It's a well-known problem among electric car owners: accumulating the memberships and authorization cards from enough charging networks in your area so you're sure to have the right one when you pull up to a charging station.

Now a new company, Liberty Plug-Ins, suggests that maybe all those cards and tags and fobs aren't necessary.

Liberty wants to let you use your mobile phone to get an authorization code for any charging station, meaning you could leave the key-ring of cards at home.

The company's core technology is a Synchronous Code Generation system that gives users a code that will unlock a charging station.

The charging station operator must install Liberty's software on each station, to allow it to be unlocked on input of the correct code.

Initially, Liberty is targeting parking industry operators, fleets, municipal bodies, and real-estate companies that manage multiple-unit dwellings--essentially any group that wants to offer charging services but doesn't want the headaches of maintaining a payment processing system.

"Parking operators need to be ready to meet the demand for parking spaces with electric-car charging capability,” said Chris Outwater, the CEO of Liberty Plugins. “Mobile payments make adding this feature simple and cost-effective" for both drivers and parking-lot operators.

Two weeks ago, Liberty announced it had partnered with QuickPay, which offers a mobile-phone payment platform. QuickPay is the latest in a group of such vendors that have partnered with Liberty, including PayByPhone, ParkNow, ParkMobile, and Pango.

Liberty licenses its algorithm to all these entities. If the charging station has no built-in microprocessor, it also provides a simple keypad with the algorithm built into to accept and validate the code entered by a driver requesting a charging session.

Under this scenario, electric-car drivers would either call or text a toll-free number on the charging station, and enter a charger number or a parking-space number. They could either authorize a one-time charge, or download a dedicated phone app and set up an account to be used at the same location.

Then Liberty would send an authorization code, via text message or to the app, that the driver would enter into a keypad on the charging station. That would unlock the handle and set the recharging time.

The pay-by-phone companies also provide an Interactive Voice Recognition system that can deliver codes over the conventional cellular network, for users who don't want to set up an account or download an app. Human operators are also available to answer questions.

The system is especially appealing for parking-lot operators who like the idea of a second revenue stream beyond parking fees, but don't want to establish and maintain separate billing, or have to integrate fees from a charging station into their punch-ticket timekeeping systems.

Electric-car charging network cards, photo by Patrick Connor, Portland

Electric-car charging network cards, photo by Patrick Connor, Portland

And some U.S. lot operators are already starting to move to the pay-by-phone model that's now well established in Europe and Japan.

The disadvantage, of course, is that because the charging station becomes little more than a specialized electric outlet with a lock on it, parking-lot operators may have no interest in aggregating and publicizing data on charging behavior and trends for public education--as, for instance, the EV Project run by Ecotality now does.

Green Car Reports spoke with Forest Williams, the VP of sales and marketing at Liberty Plug-Ins.

Williams suggests that lot operators will quickly learn that a charging station is an attractive amenity that can lure in electric-car drivers, but that they'll end up charging not much more than a driver would pay at home for the same charging session.

By the end of this year, he said, the company hopes that 300 to 400 parking lots across the country will offer the pay-by-phone capability.

If you're an electric-car owner who recharges outside the home, would you use a pay-by-phone application? Or is the current system of membership cards and fobs sufficient?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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