User-Chi charging station Berlin, © Gewobag/Aurelio Schrey

Sharing space for electric charging in Berlin

Think of all the hours that your toaster sits idle in your kitchen – imagine someone else could come and use it while you were away. Sound strange? How about the electric car charging space in your apartment’s parking complex? Thankfully, there’s no shortage of toasters in Berlin, but in a city where electric cars are on the rise and charging points are limited, it’s this less creepy idea for sharing that is taking off.

“We offer private and public car charging for our tenants, but also the opportunity for non-residents to use available charging spaces in private apartment blocks,” explains Luca Grzeski, Project Coordinator at Gewobag, one of the largest housing companies owned by the city of Berlin. Gewobag runs over 74,000 housing units with more than 130,000 tenants, as well as over 19,000 parking spaces.

Gewobag already offers 53 public charging points at 15 locations in Berlin. By 2026, Gewobag will also have at least 500 private car charging points active, and will continue to expand from there based on customer demand. “We realised that we had to get involved with the topic of e-mobility quite early on, because we believe that demand will continue to grow,” Grzeski says.

How does this charging station sharing system work in practice? If you are driving around Berlin in an electric car and need a boost, you simply open the InCar app and get a live view of the location of available charging points in the area, including those on private residential property. Drive up to the apartment block, use the app to open the barrier and you’re ready to park and charge. “Either the car park is gated with a parking barrier that can be opened via an app, or it is an ungated location,” Grzeski elaborates.

A new concept

The public parking and charging via app are being tested as part of the EU-funded project User-Chi, through which Eurocities helps cities try out a slew of innovative approaches and technologies for electric charging.

Does this mean that residents might arrive home to discover that they have no place to charge? No, says Grzeski, explaining that the Gewobag e-mobility strategy has two components. The first is private parking and charging, “this can only be used by the tenant who rents this parking space.” This ensures that tenants always have reliable access to charging facilities. These facilities usually consist in AC (slow) charging that provides residents with all the power that they need by charging through the night.

Using an app to charge an electric car in Berlin © Gewobag/Aurelio Schrey

The second, public charging on private premises, as described above, consists of both AC (slow) and DC (fast) charging options. These are developed through collaboration with third-party providers, who pay themselves to build the stations with a view to recouping their investment by charging for use. They are made available both to tenants and the public.

This is quite a new concept
— Luca Grzeski

“This is quite a new concept,” says Grzeski, “that a private parking space, which is gated by a parking barrier is usable for the public.” Besides providing more charging potential, it also offers electric car users the opportunity to park in secure and convenient locations that would not be open to drivers of conventional polluting vehicles.

The key is to balance the provision of sufficient parking spaces with the growing demand for charging infrastructure, which has the potential to be contentious if there are not sufficient spaces for all those who seek to use them. “We need to have kind of charging hubs where tenants are sharing these parking spaces and also the possibility of charging their car; otherwise, it will not work,” Grzeski acknowledges.

Testing and collaboration

Berlin is not alone in this journey. Cities all over Europe are trying to find ways to meet, and encourage, a growing demand for charging infrastructure that comes hand in hand with more people opting for electric vehicles. Rather than go it alone, they are collaborating with their peers across borders through European projects like User-Chi.

“With User-Chi, we shared quite a lot of things with other cities,” Grzeski notes. The project provides a platform to test and refine their approaches, ensuring they are scalable and adaptable to other locations. One of the solutions that Berlin is trialling under User-Chi is the ‘InCar’ app that people use to find the charging locations around Europe.

With User-Chi, we shared quite a lot of things with other cities
— Luca Grzeski

“You can use the app to see in advance where a charging station is available, and to start and stop your charging remotely and pay contactlessly,” Grzeski explains, “For us, it is interesting that the app also makes non-optimal parking spaces, for example behind high-rise buildings, visible and available.”

User feedback is crucial for the success of the project, the main ambition of which is to make charging as convenient as possible for users. As part of Berlin’s User-Chi pilot, users are encouraged to test the charging parking spaces and provide their input. “We depend on feedback for the User-Chi pilot project. Anyone reading this in Berlin, please test our demonstrations sites at Prinzenstraße 98, 10969 Berlin (ungated) or Paul-Junius-Straße 66, 10369 Berlin (gated), and get involved!” urges Grzeski. This feedback will help refine the system and ensure it meets the needs of all users.

If the User-Chi project proves successful in its pilot phase, Gewobag envisions expanding the concept to other locations.

Making space

“In the early 60s, there was a regulation that each residential building had to have sufficient parking spaces available,” Grzeski recalls. Berlin’s decision to limit parking spaces in new developments is a strategic move intended to reduce private car use. The fewer parking spaces make apartment blocks less expensive to build, thus making housing more affordable for more people. Additionally, shared options such as car-sharing and shared charging hubs can be more convenient and less expensive for residents than owning private cars.

The payment model tries to encourage people to make the most of the available space. “We have a fee for parking, and we have a fee for charging,” Grzeski notes, adding that this helps prevent users from occupying charging spots longer than necessary.

Keeping options open

We are working together with companies offering car sharing, bike sharing, and scooter sharing
— Luca Grzeski

A straight swap between private carbon emitting cars and private electric vehicles will not be sufficient to tackle climate change and other urban mobility issues. For this reason, Gewobag is not only focusing on cars, but also integrating other types of shared mobility services. “We are working together with companies offering car sharing, bike sharing, and scooter sharing,” Grzeski says. This approach provides tenants with a greater variety of options, while reducing reliance on personal vehicles and alleviating parking demands.

Driving an electric car in Berlin © Gewobag/Aurelio Schrey

Gewobag also ensures that most of their housing developments are well-connected to public transport. “Most of the houses we build are well connected to public infrastructure such as trains and buses,” Grzeski says. This supports the overall goal of reducing car dependency and promoting sustainable mobility.

Future prospects

Looking ahead, Grzeski is optimistic about the future of electric charging and shared mobility in Berlin. He emphasises the importance of projects like User-Chi in shaping effective solutions. “This can be really interesting for us in the future when we are building new houses and have even fewer parking spaces,” he says.

This can be really interesting for us in the future
— Luca Grzeski

He is also keen to point out the strategic advantage of early involvement. “We started looking for a suitable site early on and then for a company that could technically and structurally rebuild the parking spaces,” he says – a proactive approach that allowed Gewobag to fine-tune their methods and help Berlin set a precedent for other cities in the future.

Grzeski himself is no stranger to electric car sharing, as the housing company has its own electric car sharing fleet for employees. “I’m using the shared cars quite often,” he says, “they are pleasant, clean and convenient.”

Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer