Every charge station can be smart!

Undeniably, electrical vehicles will constitute one of the main means of mobility (e-Mobility) quite soon. But the EV revolution does not occur in separation from other inventions and innovation trends. Some might call it hypes though certainly we have recently booked much progress in artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), software-defined everything, decentralized systems, blockchain, natural language processing as well as many other developments. And all these fields are somehow interrelated. As we live in the digital age, it is impossible to stay disconnected. Not only in the Internet sense but also disconnected from all other things around.

The Internet of Energy

Let’s take the latest generation of electric car as an example. It is actually a computer on wheels. Most features are software-defined. It is full of artificial intelligence-related solutions such as autonomous driving. And it is almost for sure always connected over-the-air to several services.

In my last post I sketched a relatively bullish picture of the EV market and related opportunities. There will be about 3.3 million charging stations (EVSEs) needed in The Netherlands in 2030, assuming 3 million plug-in vehicles on Dutch roads then (remember, the ration is 1.1). Extrapolating, globally, estimates vary from 20million EV’s by Deloitte to 200M+ by OECD/IEA. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, say 120M electric cars. And, leveraging the 1.1. ratio of cars/charging stations, the world will need more than 130million charging stations. This is a huge number of connected intelligent devices! These devices do not just operate in solitary vacuum but are elements of several (and possibly multiple) ecosystems:

  • Smart home (for home chargers)
  • Smart grid
  • Smart city
  • Smart building

The battle is on

Alternatively, these charge stations are also an integral part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Notably also, they are part of the Internet Of Energy (IoE) ecosystems. Let’s be clear, a charging station is not just a dummy electrical device sticking from the ground or hanging on a wall. It is a digital intelligent point of energy provisioning electric vehicles. It is a node in a charging network and a node in all above mentioned SMART ecosystems.

EVSE-as-a-sophisticated digital equipment

Figure 1. EVSE as a sophisticated digital equipment

Notably, the entire automotive industry battle, is now competing on batteries, semiconductors and software, not on tyres or seats. And more so for the super fast-growing plug-in segment. Similarly, in the charging infrastructure business, the battle will be won not on switches, wires and relays but on connectivity and software. Truly, understanding this paradigm is fundamental for those who want to succeed in this market. It is connectivity and software that enable a whole plethora of new digital services and business models. Only then, can the EVSE charging infrastructure meet demands of modern consumers and deliver superior seamless and smart charging, payment, billing (as well as all related) experiences.

The controller as the digital brain

As I argued, a charging station is a computer that provides power to charge electric vehicles. And like every computer, it needs a central processing unit. In the EVSE case it is an EV charging controller. The controller manages the vehicle charging process as well as processes all related data (power consumption, diagnostics, components health checks, billing records etc.). It also securely communicates with relevant backend systems (typically, with a Charge Point Operator – CPO backend). Analogously, in the IoT language, the controller is the processor of the edge device (charging station) and communicates with a cloud or another centralized (or sometimes decentralized) data handling system of a CPO. Only when equipped with appropriate controllers, the charging infrastructure can deliver superior end-user experience as well as optimize CPOs’ and eMSPs’ business models. In the other words, the controller is akin to the digital heart or the digital brain of the EVSE. Needless to say, every charging station needs to include all safety and robustness features like we require form everyday electrical equipment (e.g. a vacuum-cleaner). These are basic must-haves though, not differentiators.

Smart/Intelligent solution for digital use cases

Our observation of the EV charging marketplace and our experiences with customers render the following basic “smartness/intelligence” EVSE requirements and expectations:

  • Interoperability, ideally supporting open standards, namely OCPP (1.6 and later 2.0)
  • Support for smart charging/load balancing, likely leveraging interfacing (indirectly) with electrical grid platforms
  • Support for secure and tamper-proof communication
  • Plan to support charging directly from local power sources (e.g. from PVs)
  • Plan to support plug&charge technologies and standards (like ISO15118)
  • Plan to support V2G and V2X technologies (also related to ISO15118)
  • Support for a variety of charging speeds and soon possibly alternative charging technologies (consider induction charging)

There are also other requirements that might be applicable in specific use cases. For example, managing display, supporting advertising business model (and more). Additionally, supporting sensors to boost smartness an detect external events like charging station tilting or overheat (but there could be a light or water sensor as well). Notably, regulators have already started putting stronger requirements on smartness of charging stations e.g. OLEV in the UK or PTB in Germany (e.g. Calibration Law EVSE application) just to name a few.


Figure 2. EV charging controller is the brain of every EVSE

The GreenFlux controller as the digital brain

At GreenFlux, we often observe that charge stations manufacturers insufficiently appreciate that their products operate in the context of several interrelated digital ecosystems. Indeed, developing and maintaining the challenging and complex digital technology requires continuous effort, time and resources. And it is necessary not only to win the battle in the marketplace but even to stay in the game. There is hope though. Manufacturers can rely on experts and partners that address this specific need. Namely, at GreenFlux we take care of helping manufacturers to create and position compelling products. Consequently, manufacturers can focus on their core competence: making and selling attractive a competitive EVSEs. It is a matter of fact the digital transformation journey that the entire EVSE industry needs to embark on.

Make your charge station smart and have a look at our GreenFlux Controller solutions.

Article by Piotr Chmielewski