Eliminating the speedbumps in EV charging station buildout
COMMENTARY | Energy management as a service gives EV charging station operators cloud-based tools for remote asset management and will help ensure they have the data to comply with the government’s 97% station uptime requirement.
Among the many infrastructure investment opportunities available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, expanding electric vehicle charging stations in the United States offers a unique, multi-faceted value proposition. It can help boost economic development by increasing mobility, attracting investment and creating new jobs. Furthermore, more EV charging stations will lead to EVs on the road, which will help reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.
Building a network of fast charging stations is a priority of the Biden administration. The federal government's Joint Office of Energy and Transportation has recently announced a $2.5 billion Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) Discretionary Grant Program and the $5 billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program. The first funding round from these programs supports deployment of DC fast chargers across the country at 50-mile intervals along major highways.
This is great news for jurisdictions looking to expand their charging infrastructure. But it comes with a caveat. CFI and NEVI fund recipients and subrecipients will have to contend with operational and systemic problems that plague existing public EV charging infrastructure that has created inconsistent station performance and poor driver experiences. Case in point: A 2022 study in the San Francisco Bay Area found that over 27% of public chargers were non-functioning, and almost 23% had “unresponsive or unavailable screens, payment system failures, charge initiation failures, network failures, or broken connectors.” This tracks with conversations I’ve had with electrical contractors who work on EV stations. One claimed to have 2,000 open trouble tickets.
EV station research has identified four “culprits” impacting station performance:
- Equipment problems. Issues include faulty kiosk screens that are crucial for communicating charging information to drivers, broken vehicle connector plugs that render the charging port useless, faulty payment systems and inconsistent current flow that can significantly increase overall charging time.
- Software incompatibility between charging stations and EVs. Charging stations are software driven, and while protocols exist, there are still no common standards or requirements that any standard be followed. Incompatibility between station and vehicle software can create faulty communication between the station and the car. This can cause the amount of electricity delivered during a charging session to fluctuate—slowing down the session, with no notification to the driver.
- Lack of local station attendees to troubleshoot problems. EV charging stations are designed to be always on and operate autonomously—somewhat like ATMs. This works fine until it doesn’t. When an outage or performance issue occurs, a truck will have to be dispatched to perform repairs and maintenance and to assess equipment condition. With highway stations spaced at 50 mile intervals, the time and cost of servicing stations can be considerable.
- Lack of independent station performance data. To make navigating the capricious state of EV charging infrastructure even more challenging, the Biden administration is mandating that charging stations receiving federal money must achieve better than 97% “uptime” (the percentage of time a charger is operational). Today, verification of a charging network’s uptime is a self-reporting honor system. There are no external systems in place for monitoring and verification and no aggregate data that can help establish benchmarks for a satisfactory charging experience.
These challenges are real and daunting, but fortunately, there is a technological solution that can address all of them: cloud-based energy management as a service.
EMaaS is software as a service for remote energy asset monitoring and management. EMaaS also enables orchestration of multiple charging station assets, including connectors, displays, payments systems and EV communications as well as batteries, rectifiers, HVACs, and generators. It works with grid, solar and/or wind energy sources and with the charging station’s existing components, internet-of-things based sensor devices and mobile communications. EMaaS also provides operators with real-time status reporting on all critical station functions so they can quickly identify and respond to station issues.
EMaaS also harvests and analyzes energy asset metadata, as well as operational and performance data, to inform artificial intelligence and machine learning models that enable predictive maintenance to help reduce station downtime.
This data harvesting also can also help jurisdictions meet the rigorous data reporting requirements mandated by both CFI And NEVI. The Biden administration, along with many states, plan to collect data to create a national database and analytics platform. The reporting will require detailed station information, including data on charging station uptime, the cost of electricity to operate as well as maintenance and repair costs. Operators will have to report—by charging station port and by charging session—charging session start time, end time, successful completion (yes or no), energy (kWh) dispensed and peak session power (kW) by port.
Gathering all of the necessary data and ensuring its accuracy and completeness will be time-consuming and resource intensive. Currently, few operators have the data capture and analysis capabilities to comply with these requirements, and getting there will be a scramble.
By using EMaaS, station operators and the agencies they work for will have all of the required reporting data readily available without having to conduct multiple, manual audits and data aggregation. As the software is open-standards based, data can be ingested, analyzed and presented in any format required by local, state or federal agencies—from dynamic visual dashboards to printed compliance reports.
EMaaS offers additional benefits, including remote asset orchestration to reduce operational costs, improve lifecycle management and track carbon footprint reduction. Further, being cloud- and open standards-based, the software is hardware agnostic, flexible and highly scalable. As such, operators of all sizes can deploy remote monitoring immediately as they roll out stations and scale use easily as the number of stations grows.
Jurisdictions pursuing CFI and NEVI funding to build EV charging stations should evaluate the benefits and considerations of using cloud-based EMaaS as their mechanism for monitoring and reporting station performance. Designing station networks with remote asset management and orchestration will help ensure they stay ahead of performance issues to meet the government’s 97% station uptime requirement. Robust data capture, analytics and visualization will allow them to flow that data easily into their program compliance reports to meet federal and governments’ rigorous reporting requirements.
Frederick Reynolds is vice president marketing at Galooli Inc.