EV Charger Engineering Part V: Digital Connectivity

telecommunication in city

The world is entering a period of rapid buildout of EV charging infrastructure. Average total cost of EV ownership is falling below that of comparable internal combustion vehicles while EV adoption rates continue to trend upwards.  Expect to see more and more electric vehicle chargers in parking lots and gas stations.

Porticos has broad experience in the engineering design of electric vehicle chargers.  In this series of posts we’ll explore the intricacies of electric vehicle chargers from the perspective of new product development.

Read Previous Post: The Potential of Bidirectional Charging

Welcome back to Electric Vehicle Chargers, A Development Perspective.

In the last post we looked at the potential made available by Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) technology. Electric vehicles have the potential to become integral players in the broader energy ecosystem through these developments. 

But these advancements are only made possible through digital connectivity. Connection to a computer network facilitates clever business models for forward-thinking companies, and provides both convenience and potential monetary benefits for the end-user.

In this, the final part of our EV series we’ll examine the ways connectivity is woven into the charging process and the places where it offers the most insights.

Demand Side Management

Utilities recognize that electric vehicles will be among the biggest consumers of electric power in the next decade. Load-balancing is a concern. If all those vehicles are charged at 6:00 pm, that represents a spike in overall consumption, and a commensurate strain on the power grid. But suppose the charging events could be spread out or “time shifted?” Your car charges in the early evening, and your neighbor’s car charges before dawn. The utility may then avoid the expense of new power plants and stronger grids.

Accomplishing this automated load-balancing requires several things:

  1. Permission from the vehicle owner or homeowner.  This will certainly be accompanied by financial incentives; perhaps a favorable electric rate or a free charger installation.
  2. A charger capable of being controlled, remotely, by an electric utility or an intermediary.
  3. A communications standard adopted by both the utilities and the manufacturers.

Let’s imagine how load-balancing requirements might work in an atypical situation.

In the last part of this series we discussed Vehicle-To-Everything (V2X) paradigms, which includes the possibility of using your vehicle to power your home. Suppose that a natural disaster damages power lines. A truly smart grid that has achieved items 1 and 2 on the list above might instruct entire neighborhoods to self-power for a few hours while targeted repairs are completed.

The third item, communications standards, is complex and evolving.

Charging an electric car in a home garage.

Standards and Protocols

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) describes a system in which entities, usually public utilities, establish two-way communications with a utility meter. Relevant to EV charging, this system is also applicable to other devices connected to that meter.

AMI relies on layered protocols for secure communications. The most relevant protocols are:

  • IEC 62056, an international set of standards for electricity metering data exchange,
  • ANSI C12.18, a very specific US version of the more global IEC standards, and
  • The Open Smart Grid Protocol (OSGP), a family of specifications published by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).


Each of these includes the sort of bidirectional exchange protocol needed to incorporate residential vehicle charging into an overall Smart Grid strategy.

While there are currently at least three competing standards, past experience with this kind of competition tells us that we can expect an eventual convergence and assimilation between them.

Payment Acceptance

Charging your car in your garage is preferred, but what about charging your vehicle at a commercial charging station? Those entities expect payment, just like the gas stations we’re all familiar with. Of course credit card readers are ubiquitous, and require a network connection to function. Other payment schemes have been proposed and implemented. Examples include:
  • Apps: An app on your smart-phone is connected to your credit card or other payment account. That app authorizes you to use branded chargers simply by tapping your phone (NFC) or scanning a QR Code.
  • Vehicle Recognition: The charger “recognizes” your vehicle when you plug in the charger. It defaults to a stored credit card or account associated with the specific vehicle, not the driver or phone-owner.
  • Fuel Card: A driver purchases a card or other physical token which entitles them to, say, 1 megawatt-hour of energy. That’s enough to fully charge a Tesla-3 about 16 times. The card needn’t be associated with an individual or a specific vehicle.

Note that these methods are implicitly associated with brands or coalitions of commercial chargers. The only mode that will allow any user to use any charger is Point of Sale (credit cards) and that requires network connectivity, too.

Big Data

Every time you plug in your vehicle, there is an opportunity for data collection. Business entities want to know where and when you charge your vehicle, and for how long. They want to know what types and quantities of vehicles being charged at different locations. The goals may be benign or opportunistic. For example:

Using smartphone while charging an EV.
  • A battery company might be able to infer the remaining life on your battery, and then try to sell you a new one.
  • A charger company could determine that chargers are used more when they are co-located with playgrounds. That could inform their plans for expansion.
  • A data aggregator might generate insights about the seasonal charging habits of regions or populations, and sell that information to businesses.

  It is common to be distrustful of big data, and for good reason. But positive outcomes can be found with this kind of data assessment.

For example, a charging company might notice that a charging station halfway between two big cities is utilized almost continuously. They realize that demand is outstripping supply, and prioritize the addition of chargers in that vicinity.

Or perhaps a restaurant chain discovers that hundreds of people spend 30+ minutes charging their vehicles at a rest stop. They decide to open a new location near there, with a dozen chargers in the parking lot.

This kind of information can inform future development and ensure the success of the fledgling EV charging grid.

EV charging in the city.

Conclusion

The era of stand-alone “dumb” chargers is coming to an end. The cost of connectivity is low and the value to the entire ecosystem is high.

Whether the next generation of EV charging systems should incorporate data connectivity is settled business. What we do with that data connection is a technical question, a business question, and a societal question. There is much reason for optimism.

This is the fifth and final post in the EV Charging series. Porticos is excited to see the advancements in this industry and proud to be a part of the development of new products. 

XL200P Exploded View

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Porticos, Inc. is a Product Engineering and New Product Development firm located in Research Triangle Park, NC.

Established in 2003, Porticos produces innovative and effective solutions for their clients and the markets they serve. Porticos provides broad expertise in development, planning, and production. 

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