Fortum Charge & Drive’s Brilliant Plugsurfing Acquisition (#CleanTechnica Exclusive)

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I wonder if you remember your first EV charging experiences. For me, it all started with a Renault Zoe some time ago, and that still remains one of my best EV memories (regardless of driving Tesla models later on, this was a “first love” kind of thing 🙂 ). I charged it at home every night as I drove it around like crazy, and one day I was travelling a longer distance and planned to charge in the city of Wrocław (Poland). Well, I must be honest, I actually didn’t plan at all and only knew there were chargers in the city. Oh, was I naive!

I arrived at the charger after locating it through PlugShare, and only then learned I needed an RFID card to get connected. Total disappointment and a sad realization that EV drivers are challenged in all possible ways — multiple plugs, multiple operators, multiple bureaucratic obstacles. And I called myself an EV enthusiast at that time! Shame on my limited knowledge.

Soon after that, to my relief, I found out about Plugsurfing and quickly understood there is hope. Soon after discovering Plugsurfing, I also met Michael Warner from Fortum Charge & Drive and learned various great ideas they had for improving the charging experience. And then I met Quentin Ducreux Lerebours from Plugsurfing and saw how much fun and passion was behind the company. Those may seem like disparate stories, even though the meetings were based out of GreenWay and CleanTechnica‘s November Cleantech Revolution Tour conference, but all the pieces actually fell into place in a more solid way recently — Fortum Charge & Drive acquired Plugsurfing (hopefully for an insane amount of money to thank the team for the amazing work they have done so far). What can we expect now? That’s the question.

Let’s look into the actors a bit more first. The Plugsurfing team has been working on improving the EV driver experience since 2012. A relatively small team of dedicated tech guys managed by two co-founders, Adam Woolway and Jacob van Zonneveld, it has achieved huge success in delivering a solution EV users ached for — easy access to charging networks across Europe. Check out what they say about their vision on the Plugsurfing website:

“Adam and Jacob’s aim was to start a company that could really contribute to new ways of environmentally friendly mobility and to fight against the range anxiety of EV drivers.”

Sounds about right, doesn’t it? With over 200 networks in more than 24 countries, Plugsurfing offers painless access to 50,000+ charging points and has built a community of EV drivers that generates massive data on charging patterns and behaviours.

One key away from charging freedom.

On the other side of the table, we have Fortum Charge & Drive. We can say a lot of things about Fortum, but not that they are small. 🙂 Simply put, Fortum is one of the leading providers of electricity, heating, and cooling solutions out there, with a strong focus on clean energy. Here is part of its mission statements:

“Our mission is to engage our customers and society to drive the change towards a cleaner world. Our role is to accelerate this change by reshaping the energy system, improving resource efficiency and providing smart solutions.”

Nicely said. Ever since the 1980s, Fortum has been experimenting with electric transport, and it formed Charge & Drive in 2011. We all know Fortum Charge & Drive from Norway, where it has developed a successful charging network of 1,700 chargers and over 75,000 registered customers. Moreover, Charge & Drive has developed a cloud service for charging network operators to manage their operations, including payments. (Related: Bjørn Nyland Shows Off World’s Largest EV Charging Enabled Parking Structure — In Oslo, Norway)

Charge & Drive at its best

The question now is what we, EV drivers and enthusiasts, can expect from the acquisition. When a big company buys a small one, it is either a strategic or financial decision. With strategic ones, giants quite often swallow little ones to take over their customer base and sell more, to leverage their unique technology and make their own better, or simply to take over your smart staff. Google has always been quite good at this.

In the case of Plugsurfing and Fortum Charge & Drive, there appears to be a synergy agreement with all good intentions and real benefits for customers (and thus the whole EV market). I especially feel this is the case after chatting on the phone with Jacob van Zonneveld, one of Plugsurfing’s co-founders, who shared with me a few more details of the deal. Of course, I asked about the value of the transaction, and of course I was told to forget about it. Well, I had to give it a try! Once we agreed what’s secret and what is not, I could let Jacob say more about the deal.

First of all, it’s important to note that the Plugsurfing brand will still be used. Good news to me. Secondly, the team’s effort will now focus on further simplification of the process and smart charging. Couldn’t Plugsurfing do it on their own? Maybe they could, but at a slower rate. As Jacob pointed out, with Charge & Drive, building partnerships with car manufacturers and other business partners will be quicker and easier. Since I have heard voices of concern that large OEMs will take over control of the charging networks, I also asked Jacob about that. “OEMs are not a threat. It will be about strategic partnerships and eventually those who want to play a role on the EV market will have to provide relevant hardware in the vehicles to allow for smart charging.”

Looks like we are on the right track for EV freedom and independence, or to put it literally, we are a smart key away from charging freedom. I am expecting there will be no need for a key quite soon, though, and we will all use a simple app and pay as we charge wherever we go. Yet another EV barrier will be removed, with just a few to go.

Do I believe in the project? Yes, I do, and I did before I spoke to Jacob, but this short chat reassured me they are serious about making it happen. I loved the way Jacob described the process of selecting a reliable partner — as, obviously, there was more than one interested party. The talks with Fortum Charge & Drive took about a year, and apart from financial considerations, “Plugsurfing was looking for a buyer who was strategically ambitious, not conservative.” Sounds about right. More and better is coming and I can only wish both teams best luck.

Note: We reached out to Michael Warner to discuss this news as well, but were unable to find a time to chat before publishing this article. However, there’s a good chance we will follow up with more commentary on their plans for Plugsurfing and their broader business.

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Jacek Fior

Jacek is an entrepreneurial type who sees opportunities all around. He engages in numerous climate related projects, including a magazine in Polish and English called ClimateNow!. One of his many passions, besides card tricks and mixology, is electric cars and their introduction on the market. Professionally, he works as a sales manager and moves freely on various product markets.

Jacek Fior has 51 posts and counting. See all posts by Jacek Fior