What Is A Smart EV Charger? Smart Charging For Electric Vehicles

Smart Charging

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What Is Smart Charging?

Along with the rapid development of the electric vehicles (EVs), we have also witnessed significant progress in the development of EV chargers. Both residential and public charging EV stations have come a long way since the introduction of the first-generation modern electric cars, like the all-electric Nissan Leaf in 2010.

For early adopters of electric driving, charging an electric car using a basic ‘dumb/ non-smart’ portable charger was the norm. These EV chargers did not incorporate the ability to ‘communicate’ or share data, significantly limiting its functionality and operation. Move forward a decade: residential and public EV charging stations could not be more different!

In fact, the latest-generation of residential EV chargers allow ‘bidirectional’ charging, known as Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) charging. Wallbox, the Spain headquartered charging station manufacturer, launched the Wallbox Quasar, the first bidirectional electric car charger for the residential market. The Pulsar V2G charger communicates with the National Grid, such that, an onboard EV battery can be used as a residential battery storage unit, not only to power the home, but also to export to the grid in times of significant demand.

There are different levels of smart EV chargers or smart charging. At the most basic level, a smart EV charger will give the user some level of control and functionality, either via a mobile app or via the electric car. A smart EV charger is capable of ‘smart charging’ i.e. the electric car charger is able to ‘communicate’ via WiFi (internet), bluetooth or a SIM card. The EV charger can send and receive data between the electric car and the EV charger.

A smart charger also allows sharing of vital data during the charging session with a number of stakeholders, to include, the user, the charging operator, the National Grid and the energy supplier. For stakeholders, like the National Grid, the insights gained from EV charging sessions are vital for the long-term performance and stability of the grid infrastructure. In fact, the UK government has introduced regulations in relation to EV chargers, to increase information flow and mitigate risks to the grid.

The transition to electric driving will have a significant impact on the National Grid, to include the stability of the grid during peak demand. Though electric cars can be charged at anytime, it is more common for EVs to be charged overnight, when electricity prices are lower. Given that the current market share of electric cars is still below 25% in the UK, the issue is less critical compared to when battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) account for the significant majority of the cars on our roads.

The National Grid has to manage demand and supply carefully, such that continuous and stable power supply is the norm. The management of the supply of electricity generation is already a complex task for the grid, given the energy mix of the UK and the variability of the power generation profile.

For example, renewable energy, like wind energy, though very beneficial, does not provide a stable generation profile. Though wind patterns can be forecast, the actual generation of wind energy will depend on real-wind conditions on-site on the given day. Wind generation does not change only on a day-to-day basis, but also on an hour-to-hour basis. Though solar energy, is more stable, it is still variable. So, bottom-line, supply side management is critical for the stability of the grid, and smart charging is vital in achieving this objective .

A smart EV charger allows users to remotely monitor, manage and control the charging session. Though smart charging offers a number of benefits, the two key benefits are: energy use optimisation and cost efficiency.

Smart chargers optimise the charging session and manages the load safely. A smart EV charger monitors electrical consumption and adjusts the charging session based on the available energy (dynamic load balancing). Smart charging also allow load balancing for locations with multiple EV charging stations. For such EV charging destinations, an operator can choose how best to distribute the available energy capacity across all active EV chargers. For most public and workplace charging destinations, load balancing is vital for stable operation. But it is also equally important for semi-public charging destinations, like, apartment blocks that share EV charging infrastructure.

EV home charger
myenergi zappi smart EV Chargers (credit: zappi)

Other advantages of smart chargers, include: firmware updates remotely via the internet, enhanced security, and integration with renewable energy and battery storage. It is worth noting that not all smart EV chargers offer compatibility with renewable energy (solar or wind), but we can expect this to become more widely available in the near future.

Smart EV chargers allow the user to decide on the time and duration of a specific charging session. For example, charging when electricity tariffs are at their lowest. Bottom-line, a smart EV charger enables smart energy management.

EV Charging Protocol: Open Charge Alliance (OCA)

For those EV consumers studious about new technology, you may have come across Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP). Usually mentioned in the data sheet provided by the charging station manufacturer. So what is OCPP? And why is it important? Like all new technologies, standardisation of protocols evolve, as the technology or industry matures. The EV charging sector is no different, in that, for the successful long-term development of the technology and market, a global protocol standard is key.

The OCA is an alliance of electric car charging hardware manufacturers, software providers, charging network operators and service providers. The mission of the OCA is to ‘foster global development, adoption, and compliance of communication protocols in the EV charging infrastructure and related standards through collaboration, education, testing, and certification’. The key objectives of the OCA, include: development of the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) and Open Smart Charging Protocol (OSCP). 

Though it is not mandatory for industry participants to use the OCPP protocols, it is fast becoming the de-facto protocol. The OCA alliance was launched in 2009 (OCPP 1.5) and since then has evolved the protocol. Many of the latest generation EV charging points incorporate OCPP 1.6 protocol. The latest iteration is the OCPP 2.01 charge point protocol. The 2.01, includes all that OCPP 1.6 has to offer and more, to include: added security, new smart charging functionalities, improved transaction handling, improved device management and more.

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Ashvin Suri

Ashvin has been involved with the renewables, energy efficiency and infrastructure sectors since 2006. He is passionate about the transition to a low-carbon economy and electric transportation. Ashvin commenced his career in 1994, working with US investment banks in New York. Post his MBA from the London Business School (1996-1998), he continued to work in investment banking at Flemings (London) and JPMorgan (London). His roles included corporate finance advisory, M&A and capital raising. He has been involved across diverse industry sectors, to include engineering, aerospace, oil & gas, airports and automotive across Asia and Europe. In 2010, he co-founded a solar development platform, for large scale ground and roof solar projects to include the UK, Italy, Germany and France. He has also advised on various renewable energy (wind and solar) utility scale projects working with global institutional investors and independent power producers (IPP’s) in the renewable energy sector. He has also advised in key international markets like India, to include advising the TVS Group, a multi-billion dollar industrial and automotive group in India. Ashvin has also advised Indian Energy, an IPP backed by Guggenheim (a US$ 165 billion fund). He has also advised AMIH, a US$ 2 billion, Singapore based group. Ashvin has also worked in the real estate and infrastructure sector, to including working with the Matrix Group (a US$ 4 billion property group in the UK) to launch one of the first few institutional real estate funds for the Indian real estate market. The fund was successfully launched with significant institutional support from the UK/ European markets. He has also advised on water infrastructure, to include advising a Swedish clean technology company in the water sector. He is also a member of the Forbury Investment Network advisory committee. He has also been involved with a number of early stage ventures.

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