Edge computing allows data to be stored and used on local devices. Integrating Edge Computing directly within electric vehicle charging infrastructure improves station usability and also allows for real-time energy management.
Car charging and electric vehicles
The era of electric vehicles (EV) is coming: Already one in every 250¹ cars on the road is electric. While it is uncertain when electric vehicles will overtake traditional combustion engine vehicles, electric is clearly the future. Car charging infrastructure is critical for electric vehicle expansion – and one of the largest bottlenecks to EV adoption. Range anxiety is still one of the primary concerns for potential EV customers,² and charging station proliferation is still far behind traditional gas stations.
State of the electric vehicle charging Market
The electric vehicle charging infrastructure market is still very divided, with many players vying for this large-growth sector – some predictions forecast over 40% CAGR for the car charging infrastructure market in the coming years.³ Car manufacturers, gas & oil, OEMs, and utilities companies (e.g. Tesla, VW, BMW, Shell, GE, Engie, Siemens, ABB) are actively taking part in the development of the market, recognizing the need to support future EV customers and the huge growth potential. Startups in the space like EcoG, Wirelane, flexEcharge and Elli offer solutions that focus on accessibility, efficiency and improving end user experiences.
Why Car Charging Stations need Offline Capability (Edge Computing)
First, let’s look at the challenges a vehicle charging provider needs to solve from a basic data perspective: Customers interfacing with charging stations require an account linked with basic information and payment methods. In order to charge a car, the user needs to be verified by the charging station, and is often required to have a pre-booked charging slot. Typically, a user would create a new account via a website or mobile phone beforehand, but not on the spot at the car charging station. Also booking slots are handled via a mobile app or website. However, the car charging station needs this information to allow a car to be charged.
This is only the most basic necessity. In the future, charging stations will provide more services to users, e.g. identifying users preference like cost over speed of charging, or choosing to charge with green energy.
Depending on where the car charging station sits, it can be offline more or less often, e.g. in France there are quite many electric car charging stations in the country site, where the connection is typically flaky – and might not be available for days. On the other hand, there are stations that reside within a parking house or hotel and use a fixed land line for connectivity. In the latter case, your uptime can be very consistent, but typically you cannot guarantee the car charging station will be connected.
If the charging station tries to access this data only when it needs it, because a car is trying to charge, it may or may not have an internet connection at the time and thus the likelihood of failure is rather high. Accordingly, any new information should be pushed to the car charging stations when a connection is available and stored on the station. The hardware of a car charging station is capable enough to hold a lightweight database and persist data as is needed and useful.
Choosing a data persistence layer (database) over a simple caching ensures not only that no data is lost, but can also allow more processing to happen on the station and allows for autonomous reactions. In combination with edge synchronization, which enables persistence layers to synchronize between car charging stations (that share a data space), fast data persistence allows for efficient load balancing as well as easily updating the configurations of all car charging stations.
Smart Energy Load Management – the need for fast response on the Edge
Managing energy is one of the greatest challenges for EV infrastructure providers. The difficulty here is less about overall energy consumption increasing – rather managing, predicting and preparing for high-demand peaks. Imagine everyone needs charging during a large public event, or at charging stations during holiday travel times – peak demands like these need to be anticipated and planned for. The future with electric cars needs to balance demand with a combination of smart chargers, efficient energy grid management, Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) solutions, and perhaps even on-site batteries at larger charging stations to improve time-to-charge and optimize for electricity prices.
Edge computing will play an important role in providing real-time, accurate energy load control, necessary for maintaining grid stability, particularly in emergency situations.⁴ At charging stations where many EVs plug in, smart edge nodes can balance charge schedules in real-time, optimizing based on EV owner requirements without overloading local transformers.⁵ On a larger scale, smart energy meters can use real-time edge computing to shift energy quickly to high-demand locations, cutting energy from low-priority appliances, limiting charge speeds, or pulling excess energy from V2G networks.
Thinking about energy management, the conversation fluidly moves from EV charging infrastructure to thinking about smart mobility, utilities, and smart city infrastructure on a larger scale. Car charging systems will be complex, interconnected and will progress in alignment with other ongoing digitization efforts to create data drive infrastructure across cities and the world. Edge computing, and base technologies like ObjectBox that enable working on the edge, are important enablers to ensure that real-time computing can happen anywhere and digitization is affordable, scalable, and sustainable.