Smart Charging: All you need to know

The complete guide to Smart Charging in the EV industry in 2024.

The number of electric vehicles worldwide is expected to reach 230 million by the end of the decade as governments continue investing in EVs and charging infrastructure to tackle climate change. The increased demand for electricity from the rising numbers of EVs poses a challenge to our grid. Uncontrolled charging causes peaks in demand, stressing the power system and potentially disrupting its capacity. EMobility depends on a resilient grid supported by technological solutions that mitigate the impact of EVs. Far from spelling catastrophe, this scenario allows us to create an improved, more flexible version of our current energy systems. To sustainably charge electric cars on a large scale, we need smart charging.

1. What is Smart Charging?

Smart charging is a system that monitors, manages, and limits charging stations in order to optimize energy consumption. It allows you to control when and how fast an EV is charged by connecting it to the grid. Smart charging techniques leverage time and power, resulting in different profiles and strategies where you can speed up, slow down or stop charging. By automatically charging electric vehicles outside of peak hours, it avoids grid congestion and minimizes the impact on the grid. Smart charging adjusts demand so that there is always enough power to meet demand without compromising capacity. It also allows more renewable energy resources, such as solar and wind power, to be integrated into the energy system.

Types of Smart Charging

2. How Smart Charging Works

Smart charging connects charge points with users and operators. When an EV is plugged in, the charging station sends information such as the charging time and speed to a cloud-based EV charging management platform. Additional data about the grid’s capacity and how energy is currently being used is automatically sent and analyzed by the platform. This data is then used to decide how and when EVs are charged. This way, network operators can remotely regulate energy usage via an EV charging management platform, and drivers can set smart charging capabilities through their mobile application.

3. Types of Smart Charging

Smart charging can be divided into two main types: user-managed charging (UMC) and Supplier-managed charging (SMC).

3.1. User-managed charging

The EV driver uses time-of-use pricing to charge during off-peak hours when electricity is the cheapest.

3.2. Supplier-managed charging

Supplier-managed charging and discharging are based on multiple signals such as real-time energy production, local energy consumption, state of charge information etc. V2G, V2B, and V2H are advanced supplier-managed charging approaches.

V2G smart charging can inject electricity back into the grid and help charge point operators/system operators manage energy consumption and increase the use of renewable energy.

Power production V2G illustration

V2B/V2H – During this type of charging, vehicles supply power to the home or building. Battery storage capacity makes EVs a flexible solution for the power system.

4. Smart Charging Techniques

Smart charging efficiently manages how your electric vehicle charges by connecting it to the grid via three main techniques: load shifting, peak shaving, and dynamic load balancing.

4.1. Load shifting

Load shifting essentially means that EV charging is managed so that it primarily occurs during off-peak periods. Charging is slower during peak loads and faster when the grid isn’t under pressure.

Load shifting illustration

4.2. Peak shaving

Peak shaving prevents exceeding the energy capacity at a given location. It automatically balances the power consumption dynamically between the charger and the rest of the energy consumption in the building. Peak shaving will automatically slow down charging or stop it altogether when it looks like you’re reaching maximum capacity until there is enough power available again to complete the charging.

Peak shaving illustration

4.3. Dynamic Load balancing

To balance between all the energy users such as cars, heat pumps, elevators etc. EV charging must be adjusted. This is achieved with dynamic load balancing or dynamic load management. It ensures all vehicles are efficiently charged within the maximum available power and according to their charging capacity.

Dynamic Load balancing illustration

5. The Benefits of Smart Charging

Smart charging technologies are designed to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of energy consumption. Charging at home and workplaces happens during periods of high demand on the electricity system. A smarter energy system can minimize peak demand and maximize the use of low-carbon renewable electricity.

5.1. Optimal use of the grid

Smart charging allows network operators to monitor charging remotely, set energy consumption limits, and ensure the energy capacity is not exceeded at a given location. 

By regulating the energy flow according to the peaks and lows in energy demand, smart charging creates a resilient energy system that can withstand surges caused by EV charging. Furthermore, by leveraging the power of smart charging, the system avoids congestion and the need to spend billions on reinforcing the grids with power upgrades.

5.2. Lower energy bills for consumers

When a driver plugs their car into a smart charger, it won’t necessarily start charging immediately.  By using smart scheduling and time-of-use-based tariffs, drivers can rest assured they will save money and energy by automatically charging when electricity is at its cheapest and within the maximum, predetermined energy limits.

5.3. Faster, safer charging

Smart charging uses the optimal maximum charging speed available. It achieves this by taking into account the maximum available power, the car’s charging capacity (which differs depending on brand and model), other cars that may be charging simultaneously, other energy users, the charging station’s power capacity, and the connection to the grid. 

5.4. Increased renewable energy usage

Our future power systems must include renewable energy sources. EVs present an opportunity to maximize the environmental benefits and introduce much higher shares of renewables into the overall power generation mix. 

6. The Four Essential Layers of Smart Charging

6.1. Technical layer

This layer includes the technology (the charging station, the car, and the EV charging management system) and data that make smart charging possible. There are three crucial elements to the technical layer:

  • There must be a way to send and receive a control signal.
  • The data concerning power consumption, state of charge, and price must be exchanged.
  • Maximum charging capabilities must be determined by the car’s capacity, the charging station type, and the connection to the grid.

Smart charging is enabled by an EV charging management system that uses information from the car, the charging station, or even a home energy system to determine when and how fast a car should be charged. A control signal that can start and stop charging is the simplest form of smart charging. For optimal use of smart charging, you need data on power consumption, battery state of charge, and more, as shown in the table below.

Smart charging optimizes the total energy consumption at a location and minimizes costs. It considers the available power at a given location, other energy users, and whether there are renewable energy resources that can support charging.

Apart from energy consumption, smart charging also needs to take into account the variety of users and prioritize charging speed and access depending on a user’s subscription or tariff plan. 

6.2. Communication layer

The charging station, the car, and the energy management system must be able to communicate with each other securely. The more information available in the form of data exchange, the better the system can be customized. The charging station and the management system can make better decisions based on the state of charge of the car’s battery, the time an EV driver has to leave, the distance he needs to travel, and whether there is renewable energy that can be used. 

There are three main communication methods:

  • Smart charging via charging infrastructure

In this method, the grid operator provides a signal to the backend CPMS to the charge point, allowing the car to charge faster or slower.

  • Smart charging via car

In this method, the car manufacturer receives real-time information about the car and can send information to the car. The smart charging signal runs via the car manufacturer to the EV, which then starts charging faster or slower. 

  • Smart charging via Energy Management System

Smart charging signals can also be sent via an energy management system that can protect against overloading the grid when EV charging stations are connected to the building.  

The role of open communication standards

Open standards in communication between charging stations, CPMS, and cars are crucial to smart charging. Through them, data can be accessed, shared, and collected by all stakeholders in the EV value chain to improve services and plan for future infrastructure development. They encourage innovation and competition, translating into better services and lower prices for EV drivers.

  • Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP)

This is an open communication protocol that connects charging stations with back-end management software solutions. Apart from guaranteeing interoperability between existing and new EV charging stations, OCPP alleviates the mounting impact on the existing electricity grid by facilitating dynamic load management. Smart charging requires transmitting control signals. Therefore it’s important that chargers and back-end management systems can communicate with each other regardless of the brand.

  • ISO15118 

As well as ensuring the charge point can communicate with the CPMS, the EV should also be able to communicate with every charge point. ISO 15118 is a communication protocol between EVs and charge points that makes this possible. It enables Plug and Charge capabilities where the authorization to start charging is done simply by connecting the vehicle to a charger, simplifying the charging experience for the driver. 

  • The Open Automated Demand Response (OpenADR) 

OpenADR is a communication protocol that allows electricity providers and system operators to communicate Demand Response (DR) events and price information. This helps utilities implement new approaches to shifting electricity load by sending an automated message to the building requesting participation in a load event or indicating a change in the price of electricity.

6.3. Organizational layer

This layer includes all the stakeholders in the EV charging value chain:

  • The EV driver
  • The car manufacturer
  • The charge point operator
  • The electric mobility service provider
  • The grid operator
  • Energy supplier

They each have different needs and interests when it comes to smart charging:

EV drivers

EV drivers require a range of smart charging options as well as opt-in, opt-out and charge now options which supersede other limitations. They require the ability to choose whether to charge when electricity is cheapest or charge as sustainably as possible by using solar panels or other renewable energy sources.

Charge point operators

Charge point operators need to meet consumer mobility needs and offer flexibility services, leading to an increased number of CPO business models. 

Energy suppliers

Energy suppliers are responsible for a continuous power supply, so they can use smart charging to prevent system imbalances and offer a solution if there are unexpected changes to energy provision.

Grid operators

Grid operators must be able to maintain the grid’s energy balance even during peak demand and use various forms of renewable energy to support the grid. Smart charging provides a solution by temporarily not charging electric cars or charging them less quickly during peak demand.

Smart charging requires all stakeholders to work together to develop rules that satisfy EV drivers, fulfill sustainability goals, and ensure healthy revenue models for commercial parties.

6.4. Legal layer

The legal set of contracts, laws, and regulations will determine how and to what extent smart charging is used. We have to develop effective laws and regulations in which stakeholders can work together. 
An example of such regulations is the new UK smart charging laws which state that as of June 2022, it will be illegal to sell and install home and workplace charge points that do not comply with the Electric Vehicles (Smart Charge Points) Regulations 2021. These regulations aim to maximize the use of smart technologies to protect the grid and benefit consumers with cheaper electricity rates. Some of the requirements are covered by the manufacturers. Others are covered by the EV charging management system used to operate the charge points. This means that companies will need to have both the right chargers with the right CPMS to be compliant with the UK regulations and sell these chargers.

Smart Charging Layers

7. Future Opportunities for Smart Charging

7.1. Virtual Power Plants 

A virtual power plant (VPP) is a group of decentralized energy assets that can be remotely controlled as one entity. It integrates several types of power sources to give a reliable overall power supply. When we consider only one electric vehicle, the flexibility it represents is very small. But when EVs are aggregated, they can complement one another, resulting in a virtual power plant (VPP). VPPs can be used to provide flexibility in a demand response market and will play an ever-increasing role in the energy transition. The market for this type of flexibility is large, but the residential opportunity is still largely untapped. Businesses that can create large VPPs with residential EVs will capture a lot of value.

7.2. Bidirectional charging – V2G, V2H, V2X 

The next step in smart charging is bidirectional charging, where the car is used for energy storage. This is referred to as V2G or V2X. The power stored in EVs can be used to power homes or even go back into the grid. EVs can support the grid during high demand times, or they can store locally generated power from renewable energy sources and supply it in the evening. This is still largely in the experimental stages, and it needs more development in order to ensure it works efficiently.

Unidirectional and Bidirectional Charging

8. Software-enabled Solutions and Innovations in Smart Charging

As EV penetration increases, managing charging will become critical to reducing the costs and the impact on the grid. Without scalable smart charging capabilities and incentives that align driver behavior with lower-cost charging schedules, the grid will likely require expensive infrastructural upgrades. Smart charging technologies and capabilities successfully encourage EV driver participation, stabilize electricity demand, and use renewable energy sources effectively. 

Going forward, technological developments based on open protocols, smart hardware, and flexible software platforms will add additional benefits to smart charging. To stay competitive and up to date, EV charging business owners need to think long-term and choose EV charging business partners that will enable them to adapt to industry changes.

AMPECO is a global leader in EV charging management software and offers network operators an all-in-one solution that addresses energy challenges with smart charging capabilities. It facilitates demand response and distributed energy automation with OpenADR. It connects homes and businesses with utilities to manage power fluctuations by adjusting power consumption in response to grid demand. AMPECO’s API seamlessly integrates with smart meters, building management systems, and renewable energy sources to maximize efficiency.

In the home charging market, network operators can offer homeowners efficiency and convenience with smart charging features such as flexible electricity tariffs and smart scheduling to reduce costs.

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Schedule a consultation with our EV charging experts to learn more about smart charging and everything related to running a thriving EV charging business. Let us show you how AMPECO’s EV charging management platform can meet your needs and set you up for success.

Smart Charging: The Definitive Guide (2024) - The complete guide to Smart Charging in the EV industry in 2024.