Two IT technologies shaping the electric vehicle charging landscape
By Brett Cupta, cofounder and senior vice president of growth & evangelism at Sitetracker.
In late May, California asked the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to approve its plan to ban the sale of vehicles lacking an electrical plug by 2035. From the automotive-regulation perspective, where California goes, so goes the United States. Reuters described it as “a landmark move that could speed the end of gasoline-powered vehicles.” The move followed the European Union’s requirement, approved two months earlier, that only zero-emissions vehicles may be sold as of 2035.
The EU’s actions and the EPA approval of California’s request would put even more pressure on the push to expand and densify the EV charging networks that those vehicles need. The White House’s target of having 500,000 U.S. public charging stations in place by 2030 will require about 10 times the number of them that are out there today. Bridging the gap means adding more than 3,000 public charging stations each month for the next several years, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). While the numbers vary in other countries, a massive global buildout of EV charging stations will continue in the decades ahead, everywhere.
That buildout will depend on a lot of factors and technologies. But two IT technologies in particular will be critical to meeting the charging demands of exploding global EV vehicle fleets. One helps determine where and how many EV charging stations to build. The other makes it possible to efficiently manage, and complete hundreds or thousands of simultaneous charging station installations.
Where and how many?
The first IT technology shaping the EV charging landscape evolved from traffic-modeling software long used by transportation planners. These systems enable the forecasting of EV traffic and charging needs based on a host of inputs. They optimize the siting of EV chargers based on factors such as accessibility, demographics, government EV purchasing incentives, proximity to commercial districts and tourist attractions, land-use constraints, and also customizable factors. Critically, these systems also can help utilities determine where they’ll need to bolster distribution capacity – and, in some cases, even transmission infrastructure. They then use geospatial mapping to develop customized installation plans.
These solutions can include forecasting capabilities that predict such factors as kilowatt-hours used, greenhouse-gas reductions, and aggregate consumer savings. In short, they help determine where to put what type of charger and how many you’ll need at a given location while taking future growth and usage patterns into account. Then it’s a matter of building them all. That’s where the second technology comes in.
Tracking and managing
The second technology shaping the EV charging landscape is a class of cloud-based software designed to plan and manage dozens, hundreds, or thousands of job sites, assets, and field crews in real time. These deployment operations management solutions emerged from the telecom industry, where they’ve been used for years to manage tower, fiber, and other mass rollouts. They are fast supplanting legacy deployment tools – construction-management tools, spreadsheets, and disparate systems for project management, financial management, asset management, and field-crew management tools – that aren’t up to the challenges that EV charging network buildout presents. EV charging companies around the world are embracing these systems.
Deployment operations management solutions help those rolling out EV charging networks address a range of deployment challenges. Among them:
- Installation activities among customers, contractors, utilities, and government entities are diverse, and they’re hard to coordinate and quality-assure.
- Permitting and easement processes add uncertainty to deployments.
- Financing comes from many sources, often including federal and state grants, with differing requirements around reporting.
- Supply chain issues can put schedules at risk.
- Project closeouts are cumbersome and often lack adequate security (e.g., data in different tools residing on various contractor laptops).
- Forecasting future project volumes is difficult.
Deployment operations management solutions tackle those challenges in a variety of ways. Among them:
- Templates enable standardization based on industry-wide and organization-specific best practices. This cuts redundancy, avoids mistakes, speeds up work, and shortens project
- Cloud-based architectures provide a centralized data pool that provides a single source of truth for everyone from field techs all the way up to top management.
- Centralized data models enable real-time tracking and powerful reporting across the parties and activities involved, including outside contractors. That tracking extends to maintenance, helping prioritize fixes and shorten response times.
- Machine-learning algorithms harness the data amassed from past and current deployments to improve forecasting across a portfolio of EV charging station installations.
- Sophisticated budgeting and finance functionality smooths the project-finance process and makes it easier to manage the different requirements of various funding sources.
The creation of comprehensive EV charging networks and the enormous infrastructure investments they entail represent some of the most ambitious transportation initiatives since the development of national highway networks. Without convenient EV charging, the rapid transition to EVs that California and the EU envision is at risk, and so are the climate goals that humanity must observe to avoid the worst consequences of unchecked global warming. These two IT technologies can’t do it all, but they’ll play a big role in enabling the rapid deployment of millions of EV charging stations around the world.