Building EV Networks: Importance of interoperability for a seamless charging ecosystem

Importance of interoperability for a seamless charging ecosystem

With the growing uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) and EV charging infrastructure in India, there is a need for standardisation. The country has an emerging opportunity to strengthen its charging ecosystem through roaming agreements, by leveraging partnerships and collaborations. With multiple EV char­ging operators in the market, EV drivers may have to make use of multiple access cards and software applications to charge their vehicles. This problem can be best re­solved by ensuring a streamlined mechanism of “interoperability”. This system wo­­uld not only ease things from the consumer’s perspective, but would also allow various charge point operators (CPOs), mo­bility service providers (MSPs) and ro­am­ing platforms to work collectively. Agreements between these stakeholders would facilitate smooth integration of the charging process. Interoperability with the help of e-roaming enables EV users to make use of a single application or platform to access the charging stations of different CPOs. This not only ensures convenience for EV users but also improves the business viability of CPOs by increasing demand.

E-roaming is a service that allows an EV to be charged at any charging station, irrespective of the contractor MSP. There are two main ways to facilitate e-roaming services: either having peer-to-peer con­nec­­tio­ns or deploying e-roaming from hubs. The basic advantage of the latter is that an MSP, or multiple MSPs, connected to a hub can provide access to a larger base of CPOs to their consumers. How­ever, in the case of peer-to-peer connections, it is a bit of a hassle, because each MSP nee­ds to be connected to a CPO. In this case, an EV user is restricted to only those CPOs that have service contracts with the particular MSP.

Seamless integration stemming from the adoption of interoperability has a bunch of benefits to offer. First, it simplifies the pro­cess of billing and payment for EV owne­rs. Second, it maximises access to charging stations for EV owners. Third, it promotes vehicle-to-grid communication for demand response and smart charging. Fourth, it prevents the EV user from getting locked into a single network by providing freedom of choice in terms of CPO options. Fifth, it creates a level playing field among CPOs .

International practices in this space

On an international level, there are established protocols, but a lot still needs to be done to bring CPOs together on a single platform. In Europe and other nations where there are open protocols, efforts are under way to bring the CPOs owned both by governments and private players on a single platform. Globally, four major roaming protocols have been adopted, namely, the Open Clearing House Protocol, the Op­en Charge Point Interface, the Open InterCharge Protocol and the eMobility Inter-Operation Protocol.

The Netherlands is one of the first countries to introduce interoperability in terms of payment mechanisms for EV users. The­re, an EV user can use their single ra­dio frequency identification (RFID) card and charge their EV at any public charging station in the country.

In the US, there are large networks of public charging stations owned by charging service providers utilising a variety of business models. But the problem with this system is that each CPO owns a proprietary software offering a different pricing structure and service offerings to their subscribers and non-subscribers. In the UK, there are two major models – the subscription model, using RFID cards, and the pay-as-you-go option. A major chunk of users in the UK seem to use RFID cards. Support for a harmonised roaming charging point system is growing in the UK.

Key challenges for implementation in India

In India, there is still a long way to go in ter­ms of introducing interoperability. A nu­mber of barriers need to be addressed to enable active interoperability in the Indian EV space.

Lack of standardised protocols: There are many protocols in the market that are still in the developmental stages. If the aim is to enable interoperability through protocols, there is a lot of scope for improvement in ma­king them secure and dependable. Th­e­re is a clear lack of government mandates in the form of mandatory communication protocols for the EV system in India.

Lack of agreements between CPOs: A big challenge in the interoperability spa­ce is the reluctance of CPOs to enter into contractual agreements with other pl­ay­ers in the market. This apprehension is ma­inly due to the fear of losing custo­me­rs as well as loyalty to their own network. The reason CPOs prefer the subscription model is that they feel that it will build a relationship with EV users. This would ke­ep customers loyal to a particular CPO’s network. CPOs can often be bias­ed to­war­­ds proprietary communication pr­oto­cols, mainly for business reasons. Thus, the will of CPOs to become transparent by signing contractual ag­ree­ments with each other or with MSPs is often lacking. A mutual alli­ance between CPOs would help in forming a single aggregated platform and make things convenient for consumers.

Conflict of interest regarding role of utilities: Currently, there is a clear conflict of interest with regard to the role of utilities, be­cause many of them have invested in charging networks of their own, which are in the initial stages. Thus, there are complaints from CPOs regarding issues related to power supply and grid infrastructure approvals for third-party CPOs.

Lower utilisation of chargers: Currently in In­dia, the rate of utilisation of chargers is very low. This is due to both the low number of adopted EVs and the poor interoperability in the EV space

Difference in dynamic and static data: Another issue concerns the long-term visibility of public charging stations. Initiati­v­es by the state governments mainly invol­ve the release of state EV policies. How­ever, during implementing of the measures adopted by the state governments, problems are faced due to the differences between static and dynamic data. Static data includes data regarding the location and type of available chargers, number of connectors, and other specifications of public charging stations. Mean­while, dy­na­mic data can help provide instant information about the availability of chargers through a single application. If a user wi­sh­es to know about the availability of a charger or the duration after which the ch­ar­ger will become available, a set of communication protocols will need to be im­plemented across the value chain. Th­e­re is a lack of such understanding am­o­ng government stakeholders.

The way forward

Gradually, the Indian EV landscape is op­en­ing up to allow for interoperability. Many of the CPOs have installed the necessary infrastructure and are realising the advantages of opening up their networks, with possibilities of increased revenues. Some pilot projects have also been implemented in India whereby CPOs are able to start and stop charging sessions using their own solutions.

An important factor is to explore the suitability of the hub and the agency for this job. The hub is critical in avoiding issues re­lated to bias towards a particular customer base or a particular CPO. It would be helpful to have a government mandate to this end. Further, it is necessary to es­tablish a set of Indian standards or protocols. There needs to be some converge­nce and harmonisation of standards in order to evolve the nascent EV market. Further, it will be beneficial for software providers or CPOs to come up with compatible equipment to enable software functionality. Thus, collaboration between all the stakeholders is integral for ensuring interoperability in the EV space.

This article is based on a recent webinar hosted by Renewable Watch on “EV Charging Networks and Interoperability”. The speakers included Sumit Ahuja, Founder and Director, ElectreeFi; Dinesh Chandra, Chief Technology Officer, Elocity; Sahana L., Junior Energy Advisor, NDC TIA, India Component, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH; and Avinash Sharma, CEO, ElectricPe