To charge an electric car at public terminals, you sometimes have to juggle wacky price lists. Per minute, fixed price, energy consumed, per hourly, via a combined formula: terminal operators compete in inventiveness, despite the user. But why can’t we top up as easily as a full tank of gasoline, paying only for its consumption? Some answers with Gilles Bernard, president of AFIREV.
In France, the ultra-fast European charging network Ionity had previously billed its recharges “per kilowatt hour”, depending on the energy consumed. A principle similar to that of a gas station, which only charges for the liters of fuel charged. But in July 2020, the operator suddenly changes for less fair “per minute” billing. An upheaval only applied to resorts in France and which has never been justified by the brand. If Ionity has not responded to our requests for details, the president of the French Association for Roaming of Electric Vehicle Charging (AFIREV) is enlightening us on this event.
KWh billing is not illegal
According to Gilles Bernard, “it is not illegal to charge by the kilowatt hour” in France. If the law deserves more clarity on this subject, it leaves operators free to apply this method of payment. The recent mobility orientation law (LOM) also indicates that a charging operator “does not exercise[e] not an activity of purchasing electricity for resale to end consumers […] but a service provision activity ”. However, to bill by kWh, the terminal must be equipped with an energy meter meeting the “MID” standard. Only this model can be used to legally count electricity. And according to the president of AFIREV, “Ionity may not have installed the standard DC meter behind the outlet.” A lack of compliance that would have frightened the charging network, especially since “the trade surveillance authorities are starting to question operators severely, they are asking them how the counting is done”, explains Gilles Bernard.
Which price is the fairest?
Several operators still offer to pay per kilowatt hour in France, starting with the most famous: Tesla, with its superchargers. Some networks of departmental energy unions and that of the CNR also apply this simple tariff. But choosing this billing method is not just a question of law and standards. Many networks in fact decide to apply a tariff combining time and consumption, which is fairer and more profitable for them. An ideal formula according to the president of AFIREV, who recommends this “pair of kilowatt hours and parking time, because the time left connected immobilizes the charging point and is a cost factor [pour l’opérateur, NDLR] “.
“People don’t buy electricity but a recharging service” when they plug in to a terminal, explains Gilles Bernard. Thus, AFIREV does not recommend single kilowatt-hour billing, because “it does not reflect costs” according to the president of the association. “Two cars, one with its battery nearly full and the other almost empty, stay connected to a conventional charging station for that long. They don’t pay the same rate [avec le paiement au kilowattheure, NDLR], so they use the location the same way, “he illustrates.
A mandatory billing method in the future?
Operators may also be tempted to bill only by the minute for simple cost reasons. By setting aside a tariff per kilowatt hour, they can thus dispense with the costly calibrated meter to be installed in each terminal. They also avoid any legal hazard and avoid a dilemma: should electricity be billed before or after transformation into AC to DC? If the DC fast charging stations count the kilowatt-hours delivered to the vehicle after conversion (therefore leaving the losses to be borne by the operator), the proximity AC charging stations can only invoice gross consumption (the current being transformed on board the vehicle with this terminal type). So for the anecdote, by recharging a Hyundai Kona 64 kWh from 10 to 100% on a 22 kW AC terminal, we were billed on the basis of 64.5 kWh, which is more than the battery capacity. A completely normal curiosity, on-board chargers showing more or less losses depending on the vehicle.
Payment per kilowatt hour is therefore a complex issue, which needs to be clearly framed by law. Just as a gas station is subject to strict standards for delivering fuel, a station would have to meet a universal charter for selling refills. AFIREV says it has formed a working group on the subject and announces progress “by the end of the year”. It remains to grant the violins on a European scale, all countries today being free to authorize or not such a method of payment. A single model may be imposed in the future, as California has done by making kilowatt-hour billing mandatory from 2020.
Charging stations: California makes kilowatt-hour pricing mandatory