Octopus Energy launched its new roaming service as part of its Electric Juice brand in May in a bid to tackle the issue of payment interoperability.
Electric vehicle (EV) charging network Char.gy is the first to partner Octopus on this, with the supplier expecting more to follow in the coming months.
The new service is not the only one to be offered as part of Electric Juice, however, with a range of electricity tariffs aimed at the transport sector, including chargepoint operators, already on offer.
Zoisa Walton, director of Octopus Energy for Business, spoke to Current± about why payment interoperability is needed, bill consolidation and supplying charging networks.
Why was the decision made to expand Electric Juice to include a payment interoperability platform?
Some of the key factors meaning people are not switching to EVs are that they can’t actually find places to charge and that they find going to charge from chargepoints quite difficult, as they’d have to carry around lots of cards and use lots of apps. So initially in speaking to some chargepoint operators when we were looking to supply them, they flagged that as an issue.
One of the other big problems was getting the best price for electricity going into those chargepoints. When you look at the operating model of a chargepoint, one of the biggest costs is of course the electricity that’s supplied into them, which is ongoing. So we were thinking that if we really wanted to help the sector and tackle some of these issues, it’s probably really helpful to drive down the cost of green electricity into that model, which is why we introduced dynamic tariffs.
We still do that, but we also started to sit back and consider the common issues we were seeing as a Group. We have EV drivers as Octopus Energy customers and one of the big things they were saying again was about having to carry cards around or using lots of different apps, as well as the issue of paying through an app but not having data.
Working with the business sector was also quite interesting. We were talking to lots of businesses that either had small fleets that they were offering to customers or electric transport fleets, and one of the big things they were flagging to us was actually around bill consolidation and the administration around that.
What sort of issues were fleet operators running into concerning bill consolidation?
Traditionally, people would go and fill their cars at a petrol station and then submit the receipt but it’s a lot more difficult to show that with home electricity and on public networks. We thought that was also a super interesting challenge.
So we sat back and thought about what we’ve got that could help. We’ve got Kraken, which is our backbone and is basically our CRM system, and we thought could we use that to solve some of these issues and neatly package something up whereby in the simplest form, a customer could go and charge their car at home and a charge would appear on their bill? Then through their account they could also pay chargepoint networks if they were on the go, or even if they were at their businesses. And the answer was simply yes, we could.
What was the process like in creating this new service as part of Electric Juice?
It came together really naturally, particularly working with Char.gy. We describe ourselves as a technology company that happens to do energy, and Char.gy is technology first as well, so it was really natural working with them.
The first way we’ve created this is through the Char.gy app, where you can flick a toggle at the top of the app to enable billing to your Octopus account. We’re very close to launching some other partnerships that will also show how you can use cards in the future should you not be able to access data on the move.
How do you envision the payment interoperability aspect working moving forwards? Will it be through the chargepoint operators own apps or with cards etc?
Our vision for this is to make it as easy as possible for the customer to really be able to access things in one place. That's what we’re working on now, bringing together all of these ways of working with chargepoint operators, whether or not that’s using a card or an app, so that the customer – whoever they are - can access that through the best route possible. So, for instance, that could be through a mobile device or a desktop if it’s a fleet manager. We’re working on ideas around that at the moment.
Is interoperability redundant due to the prevalence of contactless payments?
I can see every argument on this. But I suppose where we are really seeing it is to do with into the future. For our business customers, if they’ve got contactless payment options it still doesn’t help with this ability to reconcile costs onto one bill and then be able to process that very well as a business.
To me, I think that goes part of the way and for a particular audience that could be a really interesting leap forwards. But I don’t think it really answers the universal need of all customers who will be in the EV space into the future.