Does blockchain technology open up new avenues in the field of electromobility? Can decentralized processes that are controlled by a large network be used to convert individual mobility on the road to electrified vehicles and sustainable energy resources? These questions are the starting point of the following blog post of our series on blockchain. In addition to smart contracts, which we discussed in the last blog post, electromobility is another field in which technical innovation and intelligent billing processes can bring significant value via blockchain.
In general, electromobility means the use of electrified vehicles for individual mobility. It relies on a form of power based on the storage of energy in memories (batteries) installed in the vehicle, possibly as hybrid supplementation to an internal combustion engine. Thus, electromobility is a key element of a sustainable and climate-friendly transport system based on renewable energies. Despite the primary advantage – reducing emissions – there are some disadvantages for the consumer. The main issue is “range”, the distance an electrical vehicle can cover with one charge/fill, which is still restricted compared to vehicles with an internal combustion engine. Depending on the model and the driving style, this is sometimes only 100 kilometres. Long battery charging time is another negative aspect. It is therefore necessary to create an infrastructure, away from home and the workplace, which allows continuous recharging of batteries – where the vehicle is in a position to be on the spot for longer periods of time.
Where could blockchain come into play?
Short-term charging while out on the road is another consideration and here it is likely that operators of the charging stations will have to foot the bill for construction and operation of the infrastructure. Interesting concepts are currently being developed here which aim to make the infrastructure financially viable.
WE and Slock.it, for example, are already using blockchain-based technology together with other partners. Some time ago, the partners began to create a uniform, cost-effective and independent system for the payment at charging stations for electric cars. After the prototype of the automatic charging and payment concept, “Blockcharge” completed the beta phase in October 2016 and the first charging columns were set up in April of this year, the so-called “Car eWallet” is there to simplify payment procedures. The developers rely on the Ethereum blockchain and aim to enable user to make payments “on-the-go” for e-vehicle battery charging.
The concept unifies – roughly speaking – three industries in a single P2P transaction: the electricity provider, the financial services provider and the automobile manufacturer. After the online transfer by the user from a domestic computer or by means of a special app, Car eWallet is authorized to carry out payments up to a certain limit independently after a loading process. At the same time, it can accept payments. No separate registration is required to use the individual charging stations in the system. Once the connection to the charging station is established, the vehicle batteries are charged and the fees are paid automatically via Car eWallet.
This approach is also intended to allow inductive charging – for example during a red light phase at the traffic light or at pedestrian crossing. These charges could transfer only small amounts of energy into the vehicle but the cooperation partners emphasize that every kilometre counts regarding the range of electric cars. Thanks to its Micropayment function, Car eWallet is able to offset even the smallest payment amounts.
Other developers are currently working on an app called “Share&Charge”. The app brings owners of private charging stations and e-drivers together. Billing here is also carried out using blockchain technology. Private providers can register their charging stations on the system and make them available to followers online. E-drivers, who are also registered, can then search for a free charging option via the app.
In addition to its applications in electromobility, the “automobile wallet” has further reach. For example, it should be possible to handle the payment of motorway tolls, parking, car sharing and delivery service fees. Automation and high functionality for these applications would be ensured by blockchain technology.
What legal aspects need to be considered?
The typical, system-immanent areas of tensions also apply to the field of electromobility. Mainly due to the unalterability of the blockchain, the civil law perspective is most relevant. Purchasing and service contracts may be void or ineffective, which the blockchain does not recognize. A solution would be required – particularly for smaller charges – which offers corrections for the case of performance issues solely with an ex nunc (future) effect. When using the blockchain in a technically innovative context, patent law also plays a prominent role. The rights of the inventors have to be preserved. As always, data protection and the preservation of information self-determination play a role. Last but not least, it must be clear who owns the data obtained through a decentralized charging and payment system. The ability to evaluate such data in the sense of “big data” is an extremely valuable asset.
In summary, blockchain technology can certainly be used to facilitate the urgently needed expansion of the electromobility infrastructure and simplify payment procedures in the system. Here, however, it is still early days and the wider framework of legislation needs to play its part by providing legal certainty for the use of blockchains.