An Insider’s Perspective on Electrification of the Automotive Industry
Electrification in the automotive industry is a game-changer. As gas prices soar and more Americans embrace a transition to EVs, a number of questions arise about what is required to sustain this demand, and permanently alter transportation, energy distribution, and sustainability.
To better understand the challenges and the changing face of electromobility, we spoke with Thana Paris, Christian Weissmann, and Lee Angioletti, three of S44’s software engineers working on the back-end of a nationwide electromobility project.
Where are we now?
There is a general buzz within the industry, following President Biden’s promise to improve the infrastructure within the US. Alongside this promise, organizations that work towards CPOs and MSPs to increase the number of charging stations.
Every week, a new location is added to the list of places, with EV charging stations, making the total, at the time of publishing, over 500. And that’s just from one company.
On top of that, in the last decade, EV chargers have undergone an evolution, from taking up to 20 hours to fully charge to fast-charging in less than an hour. Finally, we are getting closer to a standardized version despite some older car models needing access to now-outdated technology.
When EVs first hit the market, it could take hours for some models to fully charge from empty. Now, it’s increasingly popular for EV charging stations, both private and public, to include Fast Charging capabilities, meaning that EVs can now become fully charged within 20 minutes.
But to continue improving the infrastructure, more than just the hardware needs to be improved. We need to think about the role of software within the ever-changing tech world and how to best implement it to grow and adapt in the future.
Electromobility and electrification will face many challenges, from current limitations to future possibilities.
Distance and battery Life
Challenge: Usability is one of the key challenges for the industry. For example, if you go on a road trip with a combustion engine vehicle, you’re less likely to think about stops. So instead, you just drive, and as the needle drops towards the red, you go to a gas station to fill up.
With EVs, it’s not so simple. Usability requires some forward planning and knowing where to stop and when. The early adopters of EVs faced many issues that we are starting to overcome today.
Solution: We can now go further and charge in just 20 minutes. So what’s the next phase? How can we go even further and charge even faster?
We can use 350kwh batteries within EVs, but the next goal is to reach 500kwh. That requires planning and forethought from technologists and engineers who can think outside the box and ensure that further innovation can take place.
Apps for convenience
Challenge: Even with the welcomed news of investment in infrastructure, we were already seeing considerable growth in the use of apps that we’ve developed. Initial user base for the charging app was at approximately 40,000 – in less than a year, we are gaining 10,000 users per week, and facilitating 12,000 daily charging sessions.
In addition, as it currently stands, when a new EV purchase is made, the customer has access to an application for that particular make and model of EV. The customer also has to download an app for each charging network, e.g. Electrify America, ChargePoint, etc. Consumers quickly get overwhelmed by having three or four different apps just to access charging networks.
Solution: We are working on a solution that will collect and aggregate various data points from multiple applications, and pull them into one location. This will mean that customers will no longer need to log in or maintain multiple charging applications to charge their EV. That is true convenience.
As this technology grows in line with the electromobility industry, these tools will become more mainstream and can be optimized in the future. In addition, fast charging capabilities and battery life will also extend exponentially, which means that we will get more for less.
Energy distribution and generation
Challenge: As great as this is for the electromobility industry, we must consider the challenges of our current finite resources. Electricity doesn’t just come from thin air. There are now multiple energy sources, from traditional sources to solar, hydroelectric, wind power, and more.
Solution: One of the more exciting solutions is how infrastructure will change. There is already technology out there to help consumers identify times and sources that are cheaper and more efficient for them to use power. On top of that, the user can control where the power is coming from.
Energy load balancing will also help manage resource demands and handle redistribution of energy across multiple vehicles simultaneously. So the increase in the number of EV users will also increase the number of users at any one charging station.
Standardization of EV charging stations
Challenge: Simply put, not all manufacturers of EVs use the same type of plug technology. So there are some chargers that certain vehicles just can’t use. With that said, it’s becoming more common that all EV chargers are equipped with CCS plug compatibility.
Solution: Currently, DC adapters communicate data with dispensers, and it’s this communication that allows the car to charge safely. If the hardware begins to overheat, the software can stop the charging process to cool back down. This safety feature also reduces the risk of fire and burnout.
Some protocols have been adopted throughout Europe that would greatly benefit the US.
Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) is a protocol that describes the communication layer between the dispenser and the backend. So the idea behind the protocol is for OEMs of EV dispensers to load firmware onto their dispensers that are universally operable. This helps standardize how chargers are supposed to operate.
So, for example, one EV charging station provider may have multiple distributors that provide them with chargers. If all of them are implementing the OCP protocol on the firmware for their machines, then this would not entirely cover all the bases. Because of this, it’s natural for a company to want to apply extensions to the protocol.
Open Charge Point Interface (OCPI) is currently being implemented with roaming in places across Europe. And it's working to facilitate that operability. By implementing both, we can garner standardization across the industry within the US.
Although we are excited about the future of electrification and innovation opportunities to move electromobility forward, we must make sure that we work together with different organizations to benefit the industry.
It is easy to think of electromobility as a topic with most impact on the automotive sector. However, it is actually a challenge to be solved for a network of sectors that will grow and develop together. The changes that are happening within the industry don’t just impact EVs and charging stations, but will also impact home energy, public parking, workspaces, and more.
With investment promised to improve America’s infrastructure, we can be sure that the future will happen sooner rather than later. We have already been working on ironing out plans to provide solutions to challenges that currently exist and prepare for possible challenges in the future.
One thing is certain, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and some of these possibilities may even need further work down the road.