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Plug and Charge protocol: Charging your electric vehicle like your smartphone - it's almost possible!

plug and charge electric vehicle

Imagine you're on your way to the vacations. You've set off at 5 a.m. in your beautiful electric car. You've left all your problems behind to get some rest. You're already imagining yourself lying on the beach, under the sun, with the sound of the waves gently breaking on the fine sand.

The road is pleasant, the driving quiet, you can hear your favorite music and all is well. But a few hours and several hundred kilometers later, you suddenly hear a warning sound. You look at your dashboard and see that you've only got 20% of your battery left. So you decide to go and recharge at the nearest freeway service area, equipped with fast-charging stations. You park, connect the CCS cable attached to the terminal to your vehicle, and get ready to activate recharging using your operator card.

And then you start to panic. You search your pockets, your wallet, your car... your card is nowhere to be found. So what do you do? Scan a QR code to make an online payment? No luck this time: you can't connect to the Internet from your smartphone. After 15 minutes or so of searching the whole freeway, you finally manage to connect to the web and pay for your top-up. You leave, annoyed, and resume a journey that had begun so well.

The electric car industry is well aware of this problem, which can waste up to 15 minutes per charge. That's why some fifteen major players have joined forces to propose a solution that will make life easier for you and all electric vehicle users: the "plug & charge" protocol.

The concept is simple: you plug in, load up, and go. How convenient is that? But how are you billed? It sounds almost too simple to be true... Read on to find out all about the plug & charge protocol!

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What is "plug & charge"?

An agreement between several players

The plug & charge protocol is the result of an agreement between several parties on a standard. Various elements interact in the operation, and each element is managed by a different entity. 


You connect a charging cable to your vehicle, which will have been manufactured by a carmaker(Renault, Volkswagen, Kia, Audi...). Then you're going to connect your electric car to a charging station made by another manufacturer, operated by an operator like Freshmile or Ionity... All these players in your recharging process need to act together and get their act together, so that you can drive away with a full battery without having suffered any inconvenience, and in the simplest way possible, while avoiding the risk of someone ill-intentioned posing as you to recharge their vehicle at your expense.


This agreement is reflected in the adoption of a technological standard: ISO 15118.


For example, the players agree on the different certificates to be used (which makes it possible to uniquely identify that it is your vehicle, linked to your recharging contract, that is connecting and not another).

ISO 15118 standard

Plug and Charge protocol

In use and on paper, the technology may seem very simple. Behind the screen, it's nothing of the sort. 


The electricity grid is a sensitive infrastructure. Imagine for a moment that someone pretends to be you and connects to your charging contract at your expense. You'd immediately lose confidence in the technologies you're using (car, charging station, operator...).


During a recharge, your electric vehicle and the charging station exchange a large volume of information. 


To guarantee the security and integrity of this information, your electric car and the charging station need to exchange data in a completely secure way, to prevent potential attacks or malicious actions against you through ill-intentioned use of the information exchanged.  


To achieve this, the Plug & Charge protocol must be able to :

  • Encrypt and decrypt the data to ensure that no third party or malicious actor is able to retrieve the information. This guarantees confidentiality.
  • Detect whether a received data message has been altered between sender and recipient. This guarantees data integrity.
  • Check that the person you are talking to (the electric vehicle or the charging station) is who he or she claims to be. This guarantees authenticity. 


The ISO 15118 standard (on which the Plug & Charge protocol is based) specifies a set of cryptographic algorithms that guarantee the necessary level of confidentiality and verify both the integrity and authenticity of exchanged data.


In a nutshell, you pay for what you use for your refill, securely.

The protocol in practice

Plug and charge!

When you take out a contract with a recharging operator, if your vehicle is compatible, the Plug & Charge protocol enables you to recharge your electric car without even having to take out your bank card - even easier than at the gas pump! Your vehicle authenticates itself via the unique digital certificate, and you're automatically billed. Don't waste any more time looking for one of your three electric car charging cards. Just plug in and charge!


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Advantages and disadvantages

Plug & Charge is so easy to use, and the convenience it brings is something you won't want to do without. You can forget all about the hassle of recharging cards and activating charging points. You can save up to a good fifteen minutes per charge, so you can resume your journey with a smile on your face. 


On the other hand, there are still a few challenges that Plug and Charge has not yet met, or is in the process of meeting.


The first is the democratization of this protocol. For everything to work as planned, we need 

  1. Your vehicle is designed (physically) for plug & charge operation
  2. The terminal you are connecting to allows this


While more and more carmakers are adopting the protocol(BMW, Stellantis, Volkswagen...), few public charging stations offer it to date. However, the democratization of the protocol has accelerated in recent years. Automakers are betting on using it, and kiosk operators are increasingly integrating it, such as Ionity, which recently launched it on its network.


Please note that recharging at public charging stations is not the only way to recharge. Don't hesitate to contact us here so that our experts can find you the best recharging solution, fully customized and adapted to your needs!

Plug and Charge protocol

In a nutshell

The Plug and Charge protocol, based on the ISO 15118 standard, is a major technological advance. The process of recharging an electric vehicle has been greatly simplified, and deployment of this innovation is imminent. 


What's more, the ISO 15118 standard opens up the field of possibilities for future innovations or those currently being deployed, such as V2G (vehicle-to-grid: a technology that enables electric current to be fed back into the grid from an electric vehicle's battery) or induction charging (wireless charging). We hope to see these next innovations appear very soon, and will tell you more about them as soon as we've had a chance to test them.


Finally, and more generally, if you would like to know more about electric vehicle charging, I invite you to download our white paper which will answer all your questions. If you still haven't found the answer you're looking for, please don't hesitate to contact one of our advisers just here.


What do you think of Plug & Charge? Have you ever wasted time trying to activate a charging station? Tell us all about it in the comments section.

Picture of Adrien-Maxime MENSAH
Adrien-Maxime MENSAH

If you believe in the electrification of vehicles, you're already halfway towards your ecological transition. That's why I'm offering you some content on the electric vehicle environment.

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