A phrase that is commonly repeated in the realm of systems, processes, and equipment management is “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. This couldn’t be more true when it comes to deploying an electric vehicle charging network. Charging point operators (CPOs), responsible for managing charging stations, often bear the brunt of the significance of this phrase within their own chain.
The Weak Link
The scarcity of charging points has prompted a rapid deployment of charging stations, with emphasis placed primarily on key aspects such as:
- Energy distribution.
- The car’s ability to communicate with the charging point.
- Ensuring that the power is delivered from the electrical grid to the car, and that the charging process functions as intended.
Unfortunately, less attention is given to the crucial element of communication with central systems. To enable charging, chargers must communicate with central systems to check if the electric vehicle user has a “valid” account.
If we go back to the chain we discussed earlier, we can identify two strong links within it:
- the charger and its installation
- the power that the charger requires.
These elements are considered strong links due to the expertise and specialization of the installation companies, the charger manufacturers, and the CPOs involved in providing them.
However, the equally vital third link, which involves communications between charging points and central systems, is often overlooked either due to overconfidence or a lack of detailed knowledge. This is because it is sometimes mistakenly assumed that connecting the SIM card to the router is all that is needed.
Communication at charging stations
There are two types of communication when it comes to charging stations:
- Charging Point-to-vehicle Communication: This involves communication with the electric vehicle to manage the charging process properly. The charging point manufacturer takes responsibility for this type of communication, ensuring that essential information such as battery status, desired charging speed, and other relevant data is accurately transmitted.
- Charging point(s)-to-operator backend or CPO communication: Charging points are typically connected to a monitoring and management network, enabling operators to oversee and administer the performance of the charging stations.
It is this second type of communication that we recognise as being somewhat neglected, breaking the chain of service. Communication with the operator is essential for maintenance and issue resolution.
These remote communications are of utmost importance as they provide the means for updating and maintaining charging points. This functionality brings about cost savings and puts a smile on the faces of operations personnel. Moreover, the communications systems integrated into these charging points enable the transmission of notifications and alerts to both users and operators, ensuring they remain informed during potential issues, disruptions, or emergency situations. Another significant advantage is that these systems enable efficient billing and payments by accurately recording and processing the required financial transaction data.
As discussed above, CPOs, installers, and charger manufacturers excel in providing the necessary standards and processes for vehicle charging. However, when it comes to communications, they may not prioritize it as much.
By putting in some effort and seeking advice from telecommunications experts, it is possible to find basic solutions that can be implemented to ensure uninterrupted service, utilizing routers or communications devices. Here are some options to consider:
- Dual SIM functionality and excellent coverage: Ensuring a reliable wireless WAN communication.
- Broadband PLC (Power Line Communication): Ideal for environments lacking wireless WAN coverage.
- Robust operating systems and hardware: Customized to withstand demanding environments, with an extended temperature range and automatic restart capabilities to minimize downtime.
- Advanced cybersecurity options: Implementing virtual private networks (VPNs) to protect communications or employing next-generation firewalls at the source to identify and prevent protocol attacks in real-time.
As I was consistently reminded throughout my experience in retail projects, every minute that a business is not operational translates to losses. And in the specific case of communication downtime, it means the charging point ceases to function!
Attack on a Charging Station “protected” with a Private APN
Communications and security always go hand in hand
We now have a clear understanding of the significance of the links within this service chain, including the crucial role that communication plays. However, we cannot forget the following aspects:
- Security: Secure communication is crucial in safeguarding vehicles and charging points from cyberattacks. Communication experts offer supplementary solutions that employ security protocols to ensure the communication is reliable and protected.
- Additional services: Extra physical security can be provided, including additional interfaces for sensors such as LoRa, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi 6, as well as processors equipped with powerful artificial intelligence libraries within the device itself. This enables features like real-time threat identification, cameras, and parking sensors that can identify when non-charging vehicles are occupying spaces (a common issue experienced by electric vehicle users).
In summary, effective communication is essential for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It plays a crucial role in facilitating interaction between vehicles, charging points, and operators while ensuring efficient and secure charging processes. Open standards and security measures are vital components in developing effective communication systems within this area. We are witnessing a paradigm shift: moving from traditional petrol stations (with people monitoring and attending) to remotely distributed and unmanned charging points, where operations and management are crucial. Without reliable communication to the charging station, the end customers’ needs cannot be met, resulting in reputational damage and financial losses.
A concerning statistic is that, according to ANFAC data, as of March 2023 24% of the charging infrastructure in Spain is currently out of service, with a staggering 6,475 out of 20,243 charging points (across all three levels of CPOs) being affected.
While the exact percentage of communication-related failures is unknown, conversations with operations managers from leading charging point operators (CPOs) highlight the critical role communication plays in the overall service chain. At Teldat, we have leveraged 35 years of experience to provide tailored communication and cybersecurity solutions. With our offices (design, manufacturing, and support) located In Madrid (in Europe), we are well-positioned to address common challenges and listen attentively to our customers’ needs.
Source & other points.