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Mobile green power – everywhere and to go

Efficient charging and billing of power for e-mobility

The market for electric vehicles is recording huge growth around the world. All leading global carmakers have realigned and stepped up their strategies with regard to e-mobility and autonomous driving, not least as a response to more stringent emission thresholds.

This situation has led to the emergence of a large number of joint ventures and startups that will help shape business with mobility of the future by applying advanced ideas and innovative concepts. One of the new companies is the German startup ubitricity, which was founded in 2008. The company has successfully made the provision of power to electrical vehicles easier and more economical for utility companies and consumers by using a mobile charging and billing technology. 

We first met Knut Hechtfischer, one of ubitricity’s founders, at a design disruption workshop with Javier Verdura, Director of Product Design at Tesla Motors. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Knut Hechtfischer, where he outlined ubitricity’s innovative approach and business model to us.

We have already created something in Germany that was previously thought impossible.

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Before founding ubitricity in 2008, you and your co-founder, Dr. Frank Pawlitschek, were lawyers practicing internationally. Why did you turn to e-mobility and power provision, and rise to the challenge of founding a startup?    

Knut Hechtfischer

When Frank and I met, I had already delved into the subject of renewables and the role of electric cars as energy storage systems. Frank had developed a strong passion for programming as a law student. His enthusiasm took him all the way to Silicon Valley, where he got to know many startups. There he was able to follow what happened to them from one summer to the next – in positive as well as negative terms. That was a defining experience for him and had a considerable influence on his decision to start his own business.

A key determining factor was our shared conviction that we had a really good idea. We asked ourselves how we could manage to set up an affordable and efficient charging infrastructure that allows you to recharge intelligently no matter where you are. Nowadays it must be possible to be able to recharge intelligently everywhere. To this end, we must provide the complete technical infrastructure needed for this in all possible places. But in doing this, the cost exceeds the benefit.

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How does ubitricity intend to correct the imbalance between cost and benefit?

Knut Hechtfischer

Our approach calls for moving the technology for authorizing and billing the charging process from bricks-and-mortar infrastructure to the users. The actual charging point is reduced to a simple switchable and identifiable system power outlet that causes virtually no operating costs.

This makes the charging infrastructure ubiquitously affordable and, at the same time, enables new business models and services for the energy industry. We hope that this will contribute to propagating electric mobility and to the success of energy transition.

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You’re addressing car drivers as your primary target group?

Knut Hechtfischer

We're not just addressing all car drivers wishing to recharge their electric cars with green electricity as easily and as inexpensively as possible when on the move. Our customers also include energy providers, operators of municipal and commercial vehicle fleets as well as residential and commercial real estate companies.

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And you developed your MobileCharging system for this purpose? With it, you offer your customers not just a charging infrastructure but also a whole bundle of technology and services, right?

Knut Hechtfischer

Sure, our MobileCharging includes an intelligent charging cable, inexpensive charging points and easy billing for all charging processes with one single invoice. With ubitricity, car drivers bring their electricity meters with them. The metering unit is integrated either into the charging cable or into the vehicle.

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What does it look like in detail?

Knut Hechtfischer

We cut charging points down to special inexpensive switchable power sockets, our SimpleSockets, which can be anywhere where there is an electric current, for example on the wall of a building or at a streetlamp. A charging point thus provides the entire technical setup for recharging. The metering, communications and billing technology is located in the charging cable. You just select your personal green power tariff and then obtain the electricity from any ubitricity charging point. All charging processes are billed on one invoice showing exactly what was consumed.

This aspect is very relevant for fleet providers and apartment buildings in particular. They need to be able to assign charging processes correctly. With our intelligent charging cable, recharging and billing is of course also possible when using a third-party charging infrastructure.

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What benefits does your system offer utility companies and real estate businesses?

Knut Hechtfischer

Our MobileCharging system allows utility companies to offer their customers something completely new – mobile power for electric vehicles. And the entire service for this, from hardware to billing, comes from a single source with no effort required for internal integration and yet in their own corporate design.

Our approach means that residential and commercial real estate companies can reduce their investment in future to the charging point. The electricity costs are held directly by the user.

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You completed the technical development of your system and started marketing it in 2016. How do you think the market for e-mobility, vehicles and charging infrastructure has changed?

Knut Hechtfischer

When we started out in 2008, e-mobility as we now know it today was just an idea. Although the German government adopted the “National Electromobility Development Plan”, which for the first time mentioned the one million target for e-vehicles by 2020, developments have only really picked up speed in the last couple of years. The subject seemed to have almost vanished from the radar between 2012 and 2014.

Today, electromobility has burst back onto the scene and has a fixed place on the international agenda of all participants. This is partly a result of the emissions scandal, the success of Tesla and a more widespread consensus following COP21 (the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris), In our opinion, the breakthrough was very apparent in the difference between the 2015 IAA in Frankfurt and the 2016 Paris Motor Show. I think you can say that electromobility is really beginning to take off.

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You mention state regulation and new trends like autonomous driving – what do they mean for your market?

Knut Hechtfischer

E-mobility is influenced to a great extent by regulation. You need answers: How much does electricity cost? Where can I recharge? Taxes, levies, night-time driving bans, low-emission zones, etc. We know about all this from the energy industry. The new Charging Point Ordinance for Germany is currently under review in Brussels. The funding guidelines for charging infrastructure are being drafted, and several car manufacturers have announced plans to develop a joint charging infrastructure (fast chargers). In short – there’s a lot happening.

Furthermore, new trends like autonomous driving and inductive charging are beginning to dominate discussions, which are growing increasingly complex reflecting the technical developments. Everyone involved needs to watch out that short term goals are not crowded out by simple visions. First of all, a network for charging that actually allows electromobility to develop needs to be set up, before electric cars start driving and recharging autonomously.

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Do you see any of those challenges as particularly important?

Knut Hechtfischer

First, the whole topic of billing. For us it’s the essential hurdle for establishing a – crucially – intelligent charging infrastructure. So far there has been little discussion about billing. It’s something that is still underestimated. Green energy won't reach cars without special mobile tariffs for electric vehicles. This is why billing is a very significant task for the future of e-mobility. 

It’s the same with managed recharging. The topic is also closely linked to energy transition. It will be easier for us to integrate further generating plants if we can manage consumers more flexibly. Electric vehicles can be a way of responding to fluctuating energy production, but only if cars are connected to the grid, if the charging processes are controlled and – an important aspect – if the whole thing is beneficial for everyone through individual tariffs. This is exactly where ubitricity comes into play.

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What are ubitricity’s next goals after launching marketing in 2016?

Knut Hechtfischer

We are currently focusing on company cars, because our SmartCable allows customers to recharge their company car at their own charging point at home with the employer picking up the tab. The product is proving very popular.

We have set ourselves ambitious expansion targets for 2017. We have the right solution for vehicle fleets, but also for tenants and apartment owners who need to bill costs. We are already cooperating in various sales partnerships to achieve this goal.

Our system is also proving to be as exciting for the energy industry as we had hoped. Energy companies are increasingly confirming that our innovative product fills an important and still missing gap in the digital energy business. A charging cable with its own mobile electricity tariff. It has enabled us to achieve in Germany what was previously thought impossible: mobile green power everywhere and to go.

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Thank you for the inspiring conversation!

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