge.

And what does the collaboration with the Tallence experts look like?

Metacharge brings professional know-how, market access and its existing technology. Tallence, in turn, brings its expertise to further develop the field of e-mobility. As a tandem, we make it possible for players in e-mobility to benefit first-hand from the know-how of the telecommunications industry and still work with experts from their own sector.

Let's get very specific once again. What is it like to deal with the charging services you provide on a daily basis? How are appointments booked, for example?

Currently, we offer to book loading appointments like a table in a restaurant. Especially in high-class restaurants, it is becoming more and more standard to book a table for a certain time slot. We have adopted this principle. This means that appointments can also be booked longer in advance, while other drivers use the charging station until the booked appointment. The appointments are already calculated and suggested depending on real-time traffic data. Since the vehicle's position is monitored, the appointments are also dynamically rescheduled if someone is late or does not arrive at the station at all. In addition, the charging process can be further defined at vehicle or driver level, for example by setting parameters for a fixed charging time or a minimum battery charge level to be achieved. Access to certain types of charging, such as AC or DC, or to certain charging connections can also be defined at driver or vehicle level. Tariff setting and billing can also take place at these levels. For example, the fleet manager can determine how he wants his drivers or vehicles to be charged and how he wants to be billed.

You mentioned earlier that you also want to optimise the tariff structure. How do you achieve that?

I'll give you a concrete example: The tariff structure is currently usually based on the charging type, i.e. AC or DC, and the maximum charging power provided by a charging station. This is generally regarded as "fair". For example, if a charging station offers up to 350 kW of power, a so-called "High Power Charging", or HPC tariff for short, is usually applied. However, if a vehicle is being charged that can only take up to 50 kW of fast charging power, the price for the charging service provided is relatively high. If no charging station with a suitable lower charging power and correspondingly lower tariff is available in the immediate vicinity, the driver has to pay for a service that he or she does not use at all. Similarly static are the blocking charges, which, to put it simply, take effect too late for some users, but too early for others - or very late for all, thus weakening the steering effect of these charges.
As electric car drivers, we feel that this tariff is unfair. That is why we want to enable tariffs that take these differences into account. This can mean AC tariffs for purely AC-chargeable vehicles, or DC tariffs without HPC for vehicles without 800V charging technology, or HPC tariffs for customers who really can and want to charge HPC. This way, the total cost of ownership of the vehicle can be further optimised and at the same time the charging service provider or charging station provider can increase its attractiveness and relevance with differentiated products - especially in the fleet business. The dynamic scheduling of charging processes also optimises the utilisation of the station and could even guarantee the charging process to the users. We can resolve the inequity in the tariff system in a very concrete way - essentially with concepts and technologies that are also used in mobile communications.

Exactly. From mobile communications, we know user-oriented products and tariff models that have established themselves over the years, for example flat rates, family, company or now IoT tariffs. At the same time, mobile roaming has been made possible worldwide. In terms of the development of value creation opportunities in charging, we are at a similar position in electromobility as telecommunications was around twelve years ago. With the introduction of LTE, the mobile network already became a real alternative for fixed-network internet connections; with 5G and IoT, customer requirements have become even more differentiated and providers' products have been adapted accordingly.
The pressure to innovate and the constantly increasing demands on the telecommunications network are thus a further parallel. The high investments must be refinanced through business models that are sustainable in the long term, but which must be adaptable to changing customer requirements over the life cycle of the technology.

And then there is also the legal side ...

Correct, there is a high integration effort of legacy systems and processes required, and that is with ongoing operations under increasing usage. We have already been able to support large, globally active telecommunications companies in this. We want to bring this expertise to electromobility.

You are creative minds, what's next? What screws are you currently turning, what will follow?

We are currently in the proof of concept phase. We are testing our service regionally with charging stations operated by us and a charging offer oriented towards B2B customers. One of the next major milestones will be to make our service available to other charging providers and charging station operators whose offerings are also B2C and supraregional. Together with Tallence as a pool of experts, technology partner and incubator, we are expanding our resources to make the Open Charging Rights Interface accessible to other companies in the e-mobility sector.

Tallence clearly identifies itself as a long-term partner and enabler, with all its stakeholders. We grow with and on our customers, partners and employees. With Metacharge, we have developed a joint perspective on how we can address a number of the challenges of electromobility - today and in the future. Together, we will now bring our solutions to the electromobility industry and put them into practice.

Your passion is simply inspiring. We can be very excited about the further developments and watch how electromobility will become more reliable and user-friendly with you - together into the electric future!

A big thank you to both of you for the insights into e-mobility and the great projects of Tallence and Metacharge!

Please find here more information about the Tallence portfolio in the field of e-mobility