Driving forward: why connected cars will require smarter grids

As electric vehicles (EVs) continue to proliferate, the industry faces a charging challenge. How do you balance up energy supply between EVs and all the washing machines, fridges, computers and other appliances in the average apartment block? Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud technologies may have the answer.

Electric vehicles are gaining popularity and market share. In Q2 2022, EV sales accounted for 5.6% of the total auto market, up from 2.7% in Q2 of 2021. Electric car sales in August accounted for one in seven new cars registered in the UK, according to new data from New Automotive. Ten years ago, just 120,000 EVs were sold worldwide.

The challenge governments and power companies now face is increasing the charging capacity to meet the demand from these thirsty devices. With so many electrically-powered objects to supply, there won’t always be enough electric power to charge everything to full capacity. To drive just 100 miles, the average EV uses the same amount of electricity as it takes to power a typical U.S. home for a day.

Indeed, charging has become one of the foremost challenges around the growth of EVs. There is a balance needed between the number of charging points for individual vehicles and pressure on governments to ensure charging points are evenly distributed around a country. Furthermore, experts are concerned about the potential environmental impact caused by the energy sources powering EVs. It seems a strange paradox, but while many drivers choose EVs for environmental reasons, they often end up charging their EVs at stations that get energy from non-renewable resources.

Charging infrastructure is a major issue. One report found that 92% of EV drivers in the U.S. prefer not to use public charging stations and would much rather charge their vehicles at home. Fifty-nine percent of the report’s respondents said it was vital for EVs to charge with renewable energy. Solar panels, solar roofs and power-wall charging systems – like those offered by Tesla – are viewed as the best solution by new electric drivers. So, what is the industry to do to address consumers’ concerns?

A tech-powered route ahead

It seems that smarter charging options are required to support the rapid growth of and demand for EVs. Vehicle-to-grid, or V2G, technology is one form of smart charging that allows car batteries to give power back to the grid. V2G essentially turns high-capacity car batteries into back-up storage cells for the electrical grid.

The solution uses bidirectional charging stations to “push and pull” energy into and out of connected vehicles, based on the demand for electricity at a given time. The idea is that this additional energy can be used to power houses, buildings and anything else connected to the power grid.

V2G charging sounds relatively straightforward, but it requires smart technology to make it happen. Charging stations must be equipped with software that communicates with the electricity grid to have visibility of overall system demand at all times. The software helps balance demand on the grid using peak and off-peak hours and pulls in additional energy from plugged-in, charging EVs when needed, for example, overnight when vehicle owners are sleeping. It’s been estimated that by using this approach, one plugged-in EV could provide power for a single home for between two and five hours.

IoT and cloud play a key role

In a similar vein to V2G, Orange customer Zaptec is taking its expertise built in the oil and gas sector and expanding it to the connected vehicle space. The Norwegian company has a mission to become a world-leading supplier of smart electric car chargers, with a goal of creating a more sustainable and electric future using the latest digital technologies.

Zaptec’s solution uses IoT and cloud technology to make energy charging more cost effective and to protect power networks from unpredictable surges. The model is not unlike the V2G approach, with the Zaptec smart charger enabling it and energy providers choosing the best time to charge the EV to benefit from cheaper tariffs.

The Zaptec approach is built on the fact that charging infrastructure has become smarter. EV charging points are now embedded with IoT connectivity that can detect when a vehicle is getting close to the limit where the power would trip a circuit breaker and shut down to mitigate the possibility of fusing. The Zaptec smart charger uses load- and phase-balancing that efficiently optimizes as much of the available electricity as possible to avoid the possibility of this happening.

Consumers get to charge their cars when electricity is cheapest, and they don’t have to worry about the fuse blowing. On top of this, Zaptec Automatic Power Management (APM) technology allows homeowners to retrieve information about power consumption in the house in general. Zaptec APM reports real-time AMS measurement values to Zaptec’s cloud services, where advanced algorithms control the charging stations. From this, charging is adjusted automatically according to house consumption, and more electricity is allocated to charge the car when the house uses less – and vice versa. The result is smart, IoT-enabled charging stations, plus AMS advanced cloud services, which means Zaptec customers can charge their EVs faster and less expensively.

A mutually beneficial solution

With the growth of EVs set to place significant demands on electricity grids worldwide, smarter ways to charge vehicles make sense. We have a potential solution by using technologies like IoT and cloud to create solutions that work automatically and intelligently manage when EV owners charge their vehicles. It will bring greater flexibility to the grid and provide a more sustainable way forward. Implementing smarter charging now seems a wise move as we look to accelerate EV usage on a global scale.

Learn more about what Orange is doing in the connected car space, reinventing how we use vehicles and the technologies powering this evolution.

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.