Charge point operator

Table of Contents

Charge point operator

A charge point operator (CPO) is a pivotal player in the electric mobility industry, responsible for building, installing and maintaining electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. They manage backend technologies to ensure reliable charging operations and serve as the bridge between charging infrastructure and e-mobility service providers, who engage directly with EV drivers. In essence, CPOs influence the quality of the charging experience by curating and managing the essential elements of the EV charging process.

A brief timeline of the EV evolution

The evolution of electric vehicle charging infrastructure is intricately linked with the historical development of electric vehicles. Here is a brief overview of these two:

  • Mid-19th century: the first appearance of electric vehicles (EVs)
  • Early 20th century: In 1910, the 6kW Wattstation, an early prototype of charging equipment for electric cars, was introduced.
  • Electric cars were initially toys for the rich and famous.
  • In 1914, General Motors (GM) introduced the first direct current DC charging station called the "Electrant."
  • The Electrant charging stations were placed around cities to charge tens of thousands of electric cars.
  • The charging connector design was similar to the current EV charger design, featuring a single-cell coaxial connection.
  • Late 20th century: Introduction of the 1772 plug and inductive coupler in the United States.
  • 21st century: Introduction of the five-hole structure of alternating current (AC).
  • Gradual introduction of the combined alternating current and direct current (AC/DC) charging interface of CCS1.
  • Mention of the upcoming MCS interface for MW-class high-power fast charging (3000A charging connector structures).
  • As for the term “charge point operator”, a pivotal concept in the EV charging infrastructure, it has organically evolved alongside the growth and maturation of the electric vehicle charging ecosystem. 

What’s the difference between CPO, eMSP and charge point owners? 

In the dynamic landscape of e-mobility, three key entities play distinct yet interconnected roles: charge point operators (CPOs), e-mobility service providers (eMSPs) and charge point owners. But they are distinct from each other. 

CPOs serve as the backbone of the industry, undertaking the construction, installation and maintenance of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as mentioned above. Beyond the physical aspects, they navigate backend technologies, ensuring seamless charging operations and often collaborating with diverse EV charging station vendors. It has to be noted that CPOs may either own and operate their own charging stations or extend their services to third-party owners, reflecting the flexibility and diversity within this sector. 

On the other hand, e-Mobility services providers (eMSPs) emerge as key customer-facing players. These entities directly engage with EV drivers, offering a suite of services that enhance the end user experience. eMSPs manage customer interactions through tools such as access cards, mobile apps and responsive customer support. Critically, while eMSPs do not typically own the physical charging infrastructure, they forge collaborations with CPOs and charge point owners to deliver comprehensive and user-friendly charging solutions. 

Meanwhile, charge point owners represent the entities or individuals directly responsible for the ownership of physical charging stations. Whether owned by private businesses, government entities, or individuals, charge point owners may choose to operate the charging stations themselves or enlist the services of CPOs for installation, maintenance and backend operations. 

This triad of CPOs, eMSPs and charge point owners collectively shapes the evolving electric mobility landscape, with each entity contributing its unique expertise to foster an efficient and user-centric charging infrastructure. 

Roles and responsibilities of CPOs

Infrastructure development

CPOs strategically plan and deploy electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, selecting optimal locations based on demand and accessibility. Collaborating with property owners, businesses and municipalities is crucial to secure suitable sites for the development and deployment of EV charging stations. 

Hardware installation and maintenance 

CPOs oversee the selection and installation of charging hardware, including stations and associated equipment. They conduct regular inspections and maintenance procedures to ensure peak performance, promptly addressing any technical issues that may arise in the charging infrastructure. 

Backend management

Charge point operators handle backend management by establishing and maintaining a network that connects charging stations. This enables real-time monitoring, technical issue detection, billing and payment and user authentication through a centralized system. CPOs use this backend infrastructure to ensure efficiency, reliability and seamless operation of the entire electric vehicle charging network. 

Network management

CPOs orchestrate network management, constructing an interconnected system of charging stations that communicates seamlessly with a central energy management system. They implement smart charging solutions, which optimize energy distribution and effectively manage peak demand to ensure the efficient operation of the electric vehicle charging network.

Operational monitoring

CPOs also conduct real-time operational monitoring of charging stations, swiftly identifying and addressing issues. They employ remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance strategies, minimizing downtime and ensuring the continual efficiency of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 

Regulatory compliance

One of CPOs’ core tasks is to ensure compliance to regulations by staying informed about and adhering to local, regional and national regulations that govern EV charging infrastructure. They proactively secure necessary permits and approvals and navigate the regulatory landscape to successfully install and operate charging stations. 

User support 

User support, often facilitated through eMSPs, is integral for CPOs. This entails delivering responsive customer support, addressing inquiries and assisting with technical issues to ensure a positive charging experience. Educating users on station functionality and promoting best practices is a key tool to enhance overall satisfaction within the EV charging network. 

Data management and reporting 

Data management – which comprises analyzing charging station usage, energy consumption and user behavior – is one of the important duties of CPOs. Charge point operators produce regular internal reports and share pertinent data with regulatory authorities or partners as needed to facilitate informed decision-making. Real-time data management also optimizes the performance of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 

Marketing and outreach 

CPOs also develop marketing initiatives to highlight the accessibility and advantages of their charging network. Through proactive outreach, they attract new users and establish valuable partnerships with stakeholders in the e-mobility ecosystem, fostering the growth and visibility of EV charging infrastructure.

Security and safety 

And lastly, charge point operators prioritize security and safety, implement robust measures to protect both the charging stations and user data. Rigorous adherence to safety standards, along with regular inspections, ensures the ongoing compliance to and reliability of the electric vehicle charging network.

Major CPOs in Europe

gridX’s analysis of Europe’s major charge point operators in Europe listed the top players along three key factors: capacity, charging speed and the number of publicly available charge points. This comprehensive approach allowed us to highlight prominent players shaping the landscape of electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the continent. You can also find this section in our detailed EV Charging Report in Europe in 2023.

By capacity

The major charge point operators in Europe, led by Tesla with a dominant 13.1% market share, operate extensively across multiple countries. IONITY and Virta are notable for their wide coverage, encompassing 24 and 25 countries, respectively. The top ten operators, including Allego, Mer and Recharge, account for significant capacity. Beyond dedicated CPOs, oil providers Enel X and EnBw and retailer Lidl also contribute to the diverse and changing landscape of EV charging infrastructure. 

By charging speed

CPOs in Europe exhibit varying charging speed focuses. Tesla and EnBw maintain a mixed portfolio, with clusters of slow, medium and fast chargers, including a significant share of high power chargers (HPC), 48% for Tesla and 34% for EnBW. IONITY and Aral Pulse specialize in HPC, with over 80% of their chargers supplying 100 kilowatt (kW) or more; while others like Recharge and Enel X, emphasize lower power chargers, with HPC points ranging from 15% to 1%. 

By number of charge points

When it comes to numbers of charge points, dedicated CPOs like Virta, Allego, Freshmile, Be Charge and Mer dominate. Two energy providers, Enel X and Vattenfall, secure spots in the top ten. Tesla retains its leading position, albeit with a reduced market share, while EVBox, a Dutch wallbox manufacturer, joins as a second original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Geographic coverage remains consistent, with an average of 12 countries covered by each operator. 

The challenges CPOs face

While major charge point operators in Europe exhibit notable successes, their journey is not without hurdles. CPOs face bottlenecks that can only be solved through the cooperation of multiple stakeholders.

Grid connection time

Prolonged timelines for establishing grid connection points hinder rapid expansion and responsiveness to increasing demand for electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure.

Process complexity

The intricate and bureaucratic processes involved in acquiring permits, approvals and regulatory compliance pose challenges, slowing down the deployment of charging stations.

Limited grid capacity

Access to sufficient grid capacity is a persistent challenge, impacting the ability of CPOs to meet the growing needs of EV charging networks.

Interoperability issues 

Lack of standardized communication protocols and interoperability among different charging networks can create inconveniences for users and hinder seamless cross-network operations.

User education and awareness 

Many potential users lack awareness of the benefits and functionality of EV charging infrastructure, requiring significant efforts in education and outreach to encourage adoption.

Capital investment 

The substantial upfront capital required for infrastructure deployment, along with ongoing operational costs, poses financial challenges for CPOs, affecting the pace of network expansion.

Regulatory ambiguities

EV charging regulation is constantly evolving, can be ambiguous and differs from country to country. This can create uncertainties, slowing down decision-making and investments in charging infrastructure.

Competition and market saturation

The entrance of more players in the EV charging sector is leading to increased competition and growing market saturation. This makes it more challenging for CPOs to differentiate themselves and maintain profitability in a crowded marketplace.

How digital solutions ease CPO’s challenges 

To address these bottlenecks, charge point operators must embrace innovative digital solutions as a strategic business plan.

Dynamic load management and grid protection

Implementing dynamic load management allows CPOs to intelligently distribute charging loads and constantly maximize charging capacity without the risk of overloading the grid. This minimizes or mitigates the need for costly grid extensions and enables uninterrupted charging services.

Peak shaving strategies 

Employing peak shaving techniques enables CPOs to smooth out demand spikes during peak hours by shifting loads, thereby keeping grid fees to a minimum. By strategically managing charging activities, CPOs can more efficiently manage energy resources, to have more charging infrastructure with minimal costs.

Investment in energy storage and local energy supply

Installing photovoltaic (PV) systems at charging sites allows electric vehicles to be charged directly by local renewable energy supply. Deploying energy storage solutions provides additional flexibility to then store excess energy during periods of low demand or high supply and release it during peak times, or when the sun is no longer shining. This balances grid load, minimizes costs and emissions and ensures uninterrupted charging services. However, an intelligent energy management system is key to connect these assets and optimize the energy flows between them to ensure the most sustainable and efficient use of local power.

Seamless user experience

Quick, seamless and intuitive user experiences are crucial to promote more widespread adoption of electric vehicles. As such, holistic solutions that simplify billing processes and promote greater connectivity and transparency are crucial for EV drivers.

Standardized communication protocols 

Advocating for and adopting standardized communication protocols like EEBus and OCPP ensures interoperability among different charging networks. This simplifies user experiences, making it easier for EV owners to access charging stations seamlessly, irrespective of the operator.

Innovative business models

Exploring innovative business models, such as partnerships with local businesses or municipalities, can help overcome land constraints by identifying unconventional but accessible locations for charging stations.

Strategic expansion

CPOs can strategically expand into regions with less saturated markets to avoid direct competition and foster sustainable growth. This approach mitigates challenges associated with increased competition and enhances the operator's market share.

By adopting these solutions, charge point operators can navigate challenges, enhance the reliability and efficiency of their charging infrastructure and contribute to the broader success of electric mobility.