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ELECTRIC VEHICLES How EV charging technology will change as demand rises

From Seth Lambert |

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As electric vehicles become more commonplace, charging stations and networks will undergo substantial changes. For example, business owners of EV charge points may need to upgrade their equipment to permit faster charging times.

Charging stations and networks will be changing.
Charging stations and networks will be changing.
(Source: Public Domain / Pixabay)

In the early days of electric vehicles (EVs)—roughly a dozen years ago—charging stations where you could recharge your electric car were extremely rare; the United States, for instance, boasted only 430 charging points in the whole country.
Fast forward to 10 years later, and that number had grown to more than 47,000, including 6,270 “fast chargers.” (Level 1 and 2 chargers operate on AC power and typically charge a car overnight or in four to six hours, respectively. Level 3 “fast chargers” are usually direct-current [DC]-powered and can charge a car to 80% battery capacity in as little as 20 minutes). As of 2019, “ultra-fast” chargers began to appear, which can charge an EV in less than 10 minutes. In Europe, the European Commission has stated it wants to have one million public charging stations available to EV drivers in the next five years. A report from the Institute for Electric Innovation and the Edison Electric Institute has estimated that by 2030, the United States will need 9.6 million charge points to support more than 18 million EVs on the road.

MSPs, CPOs, and eRoaming platforms

As charging stations continue to improve in performance, business owners of EV charge points, such as gas stations, restaurants, and shopping centers, may need to upgrade their equipment to permit faster charging times. Along with expecting faster charging times, EV drivers are becoming savvier and more demanding as far as mobility service providers (MSPs) go—the companies that provide charging service contracts to EV users.
Some years ago, it was enough for an MSP to offer a limited number of charging stations to EV users via arrangements these firms made with a handful of charge-point operators (CPOs)—those companies that operate and maintain the physical charging stations.

But now, MSPs seek to make agreements with both additional CPOs and eRoaming platforms (which are aggregators of both CPOs and MSPs) so they can offer as many charging points as possible to EV users, regardless of those users’ locations or where they might travel to. Direct network connections between CPOs and MSPs that allow for smart charging via an independent open charge-point interface (OCPI) protocol are being promoted, especially in places like the Netherlands.

Smart charging

The idea of smart charging is to let EV users leave their EV plugged in at a charge point. Based on the time they need to use the vehicle again, the charge point will recharge the vehicle when the cost of electricity (calculated according to peak usage from the local grid) is cheapest. This is accomplished via a smart charging service provider (SCSP) communicating with a local-grid distributed system operator (DSO) and, if necessary, a national-grid transmission system operator (TSO). If utilized on a mass scale, smart charging can help balance out the peaks and troughs of grid power supplies instead of amplifying them, resulting in lower electricity costs. Potentially, both MSPs and CPOs could take on the role of an SCSP.

MSP and CPO evolution

It’s important to note that until now, EV charging has not been a profitable activity; most players in the space have invested large funds in anticipation of growth and consolidation within the industry, with the expectation of higher margins and fewer companies selling services in the future. Some consulting firms, such as Arthur D. Little, see eRoaming companies being replaced by MSPs further aggregating CPOs, and by CPOs merging and acquiring one another. CPOs also may offer custom turnkey charging solutions to business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-government (B2G) customers and operate these as full-service enterprises after they’re deployed.

V2G and V2H charging

MSPs have begun to recognize that EV charging is on the cusp of becoming a commodity, so they’re beginning to present their charging networks as full-service, white-label solutions to third-parties, including automaker OEMs. They’re also attempting to differentiate themselves by offering charging as just one part of an integrated mobility platform (such as BMW’s and Daimler’s NOW family of services) and by adding intelligent energy services that can help EV users save money. These services include vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging, whereby unused energy in an EV battery is repurposed to provide electricity at a local grid point in exchange for an EV owner receiving financial compensation. Vehicle-to-home (V2H) charging allows an EV battery to power a home in the event of a utility blackout, peak power budgeting, or as part of a management system that reduces energy costs. V2H requires both an EV that allows reverse flow of electricity and a smart home with domestic appliances that are Internet-connected and remotely managed.

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Whereas much of the above is happening “behind the scenes,” consumers are starting to make more sophisticated demands of vendors. They want seamless access to nearly any charge point without hurdles, regardless of the market they’re in and the EV they’re driving. They also want the right to know full costs before a recharging session, and they want transaction information to be available, understandable, and verifiable immediately afterward. They want to be able to locate all publicly available chargers and see their current status and accurate times for charging. Many of these demands may be fulfilled digitally using the above-mentioned OCPI protocol, which continues to be developed by the Netherlands-based EVRoaming Foundation. A decentralized Open Charging Network (OCN) featuring a public-private key infrastructure has been established for CPOs, MSPs, and other players to interoperate via OCPI without technical or commercial lock-ins that eRoaming players incorporate. It’s expected that third-party providers will use the OCN to offer smart charging, settlement, and green-energy certification services.

Charging Safety

Another need for consumers is safety in EV charging equipment. For Level-1 and Level-2 home-charging solutions, plugs with earth grounding are critical, as are independently safety-tested and certified units that are clearly stamped with the mark of nationally recognized testing laboratories (NRTLs), such as Intertek and/or Underwriter’s Laboratory. In the U.S., NRTL marks are a requirement for charging stations as specified by the National Fire Protection Agency’s National Electric Code (NEC). In Canada, the Canadian Electric Code (CEC) is used.