The Slovenian company Etrel is an innovative European provider of diverse e-mobility solutions.
Its interactive charging stations, complemented with the advanced OCEAN software suite, are a backbone of any e-mobility business. Etrel’s clients include Petrol, Mer, Sonnen, EDP and Orlen and many more companies. Since May 2021 the company is part of Landis+Gyr Group.
Rok Poteko is Head of Software Sales at Etrel who shared some insights with us about why Etrel is successful in the e-mobility business, why EVs will mean significant change for users and companies as well and about the future foreseeable trends of the e-mobility business.
How did Etrel’s story start?
The company was founded 14 years ago when our CEO and CTO started the business. They positioned the company directly in the e-mobility business and from the beginning we were developing products with grid in mind, that later evolved in the interactive charging concept.
The company has also been involved in large scale EU research projects under the HORIZON scheme both as a consortium leader or as a member when we were invited.
In May 2021 the company became 75% owned by Landis+Gyr Group which is a one of the biggest manufacturers of smart meters in the world.
What are Etrel’s products?
Our product portfolio consists of electric charging solutions, both hardware and software. Moreover we have the in-house development of these products.
We develop and manufacture AC chargers as we believe the AC charging will cover the majority of charging occasions (at home, at work) with the capacity to help stabilize the grid. We have launched several generations of these stations already.
The EV charging & energy management software can manage & control any kind of EV charging stations available on the market that support standard OCPP protocols (AC & DC). The big advantage of the system is that companies can manage centrally large networks of EV chargers from AC and DC chargers installed on public, workplace & private sites enabling various business models and strategies including Load management and aggregation.
Altogether currently chargers managed in our system deliver over 1 million kWh of electricity per month and we plan to increase it to 10 million in the next 2 years. In terms of charging stations we have sold over 25 thousand stations with a plan to exceed 100 thousand in coming year.
What makes Etrel’s charging solutions different from the competitors?
We are offering technologically advanced products with a focus on easy user experience. This is true both for the hardware and for the software.
On the charging stations side we are software agnostic. This means all our hardware equipment are OCCP compliant, this is a protocol used in Europe and beyond. And we are hardware agnostic on the software side, which means our software can manage and control all charging stations that are OCCP compliant. There are more than 70 different charger models already used with our software.
The goal of the software is basically to centrally manage different chargers and offer a unified business case and user experience.
One key feature of both our software and our hardware is that they are very modular. This means that for example they allow different authorization methods. So the charging can be authorized with RFID card, PIN code or even through mobile app which is very useful in case of home or workplace chargers.
Also both of the products are fully customizable to customer needs.
The last thing that I would highlight is that we engage all our clients and partners with a supportive partnership approach. We try to be very personal and sell not only a product but also to give them advice and support.
How does electric mobility change drivers’ life?
It will cause a significant change in the behavior of the users. Especially for the ones who live in houses where they can recharge their cars. Such users will charge the cars at home or at their workplaces. Roughly 90% of all charging happens at home or at work without visiting charging hubs or petrol stations.
The only time when they will have to think about where to charge will be the longer trips. Here of course the charging times will be longer than fueling times today but if you are driving more than 400 kms a 25 minutes stop is useful anyway.
In our view charging at home or charging at the workplace will solve most of the drivers needs and this is why we are focusing on these ones.
How can companies benefit from electric mobility?
This can be different from market to market. But one shared experience is change in total cost of the ownership. It is already lower for EVs than for ICE cars in some countries but it very much depends on local policies such as tax exemptions for EVs.
Of course, big part of this is coming from the cheaper electricity and lower operating cost. This is why most of the companies which buy EVs also invest in charging infrastructure on their premises.
Sometimes they even install charging points at the home of their employees and they reimburse the charging cost which is way cheaper than refueling the ICE car on the petrol stations.
Another aspect is taxation. For example, in Slovenia where Etrel is based if an employee is driving a company car he still has to pay a tax for the benefit. It is 1.5% of the value of the car in case of an ICE car which is a significant cost. If the user is driving an EV the tax rate is only 0.3%. In case of a car with a price of 50,000 EUR this is 750 EUR for the ICE and 150 EUR for the EV. This is a big difference. Other examples for subsidizing EVs around Europe include lower road fees, free parking, even free ferries in Norway for example.
Which countries are the main markets for Etrel and how are CEE countries different from other regions?
Etrel has a global outreach but our focus is Europe. Not only the European Union but the complete European region.
Speaking in terms of business segments and companies our first important customer group is the electricity companies and utilities who are shifting towards e-mobility. Oil and gas companies are another strong segment; they are the ones who operate petrol stations. If the whole industry is moving towards e-mobility they need to make sure they can stay in the business. The third segment for us is OEMs (car manufacturers) who do not only produce electric cars but also want a share from e-mobility industry to compensate for lost profits on maintenance work. Some of them are installing their own charging infrastructure and operating it along with selling the cars. The last big group is telecommunications companies who are also getting interested in this sector to diversify their businesses. There are of course other companies as well who position themselves primarily as charging service companies.
In the CEE region we have a strong position with some powerful names such as Orlen, PGE, Croatian Telecom, Greenway and Renovatio which is the biggest EMP in Romania.
What are your future plans in the emobility business?
We are working hard to roll out new product generations, focusing even more on the importance of interactive charging approach and functionalities that enable flexibility. Furthermore, we are focused on increasing our manufacturing capacity because the demand is growing really fast.
As 2025 is believed to be the breakthrough year for electric mobility, the whole industry has to focus on minimizing the barriers for the EV adoption, one of them is definitely the place to charge. We are contributing our share with sustainable products that support both the user and the grid.
What are the most important trends that you see in electric charging?
What we believe is that the future will see predominantly pure battery electric cars when it comes to passenger cars. We think hydrogen will be more a solution for ships and heavy transportation.
What we see in charging in the long term is that electric cars are huge energy consumers and the power grids will need to increase their capacities. But electric cars will actually help to stabilize the grid if the chargers are connected, controlled and managed.
Charging during the night is a good example because today, night hours are a low consumption period and the electricity is very cheap. There are big efforts to store and consume the electricity produced during the night to stabilize the system and electric cars can bring the solution.
Most likely there will be some regulation that EV chargers will need to be managed.
What we also see as a trend is that charging will be much easier in the future. It will be available everywhere, in the cities, in shopping malls so there will be less range anxiety. Also, the identification will be much easier, probably there will be no need for RFID cards or mobile apps because the car itself will do the identification and even the payment.
Load management will play a massive role and it will have to be smart and supported with compensation for flexibility for the driver.
I would mention autonomous driving as the last big trend but the regulation is a question here. Germany and the UK already plan to issue regulations on this field, and the technology is capable of many things already. But autonomous driving will not only change charging and driving but a lot more. With autonomous driving there will be a decline in ownership of cars. The only question is when this will become reality.
How do you see the possibility of using electric cars to load electricity back to the grid?
There is a lot of communication about vehicle to grid charging. But today this is not yet relevant. If we will be able to minimize excess electricity production this could already bring significant benefits to grid stability. Returning electricity to the grid is still questionable for several reasons. One of them is that the battery is capable of doing a few thousand charging cycles. And if we are enabling vehicle to grid charging, we will multiply the number of cycles shortening the lifecycle of the batteries. This will probably happen but not on the short term.
Q&A about ETREL’s products
Hardware: Etrel calls its charging technology INCH, which is based on the two words ‘interactive’ and ‘charging’. The term INTERACTIVE is more preferred than SMART because it means there is a communication with several actors. If we take for example the case of home or office charging the charger can interact with the:
- User: the charger can learn the behavioural patterns of the user. Also the charger can do cost optimization. If there is a charging window of 8-10 hours, the low triff periods can be used for charging. Users can of course overwrite these rules if needed occasionally.
- The building or location: this means interaction with other elements of the household. This is important because car charging uses more electricity than all other home appliances altogether. So if it is done when everything else is used the power intake can exceed the maximum electric capacity of the household and break the fuse. The charger can also detect if there is surplus power production from solar panels. Using energy directly is always more efficient than selling and buying it back.
- Other chargers on location: when there is more than one charger on location, it is important, that the energy is distributed fair and efficient, so the communication between chargers is of utmost importance. Through cluster capabilities several chargers can connect into one cluster and can communicate with each other. As a result they can perform dynamic power management. For example if they detect there is only limited power available, they can distribute it among themselves.
- Grid: advanced models can interact with the grid to help stabilizing it. The grid can send out signals to the charging controller if it detects that in certain areas the load should be decreased. By adapting their charging pattern chargers can help stabilize the grid in such cases.
Software: Etrel’s OCEAN software a charge-point and energy management system. In comparison with petrol fuel stations where the transaction happens on the site, electric chargers are managed centrally. This also means that different services can be built in the charge-point management system and offered to the EV driver for example via the mobile app.
Etrel offers its software not only to the charge point operators but also to e-mobility service providers – who offer charging services to the EV drivers.
With one centralized system provided by Etrel e-mobility companies can manage different locations – public locations, workplace chargers, home location – thanks to the configurability of the system.