A network for simple charing
An interview with Christian Hahn, Chief Executive Officer of Hubject GmbH
Mr. Hahn, the idea behind Hubject is, in brief, to make complicated, complex issues in the field of the e-mobility charging infrastructure easy. What is the principle according to which the Intercharge network works?
Anyone, who has ever driven an electric car, has found out sooner or later that it has be charged again at some point in time. And precisely this can quickly become complicated, because in Germany, European-wide there are hundreds or thousands of companies that operate charging stations. Which is a great thing - the more, the better. However, problems frequently arise here because the charging process is usually linked with a membership of a type of "association". This of course leads to the situation that a customer is quickly overwhelmed: What does he or she now have to do precisely to take part? This is precisely what we are trying to solve, by operating a B2B roaming platform, which enables all players to register their charging stations and share them with drivers of electric cars. This means precisely what you said, we are trying to make something complicated as simple as possible, namely to network the different operators.
You are indeed active on the B2B section, but ultimately make it easier for the end consumers, who according to a report by the Bayerische Rundunk (Bavarian radio station) on average are currently cardholders of three different suppliers. Regardless of the drivers' respective membership, cars can be charged using the stations of different suppliers, because your platform enables the suppliers to settle the respective payments with each other.
Exactly, that is how one can envisage it, that if possible every company involved in the electromobility sector registers with us. And we have developed for this purpose a compatibility symbol - the Intercharge symbol. That means, when e-car drivers see the Intercharge symbol, they know that they can charge their vehicle without a qualm. The great thing about it is that in the meantime 80 of the German companies have joined our platform, on a European basis a similar percentage has been achieved. Consequently, the customers are also used to the fact that the system works. This is why we are currently asking ourselves on the one hand how the white spots that still exist can be exploited. And on the other hand, the demands in the next phase of electromobility also interest us. For example, we want to make more data available so that the person at the wheel not only knows where the next charging station is, but also so that he knows directly how well this charging station has been rated by other electric vehicle drivers. This will allow non-experts to be won over too. The keyword "Seamless easy charging everywhere" - that is precisely what we want to achieve.
That sounds exciting. You mentioned the theme challenges. Recently among others the "Handelsblatt" reported that thousands of charging stations do not conform with the calibration laws. The authorities more or less tolerate this at the moment because the only action they could possibly take would be to shut down the charging stations, which would possibly ultimately lead to the infrastructure collapsing. These are of course announcements that worry the end consumers. How do you evaluate such news messages? Which signals are important in your opinion to create more transparency and also more trust?
You have brought up a good theme, the theme of trust. It is of course an elementary asset in every industry, not just in the electromobility industry. That is a certain challenge in itself already, simply because of the lack of maturity on the market. Even if we have been talking about electromobility for a relatively long time already, the subject only really started taking off two or three years ago. We are currently talking about 48.3 million cars in total in Germany. Of these vehicles, to-date only just under half a million have a purely battery-powered electric drive. That means there is still huge potential. But we will only be able to exploit this if we manage to persuade people to trust the charging process of electric vehicles. That is why one should try to enable charging to take place everywhere. Many customers charge their vehicles at home or at their employer's premises. But we assume it will be possible to charge vehicles everywhere in future: At the restaurant, in front of the supermarket, next to the cinema – an intact and uncomplicated charging station will be available in these places. What we are also noticing is that many people simply require more advice and support - particularly when purchasing an electric vehicle from a car dealer.
Where do the problems lie still?
Whether you believe it or not - it is partly the most trivial things that can cause problems, simply because of lacking experience. The order of the charging process for example: Do I have to plug in the charger first and then operate the app or the other way round? And if it is doesn't work, this experience remains engraved in the user's memory. That is why we the industry have to invest more. But one mustn't forget either - you just mentioned the example of "calibration" - that new demands are heading our way that always demand a little bit more, although the foundation hasn't even been built up correctly yet. At this point, many companies are still faced with big challenges because they are caught between legal requirements on the one hand and a good customer experience on the other. And then the decision mainly falls in favour of the legal demands, because nobody wants to "get into trouble", customer satisfaction often then plays a subordinate role. That is all too frequently still the status quo. This will change and it will change relatively fast. We are currently still in a phase, where it is perhaps also quite normal that the challenges are so present. Incidentally, here we also think the cities and communities have to do more. If one takes a look at where charging stations are arising, today it is still frequently in the private or semi-public sector and on motorways. In my opinion, it is therefore a major challenge that cities and communities have to take on a bigger role in supporting and pushing the development of the charging infrastructure in a targeted manner.
Hubject has been cooperating with ubitricity since 2020. The Berlin-based start-up equips street lamps with unobtrusive charging solutions to strengthen the public charging infrastructure. © ubitricity
However, like the industry, the public sector isn't able to accomplish the task alone...
Yes, that is why we are striving to initiate an exchange. We want to strengthen cities and communities in their role, because this transformation won't work without them. If we carry on like we have done so far, we will simply find ourselves chasing our goals more and more. It was recently calculated that on average Germany only manages to install just under 1,000 charging stations a month in the public sector. In order to achieve our growth targets, we would have to install 2,000 charging stations every week, not every month. That means we have a deficit of 7,000 per month, which grows continually. I think we have to have a stronger and clearer perspective of the cities and communities regarding how this development could be organised in future. Because of course we know: Setting up charging stations can for instance have an impact on the electricity network, on the theme parking management. There are many framework conditions that have to be taken into account here. And here the cities and communities in particular are called upon to create corresponding guidelines and framework conditions for the further development and expansion of the charging infrastructure on a local level.
There are indeed efforts from the public sector in the course of the digital structural changes to train cities with the aid of subsidies and different programmes, to generate blueprints, keywords here are digital model communities, Smart City, real labs, etc. One often gets the impression that the concept of expanding the charging infrastructure is frequently not included as a priority here, if at all. Do you have an explanation for this? Is this topic too complex? Or do the communities, their subsidiaries and the private companies in the transport and energy sector have to become more interlinked?
This is a point that can be viewed from two different perspectives. Of course, nowadays many communities have urban energy providers, the municipal utilities, the communal utilities - and one does try to involve them in the theme. But these companies are faced with many challenges along the way. The expansion of the charging infrastructure has a strong economic impact, to put it in simple terms, it is whether the development of charging stations is worthwhile or not. And a corresponding investment usually doesn't pay off for the low volumes involved. That means that one would have to invest in the future, which is however difficult under such high economic pressure. One possibility is to perhaps partly take these processes away from the communities, which is always difficult, but which can also be practical. We have to reach the urban and regional centres but at the end of the day also wider areas across the whole of Germany, because that is where a high demand for mobility exists. We will only create acceptance for electric vehicles if one also has the feeling that a good infrastructure is in place across the country.
Especially since the conventional petrol station is in case of doubt closer than the next charging station. Which experiences have been made in this connection in the European comparison - and how does Germany rank?
Due to the fact that the demands vary greatly in the European countries, I think that Germany has already achieved good results - but there is still room for improvement too. In Germany, no combustion vehicles are supposed to be sold from 2040 onwards, but a law hasn't been stipulated in concrete form yet. In other states the situation is clearer: There is a ban on combustion engines for new vehicles from 2030 onwards. That means there are only eight or nine years left to achieve this turnaround; whether a practicable solution can be found for everyone by then is definitely questionable - this applies everywhere. And if one wants to avoid for example the rural population being left in the lurch, the pace has to be increased significantly - and solutions have to be found to not only accommodate new car buyers. Hence, I find it very important that we support the communities more and encourage them to build charging stations. For example, perhaps smaller businesses could get involved in the theme more strongly. I think there are many possible incentives.
Hubject has taken on the challenges of e-mobility. To put it crudely: There are without doubt simpler areas of business. What incited this involvement? And based on that: What is your future vision?
This interlinking of different perspectives from the car and energy sectors as well as hardware, software and technologies can of course be complicated, as well as demanding. However, when it all works or is at least moving in the right direction, at the end of the day one of the biggest causes for CO2 emissions will become much less harmful to the climate - this is the only way we can slow the climate change down or perhaps even stop it one day. I am indeed hopeful, also with regards to the markets that are currently developing. Indonesia or the Philippines for example are considering betting on electric vehicles from the very start, which could lead to a huge volume of new cars, which the global market will in turn benefit from. The credo that was formulated in emerging markets for a long time in the past that one has a "right to make the same mistakes as other countries" is making way for a sustainable understanding for innovation. The much easier production of electric vehicles compared to conventional combustion-engine vehicles is furthermore favourable for the emergence of small, local production plants. As such, vehicles are becoming more diversified again and can be more readily aligned to meet the small-scale needs of the mobility sector. In the end, the result will be - so to say - a driving smartphone. I consider it to be a great opportunity to accompany this industrial revolution 2.0.
Thank you very much for talking to us.
Christian Hahn is the CEO of Hubject, the world's largest eRoaming platform. Initially employed as Director Business Development & Administration since 2021, he took over managing the company in 2015 and now focuses on the sections Strategy, Investor Relations and the global development of the company. After taking a degree in Economical Engineering (Majoring in Environmental and Change Management), he initially specialised in consulting within the energy supply sector and was responsible for strategy & business development, business process optimisation and project management, smart energy, intelligent networks and smart metering.
Csilla Letay and David O‘Neill