Historically, businesses in the EV charging industry have taken up one of two roles: that of charge point operator (CPO) or e-mobility service provider (EMSP).
No matter the service model a business pursues, these two roles fulfil distinct functions in the EV charging market. The CPO looks after charging hardware, while the EMSP maintains driver relationships and sets up charging service agreements.
However, as the market matures, these roles are becoming more interconnected, and many businesses now offer a mix of CPO and EMSP services.
Charge point operator (CPO)
A charge point operator installs and maintains charge stations so drivers can charge their electric vehicles. CPOs can either own and operate a set of charge stations, or simply operate them for third parties.
The tasks of a charge point operator can be broken down into two categories:
- Operational – purchasing charge stations, installing hardware and maintaining the network connection.
- Commercial – setting prices for charging infrastructure use and managing the connection to e-mobility service providers.
Purchasing charging hardware
To get started, a charge point operator buys charge stations from a reputable supplier. They need to consider any hardware requirements based on their business model, location, and expected use case of their charge points.
A CPO wanting to focus on highway charging would probably invest in DC fast chargers to provide a good experience for long-distance travellers. Meanwhile, businesses focussing on charging near restaurants and shopping malls may opt for slower and cheaper AC chargers.
Installing and maintaining charging hardware
Once a CPO has purchased suitable hardware, they can install it and connect charge stations to the local electricity grid. CPOs will usually enter into a contract with an energy supplier to power their charge stations and resell electricity to EV drivers.
CPOs also aim to keep charge points up and running and minimise downtime at a reasonable cost.
Optimising charging capacity
Charge point operators can adjust the charging capacity at their locations to improve profitability, occupancy and/or customer satisfaction. While they may be constrained by the physical limitations of the charging hardware or grid connection, CPOs can determine the dynamics of the charging process, controlling factors such as charging speeds, charging thresholds, and delayed or prioritised charging.
By opting for smart charging technology, CPOs gain flexibility to automatically balance load, and adjust charging based on customer preference, grid constraints, local renewable energy production and consumption patterns of surrounding buildings.
On the commercial side, charge point operators can also set base prices for the use of their charging infrastructure. These usually consist of elements like:
- a starting fee – the price paid by an EV driver to access the charge station
- a volume-based fee – the price per unit of electricity consumed, for example cents/kWh
- a duration-based fee – this is typically charged in cents/minute
- a penalty fee – for example, applied when blocking a charge station after the vehicle is fully charged
In practice, most charge point operators use just one or two of these price components, the most common being a volume-based fee.
CPOs typically communicate their base price to e-mobility service providers, who then relay a marked-up price to drivers.
Charge station utilisation
To attract more drivers to their charge stations and achieve higher utilisation rates, CPOs may choose to connect with e-mobility service providers and open their network to roaming.
Charge point operators may interact directly with individual EMSPs via peer-to-peer connections or leverage roaming service providers and hubs to enter into agreements with multiple EMSPs via a single contract.
Roaming agreements are of particular interest to CPOs building out public (and semi-public) networks. This is because roaming agreements allow EMSPs to promote the CPOs’ charge points to their drivers and allow session payments via the driver’s default app or charge card.
Some charge point operators also choose to provide their own EMSP products and services, such as a charge card or driver app.
To learn more about the EV charging business, we recommend you take a look at our post about the roles and responsibilities of an EMSP.