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Micromobility: Charge Together, Play Together

Charging systems for electric scooters and bikes are a mess. The standards setting body SAE wants to change this – and cities are getting behind them.  

Almost every brand of electric scooter and bike out there will have a different charging system. Even the same brand can sometimes have different charge ports between its own models. This is reminiscent of the situation with mobile phone chargers in the 2000s and is neither cost effective nor environmentally sustainable – not to mention practical.

Consumers and cities want electric vehicles that can be charged universally and do not require chargers specific to each make and model. Furthermore, cities that are looking to invest in micromobility docking and charging infrastructure need a one-size-fits-all approach. But with so many different devices on the market, it can be challenging to get every micromobility provider and manufacturer on the same page.

This situation has led to the standards body SAE International forming a Micromobility Battery Standards Committee. The committee is looking to solve discrepancies among bike and scooter providers by finding interconnectivity between charging infrastructure and these vehicles, and establishing a universal system for their battery management.

“[Cities] have been very vocal to us that ‘we’re not investing in one infrastructure that supports only two of the companies operating in our city,’ ” Kevin Moravick (chair of the committee) told Automotive News. “That’s like having a gas station that not everybody can use — it’s just so impractical.”

Personal comment:

Opposition to standardising components often come in the form of claims that it could stifle innovation, slow down research, limit a manufacturers’ ability to innovate, or limit the functionality of devices – as it did in the case of smart-phones. However, whereas proprietary charging systems like Apple’s Lightning port can be a source of huge royalties from third party accessories, charging ports for e-bikes and scooters are unlikely to be as exciting or lucrative. And there are plenty of good reasons to standardise the charging equipment for electric bikes and scooters.

First of all, in the shared micromobility space, incompatibility prevents the transition to more efficient charging models. Currently, the dominant practice of e-scooter operators (with the exception of Tier and Voi) is still to physically pick up scooters and pile them in the back of vans to charge at night – a practice which understandably reduces their unit lifespan. But as the article points out, a common standard would enable cities and operators alike to invest in shared charging infrastructure. This comes as some e-scooter operators are already starting to experiment with implementing charging systems at convenience stores and cities like Aarhus are trialing mandatory parking at e-scooter hotspots instead of allowing the vehicles to be completely free-floating. A number of startups and cities are also rolling out e-scooter docking stations. All these efforts would be considerably helped along by a common charging standard. 

Secondly, even though chargers currently come included with purchases of e-scooters and bikes, they are of course not cost-free. The mess of incompatible charging standards will add to the cost of every purchase at a time when micromobility devices are needed more than ever.

Thirdly, there is the issue of e-waste. Shared e-scooter and e-bike operators constantly iterate on their vehicle designs. Almost all of the big name e-scooter operators have switched manufacturing partners several times – each time resulting in probably thousands of discarded charging components and the need to purchase new chargers. This presents an even bigger problem when it comes to privately owned units, with just e-bikes expected to outsell cars in the EU by 2025 – hitting annual sales volumes of 7 million. Unless chargers can be standardised, every one of those 7 million e-bikes sold to individuals will likely ship with chargers included. And not only will standardising help avoid the unecessary creation of a lot of e-waste, but it will also make battery and component re-use, refurbishment and recycling much simpler to achieve. 

As charging systems in the smart-phone market have congregated in recent years around three different standards (microUSB, USB C and Lightning) we are finally starting to see more and more brands shipping phones without a charger included. Hopefully, players in the micromobility space can better the experience of the smart-phone industry (which has been around since the original iPhone in 2007) and arrive at the conclusion that there is more to be gained from standardising sooner rather than later.

Written by Bobby Chen,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Elektromobilitet)