Geotab’s Smartcharge interfaces Tesla API directly, making EV charging free for many

I’ve been using the Geotab (formerly Fleetcarma) SmartCharge rewards program for almost five years as a way to save money on EV charging during my electric utility’s (New York’s ConEdison) off-peak time periods. I save at least 10 cents per kilowatt hour of charge, which makes my EV charging nearly free. And since I get most of my electricity from a big solar panel on my roof, I’m probably even making a few bucks for driving an EV.

This month, Geotab announced a much easier way to connect to Teslas, making the onboarding process a breeze and the program even more of a no brainer.

Smartcharge overview

I should mention that Smartcharge is available at about 40 service areas in the US, Canada, and even Queensland, Australia, with more on the way every month. I was one of the first users of the first program in conjunction with ConEdison in New York.

When I originally joined the Smartcharge rewards program in 2017, I still owned a Prius Plug-in, a Chevy Bolt EV, and a Tesla Model S. For each car, Smartcharge sent me a dongle that connects to the vehicle’s OBD port. That’s the port, usually hidden near where the driver’s left knee sits, that mechanics interface with the car’s computer system. You can download all kinds of fun car data from here, and that’s where Geotab accesses your car-charging data.

For the Chevy and the Prius, that was easy, and it took 2 seconds to install. For the Tesla I had to take apart my dashboard a little bit and use an adapter. It got a little bit harder to install on the Model X, and harder still on Model 3 and Model Y, where you actually have to dismantle your center console.

I imagine many people got the instructions on how to do this and just noped out of the whole deal. At least two of my neighbors did.

Tesla API

This month, Geotab announced that it would allow Tesla owners, who represent two-thirds of the overall fleet, to bypass the dongle and simply sign up by connecting the Geotab to Tesla’s API. The signup process now takes a few minutes vs. the old method of signing up, waiting for the dongle in the mail, installing it or having a mechanic install it, and registering it.

I’ve been beta testing the API system on my Model Y for months, and it’s every bit as accurate as the dongle. I save about $1,000 a year in electricity charges (which is close to what I spend overall).

Unfortunately, Geotab Smartcharge doesn’t just credit your utility account like you think it would. Instead it automatically sends money to a Paypal account or you can pull some gift cards from Amazon and elsewhere. I’m told this is an easier system to implement over a wide variety of utility companies. Billing systems at utilities aren’t typically easy to integrate into, and the folks running them aren’t typically good at change management, I’m told.

Not just Tesla

Although customers who drive Teslas are accelerating to 75% of this year’s additions, the company is also working with Chevy, Ford, and others. The idea is to get direct access to their APIs so that charging data can be integrated into Geotab’s system without using the kludgy and pricey dongle solution. Geotab is also working with Chargepoint and Enel’s Juicebox to measure charging at the smart charger level.

For the rest of us EV owners, the free dongle still works and is worth the effort to get installed. For a list of EVs and Plugin Hybrids that are currently supported, check the list here. I asked specifically about Rivian and was told that work is being done to get them on board as well, hopefully via API.

Other bonuses

Smartcharge also has bigger bonuses for signing up, sharing data, avoiding super peaks, and recommending friends. ConEdison reimburses about 10 cents per kWh, which is very close to what it charges (my charges are 12 cents but rates vary in the area from below 10 cents to above 15). Note that it includes all charging in the ConEd service areas, which could theoretically include Tesla destination and Superchargers. At the bottom of your dashboard is even a download link to access all of your trip data, including the popular watts/mile ratings, which is actually pretty interesting.

Here’s a look at my Smartcharge dashboard so far for October:

What’s next from Geotab?

Smartcharge is already running a limited “Manager” pilot program with PG&E in California that allows the utility to control when your car charges, allowing the company to soften peaks throughout the day. Obviously Geotab stressed (multiple times) that the user is in charge here, and that it’s working on algorithms that could dictate minimum charge floors and still make sure the car is fully charged for anticipated departures.

As vehicle to grid (V2G) applications take off, Smartcharge could eventually allow you to send energy from your car back to the grid at high rates, allowing energy companies to shave costly super peaks and earn some income for the car owner.

The company looks to sign on more utilities at a rapid clip and you could even see it doing things like roaming charging bonuses.

Electrek’s Take

If you are an EV driver living in a Smartcharge service area, the service is a no-brainer. You get paid to charge in the middle of the night.

Do I feel comfortable giving this company access to my OBD port or Tesla API? Not entirely, to be honest. It would be nice in the future if there was a charging-data-only access setting on EVs and APIs so that I could wall off other data I don’t want to send to this company. Some FAQs here.

Overall, however, charging for free at home and around the county is another fantastic perk of EV ownership and makes driving an EV that much better. You can sign up using my link and get a few extra bucks here.

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Avatar for Seth Weintraub Seth Weintraub

Publisher and Editorial Director of the 9to5/Electrek sites. Tesla Model 3, X and Chevy Bolt owner…5 ebikes and counting