Smart cities bring EVs into a sustainable digital ecosystem

Cities are integrating with technology to become more sustainable, but the electric vehicle industry awaits the day that EVs join the digital ecosystem

Time is running out. The period in which we can take effective action against climate change is now.

The window is getting narrower by the day and, as a result, all organisations are looking into digital means of operating. Why? Because there’s more work to be done than simply planting trees, swapping out energy solutions and changing fuel-powered cars for electric vehicles (EVs). 

Historically, cities were built to allow access for cars in and around the city and to be operated manually and freely by those who occupied them. But the way the cities operate is changing. To eliminate congestion, cities are doing their best to weed out the internal combustion vehicles (ICVs) and replace them with solutions that fulfil the frequent demands of transporting the public. 

Fortunately, one of the fastest evolving industries can provide a host of benefits in the face of climate demands and is now forcing others towards more advanced, sustainable solutions. That industry is technology—perhaps one of the most broad in today’s society—and it is providing breakthrough innovations that enable further development of low-to-no-carbon systems that nudge the needle towards sustainability. 

As a result of this shift, cities are becoming smarter and ever-more-integrated with digital solutions to make certain functions faster and more convenient, while maintaining operational integrity. This is a response that firmly integrates the Internet of Things (IoT) into ‘smart cities’.

Cities facilitating digital adoption at scale can reap multiple benefits, particularly as EVs become integral components of a digital transport ecosystem. At the same time, city leaders must question 

What can cities achieve from digitalisation? 

The benefits that cities can gain from smart solutions are echoed across other digital devices like smartphones and tablets. Our growing digital ecosystem surrounds everything, and cars can become part of it—meaning that more solutions can be integrated with drivers’ homes, places of work, and the surrounding infrastructure. To achieve this, though, cities must take a more strategic approach and prepare infrastructure to be compatible with cars. 

“The integration of EVs within smart cities is presently quite haphazard, with limited deliberate integration to date,” says Nick Maynard, Head of Research at Juniper Research Ltd—a firm specialising in digital technology market research. 

“EV charging deployments have been ad-hoc, driven by individual charging network vendors, as opposed to being part of a coordinated plan to popularise electrification. Some cities have launched initiatives on EV charging, but these are the exception, rather than the rule.”

From the team’s research, we can garner that EVs have the potential to integrate into all aspects of city living but are currently not prepared for this, therefore the approach to doing so has been one of experimentation. On the positive side, there is ample room for exciting new innovations and this will provide a competitive edge for technology firms and automotive manufacturers alike. 

So, what are the goals shaping smart city innovation? 

Perhaps the industry can take inspiration from the leading EV charging company, ChargePoint? Tanya Sinclair, Senior Director of Policy, Europe at ChargePoint, details some of the company’s end goals: 

  • Plan infrastructure using data 
  • Scale to meet growing demand well into the future 
  • Save money and improve efficiency with intelligent power management 
  • Respond to faults and issues in near-real time for a better charging experience 
  • Improve decisions with location awareness 
  • Influence charging behaviour with flexible pricing 
  • Streamline planning with integrated data insights 
  • Encourage electrification with smart infrastructure 
  • Help low-income communities by lowering costs and improving access

What is holding back cities from smart capabilities?

“Achieving smart and clean mobility requires cities to have infrastructure that is also smart,” says Sinclair. “Smart charging for EVs (connected, interoperable, remotely-monitored, software-led charging) is vital to achieving cleaner, more efficient mobility in the cities of the future.” 

In just one sentence, Sinclair is able to highlight many of the components that could be included in a smart city digital ecosystem.

“Smart EV charging connects and communicates with all the stakeholders in a smart city: vehicles, drivers, residents, parking or charging operators, electric utilities, city systems, data management platforms, payment platforms, and enforcement systems.”

The passing of regulations on smart charging solutions is a step in the right direction, but infrastructure is not yet in place to support full electrification—not to mention the low affordability of new EVs.


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