Electric mobility and decentralized purchasing of electricity with Ubitricity
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Frank Pawlitschek and Knut Hechtfischer co-founded ubitricity in 2008 with the vision of smart and sustainable charging of electric vehicles (EVs) everywhere EV-users go. Both attorneys at trade, the two founders decided to joined forces and combine Knut’s passion for renewables and Frank’s experience in the startup industry to build something together. Here we chat with the two about the idea behind ubitricity, and how it’s creating a more sustainable and intelligent energy world by integrating the mobile metering ecosystem with the energy market.
Where did the idea of founding ubitricity come from?
Frank Pawlitschek (FP): Before we founded ubitricity, we were both attorneys — that’s how we met. Knut was already very interested in the topic of renewable energies, whereas I had developed a passion for programming which had led me to Silicon Valley several years before. Seeing the development of startups there was a big influence on my own decision to found a company.
Knut Hechtfischer (KH): Of course, we were also convinced that we had a really great idea. We were asking ourselves how it could be possible to build up ubiquitous, smart charging infrastructure at a reasonable cost. The answer: integrating the metering and billing technology into the car or the charging cable. The possibilities that this idea entails were actually a surprise for us as well.
What makes ubitricity different from its competitors?
KH: What ubitricity is offering is an absolutely unique and new idea. The mobile electricity meter enables transaction based, precise metering and billing of electricity everywhere drivers go. Also, including the electricity meter in the charging cable or the car instead of the charging spot turns the tables and enables completely new business models. Utilities can offer their customers a completely new product — mobile electricity for mobile consumers. Private customers can charge electricity they have produced at home.
FP: On the one hand, our MobileCharging system makes charging spots become cheaper, which makes it possible to create a ubiquitous network of charging spots. On the other hand, a completely new logic is transferred to the field of electric mobility. Every charging cable — which means, every EV — is connected to an individual contract and tariff, just like with a mobile phone. This is the basis for dynamic pricing models and innovative business models for utilities, fleet managers and charge point providers.
What are the benefits of the decentralized purchasing of electricity?
FP: Decentralized consumption and production are not only questions of benefits — they are the inevitable future. The energy transition, which is the clear political framework for the future at least in Germany, requires changes not only in electricity production, but also in its distribution and usage. Electric mobility plays a crucial role in this scenario as it introduces a great number of mobile consumers into the grid. This is a chance that we have to make maximum use of.
KH: Our technology makes it possible for electric vehicles to charge when the wind is blowing or when the sun is shining — meaning when there is a maximum of renewable electricity in the grid. As renewable energy production is fluctuating rather than regular, it is important for the grid to be able to balance demand and supply: that’s what smart grids are all about. Making EVs smart consumers makes this task a lot easier.
What has electric mobility been missing in Germany to become mainstream?
KH: What electric mobility has been missing so far is not technological development or a lack of motivation on the customer’s’ side — it is the smart and lucrative business models. Especially for companies that have to manage corporate fleets or utilities wishing to participate in the game of implementing electric mobility, the options have been thin. Our technology creates business models for these players. Individual tariffing of all cars allows for easy and efficient cost management with electric fleets — all costs can simply be allocated to the correct car and billed directly, even if the employees are charging at home. Utilities can offer mobile electricity for EVs, a completely new product on the energy market. Our technology creates business opportunities for companies and make electric mobility fit for daily routines of private customers — electric mobility becomes attractive.
How important is car discharging in the smart grid? Do you think people will eventually be paid to allow the grid to access their car battery?
FP: This is another example for the smart business models Knut just mentioned. Our technology definitely allows for such dynamic pricing models to function. Discharging is important especially in the course of the energy transition that we already mentioned. If car batteries are made accessible to distribution grid managers, fluctuating production becomes much easier to manage. It’ll be very exciting to watch and be part of those developments over the next few years.
How do end customers profit from choosing the ubitricity system?
FP: For EV drivers, our MobileCharging system offers various advantages. They close a contract with an electricity provider of their choice and charge everywhere with this same contract. At the end of the month, they only receive one single bill — no matter when and where they were charging.
KH: Also, the e-roaming option we have created in cooperation with PlugSurfing allows our customers to charge at more than 40,000 charging stations all over Europe — all with one cable and just one RFID (Radio-frequency identification) token. Along with a ubiquitous network of ubitricity charging spots, this offers EV drivers maximum security and comfort.
What are the main difficulties you face growing your business?
FP: Electric mobility is still a very small market — it’s growing, but it’s still small. And it has taken much more time than we originally hoped for the market to reach the level of growth that it has today. This is due to many different reasons — one of them, in Germany it least, certainly being the heavy legal regulations that electric mobility is facing.
KH: Electric mobility is largely a matter for the energy industry and is thus facing many regulatory requirements. In some cases, politics have shown less enthusiasm for innovative ideas than we were hoping for when we got started. However, especially in the international field, we can be very proud of what we have achieved and we see that there’s great interest in our solution all across Europe and beyond.
What has been your favourite moment at ubitricity so far?
KH: For me, it was holding the fully developed product in my hands and seeing that our ideas had become a reality and actually worked the way that we had imagined. That was a great feeling.
FP: That’s definitely true. But it’s also nice to receive acknowledgements and encouragement from other companies and players in the field, for example when we became part of the Global Cleantech 100 List or when we won the pv magazine award last year. It always cheers me up to see that we can convince other people with our idea.
How long would it take in a city like Berlin or Leipzig, to install 1.000 more ubitricity charging stations?
KH: Practically, you could install a thousand SimpleSockets in a city within just a few weeks. As our SimpleSockets are so small and, well, simple, they are quick and easy to install anywhere there’s grid access available. If you have already found a matching location, the installation and activation of the SimpleSocket in itself only takes about half an hour.
Interview by Anne-Sophie Garrigou