By Kyle Field
The number of plug-in vehicles in the world is increasing rapidly. But where are they all going to charge? Unlike petrol stations, public electric vehicle charging stations are not yet as prominent. Thankfully, new innovative EV charging station designs can make the installation and operation of a charging station easy and efficient.
Personal vehicles are a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions because, to date, their fuel largely comes from petroleum. Electric cars are not yet a miracle cure for eliminating these transportation emissions, as the electricity from the grid often comes from fossil fuels.
Critics of electric vehicles cling to this mantra, but nevertheless, forecasts continue to show increased levels of electric vehicle adoption in the coming years. For example, the IEA’s Global EV Outlook 2020 forecasts one in three vehicles worldwide will be an electric vehicle by 2040. Because of this, we must look to the future and plan not just for an increase in vehicles, but also for the increase in EV charging stations they will need.
DC Fast Charging vs AC Charging
Every electric vehicle has to charge its batteries from time to time. Most EV charging happens overnight, but the availability of a home charger varies drastically for those living in apartments and rental housing. In contrast to conventional legacy petrol stations, there aren’t many public EV charging stations to pick from yet. The number of quick charging stations along traffic routes continues to climb, with Tesla Superchargers being perhaps the most popular example, but more are needed.
In reality, charging sessions at DC fast charging stations make up only a fraction of the total charging volume, as they are typically more expensive and take a larger toll on the health of the battery in the vehicle. Level 2 AC charging is often more convenient and eliminates many of the downsides of DC fast charging, with a much lower impact on the battery in the vehicle and lower cost per kilowatt-hour.
One Charger, Many Uses
Cars are primarily recharged at home or at work. However, the installation and operation of EV charging stations requires some know-how on the part of property owners, including working with electricians and the local utility. A new startup from Switzerland called smart-me* has a plan to make procuring an EV charging station much easier. smart-me has developed the Pico charging station to give property owners the ability to easily install, operate, and manage charging stations for commercial purposes.
Pico is an EV charging station connected to the cloud via WiFi or an optional mobile connection. It also comes with a comprehensive charging management system, including a sharing option. It enables owners to rent out the charging station to others just like an Airbnb apartment. “If you want to make Pico accessible to others, you can simply set a price for the electricity, set the availability, and start earning money,” said David Eberli, CEO at smart-me. Owners are able to determine at what price the electricity should be sold, and they can also dictate who can use the charger and when.
The flexibility allows owners to define the perfect balance between availability and income generated by their charger based on their individual schedule. For example, an employer could make a charger in a company car park publicly accessible only during business hours. On the other hand, employees would be able to see and use the charging station all the time.
To use Pico, drivers pay with a credit card stored in an app or through a web interface without registering. Payments can also be set up through third party application integrations that enable other companies to directly integrate billing with their system. This opens up more exciting possibilities like a direct integration with a utility bill for utility-owned or managed chargers.
Peak Shaving and Building Energy
Buildings are limited by the capacity of their primary electrical connection to the grid which in turn, limits the power a charging station can draw. To maximize charging capacity, the smart-me Pico EV charger enables customers to set up the maximum power based on the overall system capacity. This allows a property owner to install multiple chargers and configure them to operate at a lower power to fit within the capacity of the primary connection to the utility.
The idea for Pico originated from the collaboration with smart-me’s early customers. These prosumers enjoyed the energy meters and a cloud-based energy management systems developed by the company and saw a natural fit for the integration of a smart EV charging station.
That’s why Pico was built with an open interface to third-party systems from day one. The integration opens up even more possibilities, including integration into smart home systems. The smart meter in Pico is MID Approved and provides real-time data on the charging current. The open backend system allows owners and companies to tap directly into this data as well as charging-specific metrics.
Synergies of Variable Renewable Electricity Generation and Electric Vehicles
In addition to the regulation of the individual charging station based on the building energy, the smart-me Pico EV charger can also access the energy measurement data from the integrated meter. The balance between electricity demand and supply is becoming an increasing challenge for grid operators. On the one hand, the share of renewable energy on the grid is increasing, and on the other hand, more and more electricity is needed to supply electric vehicles.
Pico was built to help owners balance local renewable energy generation and the consumption of the vehicle. Owners with on-site solar can configure the charger to utilize production from the solar array. “We noticed that it is important for many PV system owners to load their solar power directly into the car,” Eberli explains.
According to the IEA, electric cars are projected to consume 4% of global annual electricity production by 2030, compared to 0.3% today. To mitigate the increase in demand in the coming years, electric cars can be charged when electricity consumption is low and when a surplus of electricity generation exists. With an intelligent charging station like Pico, distribution system operators lay the foundation for more intelligent charging schemes, since the charging stations can also be controlled by the utility company.
smart-me is convinced this model has a future. The IEA estimates assume a 20–30% share of electric vehicles worldwide by 2030. Eberli says, “If you take into account that most people live in urban areas, it is obvious that the number of charging stations must also increase in semi-public spaces, like apartment buildings.”
To successfully transition to a sustainable, clean energy future, energy systems must be decentralized and digitized. One step in this direction is the implementation of intelligent, connected EV charging stations like Pico, which create flexibility and added value for both end customers and grid operators. Pico can be pre-ordered on Kickstarter until August 21, 2020.
*This post was sponsored by smart-me. All images courtesy smart-me and used with permission.