With the explosion in sales of electric vehicles (EVs) the global infrastructure supporting EV charging stations is exploding as well. What is also developing is the software needed to run these charging stations – and Finland’s Virta is leading the way, supporting both users and suppliers with what could become the global industry standard.
European Market leader Virta doesn’t do hardware or get involved with installing EV charging stations. What it does do is develop systems that are compatible, no matter what the hardware or charging station being installed. To put it another way, Virta’s cloud-based platform includes everything needed to build a charging business, from charging infrastructure management to end customer services and smart energy management solutions. But different companies in different countries use different kinds of hardware – and this is where Virta’s solution really shines.
“There are a lot of different charging station models around the world,” explains Jussi Ahtikari, CTO at Virta. “Our solution is currently compatible with more than 200 of them and we’re growing that number all the time. This is critical, since there is a clear market need for an open platform that works with all kinds of hardware and all across the globe.”
Virta has several different customers. The first is companies who own the charging stations, such as utility companies or hotels or anyone else offering EV charging. Virta provides management software that is connected to the charging station and allows the company to process payments, troubleshoot, see what needs maintenance, and get an overview of usage so they can optimize accordingly.
The second group is people owning or driving an EV. Virta provides payment solutions and a mobile app that allows the user to see all available charging stations from all the different companies in the Virta network.
“Essentially, our business model services both the consumer and the provider,” says Ahtikari. “This is different from other companies working in this space. Some provide both hardware and software, which means they manufacture the charging station and then provide a simple software solution to manage it.”
When you buy a solution that has both hardware and software you can get locked in, unable to easily change to a different software solution or buy new hardware from another company. Virta’s open solution, which allows customers to get whatever hardware they want from whomever they want and even have ten different models on the market, offers much needed flexibility and helps avoid the headaches of lock in effects.
Challenges & Solutions
When you’re working with global payment solutions, there are a number challenges that need to be addressed. Mobile payment systems can sound simple, but in reality, they can be quite complex, particularly when you’re talking about cross-border payments.
“Last year, I drove my EV to Sweden and had difficulties charging it because to use the local charging solution I had to download an app, register, then wait for verification to arrive at my home – where I wasn’t at. It just didn’t work smoothly,” explains Ahtikari. “There are local regulations and other challenges when it comes to payments, such as which currency the payment will be in, who gets the taxes, etc. In the end it’s a complicated issue – it’s not like a regular gas station, where you have local terminals where you just pop in your card.”
Virta is addressing these challenges by offering EV drivers the entire Virta network, which reaches across nearly 30 countries. This means you need just one account to access EV charging stations, location maps, and other features in any of the countries ´Virta operates in. Virta is also building a roaming map for charging networks, which is basically like telecom roaming, where you use the local network for your phone.
Speaking of roaming (and connectivity)
Charging stations using Virta’s solution are equipped with Tele2 IoT SIM cards, but this wasn’t always the case. When Virta first started offering its solution in 2014, they worked with a local Finnish telco, connecting around 30 charging stations.
“We noticed pretty quickly that as our operations expanded into more and more countries, we needed a better connectivity solution,” says Ahtikari. “We didn’t want to negotiate with individual operators every time we entered a new country, so we needed a telecom that could offer global connectivity, as well as roaming. Tele2 IoT had the right agreements with operators across the globe.