Twilio explains how IoT is reshaping the EV charging sector
Opinion piece by Jon Asmussen, Head of Business Development, Twilio IoT.
The internet of things (IoT) describes a network of objects that can exchange data in real time with one another, utilising embedded sensors and software. Day to day, consumers interact with IoT technology through their home appliances, gadgets, and voice assistants. However, IoT is also embedded in the world around us as big data, smart healthcare, and smart agriculture, to name a few.
We’re seeing significant shifts in the way technology supports human life, making it more efficient and simply “smarter,” putting us firmly on the path toward living in fully-fledged smart cities. In line with the trend toward a smarter world, the electric vehicle market has also grown significantly. Predictions state that EVs will represent 24% of cars produced worldwide by 2026.
A key indicator of a product or industry’s success is often customer choice. IEA reports that there are about 450 models of EV on the market today, which is more than double the number available in 2018. Affordability of electric vehicles is improving, but it isn’t yet where it needs to be for mass adoption.
Of course, with the booming EV market comes advances in EV infrastructure.
EVs, unlike internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, must be charged in order to function. This can take as little as 20 minutes up to around 30 hours, depending on the type of charger the EV driver is using.
Many EV owners opt to charge at home, simply plugging in overnight and waking up for the office commute with a full battery the next day. However, some drivers don’t have access to a home charger, so publicly available EV charge points can now be found all over—from offices, malls, and gyms to road-side charge points between cities. In fact, there are now 2.3 million charging stations worldwide.
A diverse range of charge point operators (CPOs) manage these 2.3 million charging stations, which are made up of three key elements:
- Charger: This is the physical hardware unit, which is equipped with connectivity options, charging protocols, and sensors.
- EV app: An app connects EV drivers with the EV charge point and charging network. Drivers will use this to locate their nearest charge point, see available chargers, and manage or track payments.
- Software: A cloud-based platform performs data analytics and manages payments, charger availability, pricing status, and content delivery.
All three of these elements are enabled by IoT technologies, and they interact with one another in order to produce the customer experience. To meet the expectation of the customer for a seamless charging experience, they all need to be regularly and reliably online. With companies such as Twilio offering cellular connectivity optimized for smart EV charging, reliable connections among charge infrastructure is possible.
Thanks in part to cellular-powered IoT solutions, the EV charging industry is accelerating and being reshaped, bringing the next wave of innovation to the market. Here’s how.
1. IoT is creating intuitive connections to the grid
With the boom in EVs comes a rising strain on every city’s electricity grid. All those cars need power. And all those cars take time to charge. Of course, thousands of new vehicles charging at the same time increases the load on electricity distribution networks, especially as they all tend to charge at night.
When cities reach 50% EV ownership, as many are planning to do, nighttime charging could lead to a 25% surge on the grid. If the grid is to remain stable, this needs to be managed carefully.
IoT software connects with charge plugs and the EV driver’s apps, so CPOs can start to manage and predict charging activity. Energy suppliers can use this data to manage their output. This way, data-driven operation of both infrastructures enables CPOs to effectively manage the demand on the grid and ensure that all charging activity remains within capacity.
Interestingly, IoT charging is also helping EV car manufacturers on the journey to vehicle-to-grid (V2X) charging. Here, energy flows bi-directionally from the EV to the grid and back. This enables EVs to hold energy and push it back to the grid when needed to manage spikes in electricity demand. An IoT software would manage this activity, not only ensuring that drivers have a fully charged car when needed, but also that the car is supporting the grid when not in use by its driver.
2. IoT is enabling remote monitoring and debugging
EV charge points are a time-consuming element of the EV driver experience. So when they’re broken, they can seriously disrupt a driver’s day. All too often, that’s the case. A University of California, Berkeley study showed that 22.7% of tested chargers were non-functioning due to broken or unresponsive screens, payment failures, network failures, and broken connectors.
In most cases, EV charge points aren’t staffed in the same way that gas stations are, meaning that drivers cannot get help when needed.
Remote monitoring and upgradeability over cellular can assist in creating greater uptime and prevention of lost revenue for CPOs. While not a panacea due to the prevalence of physical hardware damage, cellular-enabled remote monitoring and maintenance gives CPOs the opportunity to detect and possibly fix charger downtime from afar.
When chargers are remotely connected and monitored through IoT, charge point operators experience a range of benefits:
- Increased savings: A study into remote monitoring demonstrated that mid-sized EV charging companies could save 15% in annual monitoring costs.
- Improved customer satisfaction: Remote monitoring fixes issues quickly and reduces the amount of time a charger is broken or unresponsive.
Bringing customers smoother experiences with functioning chargers will continue the acceleration and adoption of EVs, as range anxiety decreases and customer satisfaction increases.
3. IoT is enabling smoother payments
Unlike the “gas station experience” around the globe, there is currently no dominant way of managing user payments at EV charging points. Some CPOs offer payments by the kilowatt-hour, while others operate on a subscription model. Some allow payment by credit card while others require an in-app payment.
IoT-enabled infrastructure makes it easy to standardise this process and offer clients a better payment experience. With smart chargers, apps, and software, customers can tap their RFID card or tag, use their smartphone for access to the charger, or even leverage emerging smart plug technology for plug and charge. Then, the IoT platform will perform user authentication. From there, the platform ensures a safe, standardised, and secure payment. With cellular IoT’s encryption to protect data privacy, customers also experience safer and more secure payments.
About Jon Asmussen
Jon Asmussen has 20 years of experience in wireless telecommunications and software in roles spanning business development, sales, and product management. For over 10 years he has been focused on helping businesses achieve operational efficiencies leveraging IoT technologies. As head of business development for Twilio IoT, he is responsible for partnerships, channels, and market development.