1. What is smart charging?
Smart charging refers to a system where an electric vehicle and a charging device share a data connection, and the charging device shares a data connection with a charging operator.
As opposed to traditional (or dumb) charging devices that aren’t connected to the cloud, smart charging allows the charging station owner to monitor, manage, and restrict the use of their devices remotely to optimize energy consumption.
With cloud-based solutions, only sky is the limit (pun intended). Smart EV charging service can be modified: it is effortless to add and remove features and create a system that suits your needs. New features can also be added and updated to existing charging stations. This is why smart EV charging is also future-proof. Changing demands and hopes will be turned into new features, and added into the smart system as the world keeps changing.
Electric cars connected to the grid with smart charging create a symbiosis with the power grid — they support each other. Without smart charging, this connection wouldn't exist and EVs could become a burden on the grid.
Psst! We recently worked with Eurelectric and BBC StoryWorks Commercial Productions to put together this handy video that illustrates how smart charging works. 👇
2. How does smart EV charging work?
Smart EV charging is powered by an intelligent back-end solution that brings real-time data from connected charging devices and charging events to the charging station owner’s fingertips.
As stations are connected to the cloud, they can be managed based on various signals: such as fickle energy production, local electricity consumption, amount of other vehicles being charged or electrical devices being used on a nearby premise. In order to create a more sustainable energy system based on renewable energy sources, EV charging has to be smart.
What happens during a smart charging event?
Smart charging requires an electric car driver to identify at the charging station. Identification connects the EV driver, charging point and the charging event together. The right price will be charged from the right customer, and money is directed to the right charging station owner. Since it’s smart, everything happens automatically.
For EV drivers registered to the charging service, identification is effortless: they just log in to the mobile application and start charging, or show their RFID tag to the charger. Unregistered users can also use the stations and pay with a credit or debit card.
The charging event itself happens based on the settings and prices set by the station owner. The station can be part of a station group and include plenty of smart features occurring on the background, but for the end-user charging is as easy as it can be: they just identify and plug in.
The number of smart EV charging service providers is increasing, and all these service providers have their own charging platforms. This causes no trouble for the EV drivers when cars are charged smartly: thanks to roaming networks. Most smart charging platforms, like ours, are connected to roaming platforms. Through roaming, customers can charge at any station with just one customer account. In practice, one customer account is enough to enable driving around in Europe.
3. The benefits of smart charging
Smart EV charging is especially beneficial, even essential, for the energy market. But good things come in plenty: smartness is profitable for the electric car drivers, charging station owners and charging network operators as well.
Here's how you and your customers can benefit from smart charging.
Benefits to EV drivers
Wouldn’t it be tempting to think that it doesn’t really matter where you charge your vehicle, as long as it gets charged? Unfortunately that's not the case.
As an EV driver with access to smart charging, you’ll:
Find available charging points
Find available charging points easily on a mobile app and reserve your charging spot on the go. The mobile application shows you information about the charging power and price, and real-time data about the availability of charging stations
Charge fasterThe smart device will automatically use the maximum amount of energy available. The maximum charging power of most smart devices is 22 kW. Fast charging stations can charge even with a maximum power of 150kW.
Especially compared to a household socket, a smart charging device is a much safer and a more carefree option. Smart devices automatically test the connection between your vehicle and the device before they start charging. All charging events are being monitored and can be controlled remotely.
Avoid arguments with neighbors
Avoid unnecessary arguments and disputes on energy consumption between neighbors, as consumption data can be easily traced back to the right person. With smart charging, all EV drivers are billed after charging based on the station pricing. It all happens automatically: neither you as an EV driver or the charging point owner has to worry about payments. Automated billing is based on customer identification, thus the charging event only starts when you have successfully identified yourself at the station with the mobile app, RFID tags or the one-time payment service.
Save money — and the environmentYou'll also save money and protect the environment by automatically optimizing the timing of your charging event to favor charging when electricity is at its cheapest. Optimizing the charging event to take place during the low electricity consumption hours is not only cheaper but helps in balancing the grid. The number of EV drivers keeps growing and more flexibility will be needed in the future. Energy companies can even start offering incentives to EV drivers for charging with lower power, timing their charging events to take place at low consumption hours or enabling their car batteries to be momentarily used as power reserves.
Benefits to businesses
Much like consumers, businesses also have a lot to gain from smart EV charging. Actually, doing it the smart way is the only sensible and future-proof solution.
Smart charging allows you to:
Monitor charging events remotely
You'll get access to a smart management system that allows you to monitor and control charging events remotely, view usage statistics, and report issues. All your stations are connected to the charging platform and thus to each other. You can group stations together and manage them in a stack. This enables, for instance, limiting the charging power of a station group. Pricing packages and charging station information can also be edited conveniently.
Stop worrying about payments
Wouldn't it be nice if you had access to a hassle-free billing system that charges customers either through their Virta account or directly from their payment cards? When it comes to payments and billing, you don’t have to do anything. EV drivers are billed automatically based on the prices you have set, and we’ll transfer the income to you monthly.
Take control of your electricity consumption
You'll also get controlled charging events so that you don’t have to worry about exceeding the capacity of your local grid, or paying an arm and a leg in the form of your electricity bill. By grouping stations together you can save money since the need to grow the electrical connection can be avoided. If the maximum charging power set for the station group is exceeded, the charging power drops down automatically at all stations in the group.
Get peace of mind
However, the most important benefit of smart EV charging is really quite simple: it allows you to stay focused on your main business. After the charging station has been installed, it doesn’t require your attention — unless you want to keep up with the statistics and business figures.
Benefits to EV charging networks
To utility companies building their own EV charging networks, smart charging is an absolute necessity. After all, how else would you serve multiple charging stations through your own network?
Smart charging helps EV charging networks to:
Stabilize the grid
Smart charging events can be controlled based on various signals: for example, charging can be automatically set to start when electricity demand is at its lowest. The ability to control charging based on different energy production and consumption signals offers you new business opportunities. Energy management features should be provided for EV drivers as an opportunity, a chance to voluntarily take part in demand-response. Consumers also need incentives and information.
Keep up with the changing world
The pace of change in the mobility sector is rapid and not all future needs can be predicted. Smart charging services located in the cloud can be updated, changed and developed on the go. When you purchase a smart charging solution, you purchase a service that is up to date every day.
Easily manage a number of stations
As a network operator, you can create device groups, pricing models and packages for end-customers. Testing different prices and managing station groups is effortless. We’ll help you to get started with using the management tools so you can make the most of the smart system.
Stay up to date on your business
Keeping up with your business is more effortless than ever: All actions at your charging stations are visible in the management system and collected into convenient and easy-to-read overviews. You can follow the key metrics and statistics, and even view individual station events if you wish.
4. The elements of smart charging
All electric vehicles are compatible with smart charging devices but not all charging devices are smart. Smartness is a word being used here and there, but a smart device has to include some characteristics in order to be fully applicable with all the future-proof feature possibilities smart charging offers.
When you’re selecting a charging device, consider at least these 3 things:
- Make sure that the stations can be connected to the cloud. Devices should include for example GPRS or 3G connection in order to communicate with the service.
- Devices should include a standardized socket type: Type 2, or CHAdeMO and CCS Combo in case of a fast charging device.
- Devices should be compatible with the backend of your choosing. The most common, standard protocol is called OCPP, Open Charge Point Protocol, that allows you to mix-and-match different software and hardware to create a comprehensive charging experience.
The newer standard version, the better, but the most important thing is that the chosen device and platform follow the same standard version.
The good news is that most smart charging platforms won’t force you into a vendor trap — and we’re no different. With Virta, you can freely choose your devices from a long list of supported vendors and models. Currently, we follow OCPP 1.5, 1.6, 2.0 and keep updating as new versions come out. Check out the full list of smart charging devices we support.
While smart devices are a prerequisite for smart EV charging, the real hero of the story are the smart features of the EV charging platform.
The admin panel
The admin panel is your best friend if you happen to operate multiple charging points across multiple locations. This is where you can set the price for public charging, manage your stations remotely, as well as view and download usage statistics.
The admin panel provides you with tools that help you become familiar with your station statistics, and make changes in the features, station details and prices based on key metrics. As the charging network operator, you can also manage the information about your customers, registrations and RFID tag shipments in the admin panel.
In short, it offers you an opportunity to be active in station management, but in practice everything runs smoothly without your active participation. We’ll take care of all the behind-the-scenes tasks so you can keep your focus on your main business.
Automatic payments & billing
Automatic payments and billing are yet another convenient feature you’ll gain by investing in smart charging. Instead of having to manually charge your customers or employees after their charging events, the platform does it for you. And the best part? Your customers are free to choose how they want to pay. From RFID tags to the mobile app and one-time payments using a payment card, all you have to do is sit back and relax as the money flows in.
Mobile & web apps for the end-users
Mobile & web apps for the end-users take your customer experience to a whole new level. They allow drivers to find and reserve available charging points, add their favorite stations, view their charging history and more. Thanks to its smartness, the mobile application shows real-time data about the charging stations to the EV drivers. The mobile application is basically everything EV drivers need for charging.
Roaming helps the charging station owners to attract more users and gain more income. For EV drivers, roaming provides a possibility to charge at tens of thousands of stations in a number of ways, such as through third-party applications or cards. Roaming improves the user experience and functions the same way as mobile data roaming. Smartness is a requirement for roaming, as the devices have to be connected to the roaming networks. Virta is currently connected with the roaming networks of Hubject and Gireve.
Dynamic load management
Dynamic load management (or DLM) is such a pivotal concept in smart EV charging that it’s sometimes mistakenly used as a synonym to all smart features. In reality, dynamic load management refers to a smart charging platform’s ability to automatically distribute the available power between the building and the electric vehicles that are being charged simultaneously. In other words, DLM helps you protect the local grid from peak loads and saves you from the hassle of having to upgrade the building’s energy infrastructure.
Energy management features
Energy management features are the key components in connecting EVs to the grid. Without smart charging stations, electric cars can't be used in supporting the electricity system. Watch this video to understand the symbiosis of electric car and the energy system. 👇
Still want to learn more about V2G? Check out our comprehensive guide about vehicle-to-grid and its' possibilities.
5. Why Virta?
At Virta, we have the ability and ambition to build best-in-class services that work not only today but also tomorrow and several years into the future.
These are the things that make us the smartest EV charging service:
A) Flexible & future-proof
For us, flexibility means supporting our customers’ needs, developing our services to match changing needs and demands, and offering services that are not built to match with just one business model. Electric vehicle charging services can be offered on multiple levels: you can own just one station, or thousands of chargers across the country.
We provide you with all the tools you need to build a business around EV charging. Our platform adapts to multiple business models. You can either manage your own network of charging stations or provide the service for other charging point managers. Our service portfolio is large, because we want to offer our customers everything they’ll need, not just bits and pieces.
B) The best customer experience
All our solutions can be rebranded and customized to meet your customers’ needs. Localization is an effective way to nurture your end-customers and offer them a polished charging experience. All customer touch points can be made to look and feel like your brand and also to include your local language, currencies and other local features. A comprehensive localization can be done quickly to all mobile and web apps.
The possibilities and benefits of roaming for electric car drivers are quite clear – roaming makes life easier and expands the charging network.
C) A pioneer in energy management solutions
We are forerunners when it comes to the services electric vehicles can offer to the energy system. Others may talk the talk, but we walk the walk.
Currently the volumes of electric car charging loads are still rather small, and the need to use cars as electricity reserves is not yet urgent. Yet, when the EV boom hits the phase where connections with the energy grid and smart energy management features become necessary, we are ready with a full capability to support the volatile energy system with electric car charging services. For instance, our Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) solution is already commercially available for energy utilities.
If you'd like to read more about our energy management solutions, click here. 👇
6. Further reading
NRDC: Smart EV charging – what's in it for you?
EVs do more than just drive you around. With the right systems and incentives in place, EVs can help the power grid and fill your wallet doing so.
Read the whole article >>
McKinsey: Electric vehicle infrastructure demand
Access to efficient charging could become a roadblock to electric-vehicle uptake. Let’s look at the numbers and costs behind the problem.
CCV: The future of payment solutions in EV charging
In this article, the authors will explore the challenges related to EV charging payments, and propose solutions based on existing and future technology.
UCS: What is smart charging? A look at how electric vehicles fit in
Can electric vehicles allow the grid to accommodate greater levels of variable renewable energy? That’s what Peter O'Connor is looking to find out.