Danny Winn, business unit director for eMobility at Schneider Electric, outlines how big businesses can avoid the road to regret when choosing their EV charging solution.
Electric vehicle (EV) sales continue to grow impressively in the UK despite a significant lack of supply. Once we see these supply issues resolved, three-digit growth will likely become the norm over the next few years. As the switch gathers pace, estates and buildings managers need to consider how they meet demand for charging from employees, visitors and their own fleets.
While EV is still a relatively new market, it is already heavily saturated, with a vast range of hardware and systems capability. This presents a major challenge for managers seeking a provider that will deliver the solution they need today, and that will continue to be fit for purpose as their EV charging infrastructure scales over the next five years.
If businesses want to avoid the road to regret, there are four major criteria they should consider when making that tough choice:
1. Is it smart and connectable?
The term ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) doesn’t seem so new anymore. It’s essential we ensure our assets are connected and smart, allowing remote control and integration with existing applications.
Traditionally, most EV charging capacity installed in the UK amounts to what the industry considers ‘dumb’ charging. This system is effective in the short term so long as volumes remain low.
However, the next evolution is a semi-smart system, which works on a master-slave framework, where one charger is smart, and the others rely on the master to be intelligent and connected to the cloud. This is a temporary fix but it has long-term limitations – lose the master and likely lose all your charging capacity.
Consider instead a system where each charger is individually smart and has its own IP address. This ensures it can integrate with your future network standalone, future-proofing your investment while being more reliable.
As your EV charger network expands the value and costs of managing your asset also grows, as does the need to pass on costs to users. Doing these two things effectively at scale without smart charging isn’t possible.
2. Business continuity – do your homework!
You don’t have to look far back to find examples of other fast-growing markets to see how quickly the landscape changes. IT is a perfect example of a market that’s exploded over the last 30 years, fermenting seismic shifts in the supplier landscape.
The EV charging market has somewhere between 20 and 30 providers at any one time in the UK alone. It’s an exciting space with much innovation and huge levels of investment pouring in, with many businesses accepting a loss-making position in their quest for growth.
As a business, you want to ensure your EV provider will be around to support you for years to come. With the lifespan of a high-quality charger estimated at over 10 years, the business continuity of your partner is critical in ensuring your investment isn’t wasted.
3. Interoperability – is it really important?
The UK EV market is dominated by providers that offer a full turnkey solution, which includes hardware, installation, maintenance and the back office management system.
This system connects to the cloud and provides the opportunity to manage an EV charging estate through a single platform – critical when you have chargers spread across a number of large sites. It supports fault management, preventative maintenance and, in most cases, billing for each charging event from the user and payment to the electricity bill payer.
Having all of the elements you need from a single supplier has its benefits: simplicity of managing the project and a single point of responsibility. Yet there are limitations.
As your EV estate grows and diversifies, your choice of chargers could be limited by your back-office system’s ability to communicate with other chargers. Many operators run closed protocol software that makes it difficult to integrate third-party hardware with their system, or vice versa.
Our advice is clear – ensure your EV back office system communicates using open protocols and is independent of the hardware manufacturer. This will ensure you can integrate any hardware that communicates over industry standards. It also offers the flexibility to change your back office system if it isn’t working for you.
4. Dynamic energy management
A lot is made of the power requirements of EVs, but grid operators are confident they can meet their energy and distribution needs in the short to medium term.
The real challenge is not of generation, but the ability to distribute power through infrastructure that was installed long before EVs were part of the original design consideration.
As organisations start rolling out EV charging at scale, they face the sobering costs of needing to upgrade local infrastructure to support the additional demand. Most large businesses will inevitably need to consider this energy challenge.
Many EV providers offer no solution to this dilemma, while others offer a static energy management system that shares available electricity across the chargers. A static system serves a business’ needs so long as the number of EVs needing to charge at any one time is limited.
By contrast, dynamic energy management unlocks the power availability within your infrastructure, enabling a much greater scale of EV deployment before significant investment is required.
An example of this is a recent Schneider Electric project to install 50 x 22kW charge points into an existing underground car park at a flagship site of the UK’s largest property managers. Despite the building being less than 15 years old, there was no provision for EV charging.
Schneider Electric’s dynamic energy management unlocked existing capacity, without needing a dedicated supply, to support over 1MW of new demand. This avoided the considerable cost of new connections and infrastructure upgrades for the property owner.
While today’s demands may be met easily, tomorrow’s will need smart and interoperable solutions that connect to your energy management system, to maximise your existing power infrastructure.
Under its EVlink brand, Schneider Electric delivers energy management packages, coupled with truly smart and interoperable EV charging solutions, that ensure unbeatable future-proofing, reliability and efficiency. Schneider Electric’s systems are open protocol, enabling freedom of choice on back office management systems and tariffs.
In addition, Schneider ensures its products can communicate via BMS open protocols to allow seamless integration with existing building management systems, further minimising any disruption caused by EV adoption.