Expert Insights on Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure: Key Considerations for Medium and Large Charger Fleet Owners



Device management is a business-critical problem in software engineering, particularly when it comes to managing the state of a device that is remote and needs to perform in complex scenarios. Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are no exception to this rule, and managing a fleet of chargers can be a daunting task.

In this article, I’ll explore several challenges associated with EV charging for consumers and businesses. From state management and connectivity to the charging process itself and payment, I’ll examine how these challenges make scaling and maturing the charger fleet ecosystem increasingly particular and difficult.

Smart chargers can use a specific language standard, such as OCPP (Open Charge Point Protocol), to report and execute charger readiness and status. The move towards standardization of language in the EV world is driven by the need for more efficient infrastructure management, as governments have recognized the impact of the lack of standardization. OCPP was designed with the aim of facilitating compatibility among various charging station makers and network operators. As a part of its system, OCPP gives great importance to the condition of the charger and its connectors, recognizing a total of nine statuses for each connector and three for the charger unit itself.

Below is a screenshot from the OCPP 1.6 manual to illustrate the different states.

Furthermore, a detailed table of 40+ rows outlining the various events that could trigger a status change is also included.

This level of complexity can be intimidating, and many implementations struggle to manage it correctly. While some may argue that not all statuses are necessary, OCPP was designed to accommodate a wide range of use cases beyond simple home charging. Vendors may also choose not to implement all statuses, and in case of issues, a hard reset (i.e., unplugging and plugging back in the charger) will typically resolve the problem at home and switch the charger to an Available Status, with a 95% success rate. While inconvenient, this approach is an effective workaround for most situations.

In scenarios where a charger is shared in a building, parking lot, or logistic park, managing the charger statuses and transitions become crucial for efficient and timely charging. As I was mentioning in my previous article this is a tipping point for charger owners to provide an enjoyable charging experience. Let’s analyze and break down why these use cases are so complex.

Let’s assume a B2C (Business to Consumer) scenario, where an EV driver comes to a supermarket to buy groceries and wants to charge their vehicle. However, the driver may not be familiar with the charger and cannot reset it like they would at home. Therefore, the driver either can or cannot charge, and the latter option should be avoided by the owner. To address this, the owner should provide a transparent way for the driver to see available chargers, preferably before they arrive at the location. This can be achieved through a red/green indicator on a webpage that shows the charger lot, but this requires the chargers to be connected to a secure, reliable internet and provide timely status updates.

In my experience, this is one of the biggest pitfalls of infrastructure. Despite all the fancy tech around us, many non-EV companies are dropping the ball on this aspect. And the result? The charger statuses are outdated, and worse yet, charging sessions can’t even start because they require internet authorization. It’s time to step up our game and prioritize this aspect of the charging experience!

The second aspect to consider is the payment method for charging the EV. There are various options available, including using a mobile app, a registered RFID card, the Plug&Charge protocol (when the car is registered with the charging system), SMS, or a payment terminal. While the first four options are more commonly used, the fifth option is the most user-friendly, as it replicates the familiar process of fueling a car. These options are typically managed by a Charge Point Management System (CPMS), which is usually a one-size-fits-all solution that has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the specific use case. However, none of these systems are designed with the user experience in mind, unlike dedicated services we are accustomed to, such as those found in online shopping. Additionally, it’s important to realize that most of these methods are vendor-locked, which means that as a location owner, you may be limited to what the CPMS provider offers. Switching to a different provider could be challenging unless you make an informed decision early on. Please refer to this showcases on the options you have via ChargeBroker.

The third aspect of EV charging pertains to the proper termination of the charging session, which includes providing clear instructions to the driver on how to end the session and ensuring accurate communication of the incurred charges. The precise implementation of energy data, referred to as meter values in OCPP, is critical in all charging scenarios, spanning across home, B2B (Business to Business), B2C (Business to Consumer), or B2E (Business to Employee) charging. Notably, certain chargers have been observed to transmit meter values even after the session has ended.

Moreover, charging differs significantly from fueling due to the extended duration of the former, resulting in instances where the car occupies the charger without charging. This particular aspect may have adverse implications for the overall bill. Thus, notifying the driver when the charging is complete would help avoid surprises. However, the options for communicating such notifications, as described above, are not without their limitations, with apps being prone to silencing, SMS messages incurring additional costs, and other methods providing the driver with a bill instead.

This should be about it on the challenges of the EV driver. And that is just the “C” (Consumer) in the B2C. When considering the same processes from a “B” (Business) perspective, it becomes evident that the complexity increases considerably, even putting aside the device service and maintenance.

The process begins with the acquisition of EV chargers, which some businesses view as an opportunity to generate additional revenue, thus necessitating payment for energy consumption. Conversely, other businesses prioritize the convenience of attracting additional drivers and are less concerned with pricing, provided the drivers adhere to reasonable usage periods and purchase core business goods (as is the case with supermarkets). Nonetheless, for this process to work, an internet connection is necessary, which is often unavailable in the parking lots of businesses. Once the internet connection is established, pricing must be considered as electricity costs are no longer cheap. New sources of income must be arranged, and financial reporting must be balanced accordingly based on “energy” sales.

When operating the charger, the status becomes very important for the business. While drivers may view the status as simply available or unavailable, businesses must monitor the (real) OCPP status, such as Faulted/Inoperative, which indicates a physical error in the connector that cannot be resolved by resetting it. Similarly, Connected/Disconnected states of chargers may indicate unstable internet connections that could hinder operations. While specialized alerting services can manage these issues, in the EV world, the CPMS serves as the central system for monitoring charger statuses.

If the Business intends to incorporate EVs into its strategy to enhance customer loyalty and revenue, managing drivers becomes critical. For larger businesses, concepts like reservation and EV loyalty should be evaluated. Drivers should be introduced to a new, brand-specific EV experience, placing them at the core of a system that designates chargers and guarantees their availability. The charger control system must align with the data flow from/to the point of sale or virtual point of sale at the charger, as well as from/to the point of sale of the business/store itself. Once again, the same CPMS system must account for reservation schedules, loyalty programs, and POS integrations. While other SaaS solutions can decouple and delegate these responsibilities to specialized services, in EVs, the all-in-one solution must address them. This requirement may seem absurd, but it is necessary under most architectures. So this is actually a structural problem that hinders the growth of EVs through consumer business and of business through EV concepts.

To conclude, setting up electric vehicle charging infrastructure for medium and large charger fleets is a complex task that demands a deep comprehension of the challenges involved, and careful consideration of the options available from both the consumer and business standpoints. Businesses that aim to incorporate EVs into their strategies must evaluate these factors thoroughly and make informed decisions to develop a successful EV-based program.

Fortunately, with advanced technologies such as EV Charging Architecture 2.0, it is possible to overcome challenges effectively and build a robust and reliable charging infrastructure. While I have discussed several challenges of the current EV infrastructure setup, I have focused more on the difficulties than on the solutions. Therefore, in the upcoming article, I will delve into what EV Charging Architecture 2.0 entails and how it can benefit charger management.