What is Smart Charging for Electric Vehicles?

Electric vehicles are becoming more and more commonplace. Governments around the world are encouraging the transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to EVs with incentives and initiatives. The extra demand for energy faced by the electricity grid to charge EVs is a challenge that needs addressing.

Smart charging provides the solution to this challenge, as we’ll demonstrate in this article.‍

What is Smart Charging?

A good place to start is to compare smart charging with the normal charging of electric vehicles.

To charge an EV using a normal charging method, you would simply plug your vehicle into a charge point that connects directly to the main electricity grid. The vehicle would charge at maximum power until the point at which the EV battery gets to 100% SoC. At this point, the charging process will automatically cease.

In contrast, smart charging is an automatically controlled and coordinated way of charging an EV. A central computer system takes care of the charging, which avoids the less efficient approach of using maximum power until the battery is full.

The smart charging system applies an intelligent decision-making process that automatically adjusts the power output from the charging station. The smart system can, at any appropriate time, increase power, reduce power, or delay the charging process.‍

Main Benefits of Smart Charging for EVs

Smart charging offers three main benefits:

  • Correct charging point selection: Smart charging helps the EV driver to select the right type of charging station for their vehicle and requirements, based on the time of departure and how much energy is needed for their journey. This will prove to be a big benefit as companies are already beginning to mix fast (DC) and slow (AC) chargers at various locations.
  • Cost savings: Smart charging also helps to control the cost of charging, especially in countries with volatile energy prices. Smart charging enables drivers to mitigate the effects of dynamic energy pricing, spot pricing, and time-of-use rates.
  • Energy efficiency: Smart charging can be used in conjunction with energy storage, renewable energy sources, or directly to power plants. This helps to create a ‘micro-grid’, rather than relying on the main grid. In other words, smart charging is able to control the total amount of power available at locations, helping to make charging more efficient and environmentally friendly.‍

Why is Smart Charging Important & Who Benefits?

Smart charging has a number of different use cases, depending on a number of factors including charging point type and location. Smart charging can be used for large combined charging locations such as commercial parking lots, employee parking, fleet depots, residential apartment blocks, etc. It can also be used for individual EV charging points at domestic home locations.

Electric vehicles have been around for approximately 15 years now and the start of mass adoption has been characterized by manufacturing improved EVs and developing charging station hardware.
Over the next 15 years, the focus needs to be on making EVs scalable, improving the reliability of the electricity grid, and smart charging.

However, there are already serious challenges to making EV charging scalable.
For instance, changes in energy tariffs and sourcing have seen the introduction of dynamic pricing systems. For example, in the USA, Tine-of-Use (TOU) rates have become more commonplace and Norway and the UK have introduced spot pricing. Dynamic pricing will help to change customers’ energy usage and balance the grid more effectively, by giving people cost incentives.

Also, the EV market is expected to grow from a value of USD 287 billion to USD 1,318 billion by 2028. The large market growth will create a high demand for public EV chargers.‍

Fleet Charging

Companies that are looking to electrify their fleet vehicles face two challenges:

  1. Which EV to choose, e.g. electric van or truck
  2. How to charge many vehicles at the same time at a single depot.

The first challenge comes down to the choices provided by manufacturers. Daimler has recently released a fully-electric van known as eSprinter. Other car and truck companies have similar product releases in the pipeline.
The second challenge is more tricky, as charging infrastructure technology is still being developed.

The main issue is that energy providers limit the amount of power that is allowed to flow into a depot. When the grid was originally built and infrastructure installed, nobody anticipated that the demand for electricity would grow so much as companies looked to replace thousands of fossil fuel-powered vehicles with EVs.

Many fleet operators are looking at the possibility of needing 50 or more chargers. This leaves them with two choices:

  • Add more transformers and power lines to increase power capacity at a cost of millions (or even tens of millions).
  • Implement a much more affordable smart charging solution that will optimize charging and help manage vehicle schedules, routes, and shifts, as well as manage power input.

For most businesses, there’s no real choice. It’s a no-brainer when you compare spending millions on energy bills to saving millions with smart charging software.

Smart charging makes sense from both a financial and environmental standpoint as it helps to use energy more efficiently. In fact, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) stated that nighttime smart charging solutions are the ideal solution to avoid the peak-demand stress that is caused by fast or ultra-fast charging. IRENA also recommended the use of large storage units to store surplus energy at EV fleet depots for instance when the renewable electricity generation is not enough to meet the demand.‍

Customer Charging & Employee Charging

Charging EVs at the workplace is another big consideration for businesses. Providing free or cheap EV charging facilities is a good incentive for employees, as well as helping to reduce CO2 emissions.

That’s why big companies are investing a lot of money into EV charging facilities, such as Audi which has invested $100 million to install more than 4,500 charging points for employees at its German sites.

Smart charging is ideal for workplaces as employees are often present on site for 8 hours or more and the average time to commute is around 26 minutes. This means that the EV won’t need to use much more power than 15kWh and there is plenty of time to deliver this charge. Smart charging algorithms can easily schedule charging to reduce the peak energy demand of the charging site.

Without smart charging at a workplace, there will be a big power demand first thing in the morning when everybody turns up for work, adding stress to the electric grid. Smart charging would then distribute the charging over a period of 8 hours or as long as the vehicle is idling. Smart charging also helps manage the access to available renewable energy of a site, e.g. during the day when solar energy is more plentiful, which is encouraged by some governments (e.g. in Hawaii).‍

Residential Charging

Real estate businesses face the challenge that projects take a long time to plan.
Getting from the initial planning stages to actual construction work can take several years, due to permits, planning applications, etc. Also, the project needs to be agreed upon by all stakeholders before the green light is given.

The long time period means that charging infrastructure may have been planned several years beforehand and is no longer up to the job. Often, charging facility plans are upgraded at the last minute or are lacking entirely. Permits are also often missing and need to be issued by the energy provider.

In big cities, the challenge is greater as charging infrastructure often requires big construction works and a lot of investment.
Smart charging can help in these cases. Residential charging is normally needed overnight when people are at home after work. There is usually a window of 12 hours or more to charge the EV and smart charging software can help to distribute the charging efficiently over this period.

When you consider that half of all millennials plan to buy an electric car, then residential building companies need to give more thought to charging facilities and smart charging can help to make it more efficient.‍

How to Implement Smart Charging‍

Using OCPP to Connect with Charging Stations

Most charging point operators (CPOs) communicate with their charging points using a central charging management system. 80% of the time, this involves a cloud system that applies Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP). OCPP is a global protocol that enables smooth communication between all the systems involved and makes data easier to access and more reliable.

OCPP is a standard protocol that allows for communication between the chargers and the back office. Many other applications aside from charging use OCPP, including payment processors, error management services, and digital authentication.

OCPP 1.6 and 2.1 allow you to send charging commands to EV chargers. Therefore, you can remotely control charging sessions whenever you want, either automatically or manually. This protocol has made it easier than ever to implement smart charging.‍

Managing Optimization Goals

In many locations, TOU rates are mixed with demand charges and public charging networks don’t prioritize EV charging. However, it is a high priority for commercial fleet managers.
Conflicting priorities such as these can make it difficult to decide on optimization goals.

Thankfully, intelligent smart charging software systems can help to achieve cross-function optimization goals. Smart charging can help to both reduce cost and increase reliability across a charging network.

At Ampcontrol, we’ve created a smart charging solution that serves multiple optimization goals and can be easily implemented in OCPP servers and other central charging systems. There are no technical limitations on how effective smart charging can be when used on OCPP systems.
Smart charging helps to reduce grid extension costs, reduce energy costs, avoid demand charges, and provide enough energy for efficient EV charging.‍

Conclusion

The demand for EV charging points is growing daily as the transition to electric-powered vehicles speeds up. The main challenges faced by businesses and private individuals are the cost of energy, fluctuating energy supply, and the lack of suitable charging infrastructure.

Smart charging software offers a convenient solution to these challenges as it is low-cost and effective. Smart charging helps to balance power demand with grid supply, keep energy costs as low as possible, and make sure that EVs get enough energy to complete their journeys.

Learn more about smart charging implementation with the Ultimate Guide To Implementing EV Smart Charging In OCPP Applications.

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Founder and CEO of Ampcontrol (https://www.ampcontrol.io/) an AI-powered software for smart charging for electric vehicles.

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Joachim Lohse (CEO and founder of Ampcontrol.io)

Joachim Lohse (CEO and founder of Ampcontrol.io)

Founder and CEO of Ampcontrol (https://www.ampcontrol.io/) an AI-powered software for smart charging for electric vehicles.

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