End of September this year, I attended Hubject’s Intercharge Network Conference (ICNC) in Berlin. For the first time in the history of ICNC events, I noticed that ISO 15118 (EV to charger communication standard) and its user-friendly Plug & Charge feature is finally on everyone's agenda.
Hubject’s ICNC conferences are one of my favourite networking events. This year was already their ninth anniversary, with over 1000 people attending in person and more than 800 joining remotely. I was invited to give a talk and join a panel discussion regarding the topic "Customisation vs standardisation - Are we in for a fight?". Here’s the video from this panel, my talk is from min 33:03 to min 43:10:
In this article, I’d like to go a little deeper into the topics I touched upon in this video. You’ll get a tour through what I believe are the four key ingredients for a thriving e-mobility ecosystem. Tackling these sooner than later will make sure this decade will go down in history as the cradle of the golden age of e-mobility – the same way as the early 2000s were a breakthrough for the internet. The fourth ingredient (spoiler alert: it’s interconnected services) also comes with some exciting news for charge point operators … and what I think might significantly accelerate innovation in the e-mobility industry.
In a recent article on interoperability, I was talking about how we need to make the EV charging experience at least as seamless as refuelling a gasoline or diesel car at a gas station. Otherwise we’ll never get people to switch over to electric vehicles. Interoperability among all stakeholders, from EV and charging station manufacturers to charge point operators (CPOs) and mobility service providers (MSPs), is key for user acceptance and economies of scale.
The whole ecosystem of charging an EV and billing the customer is relatively complex. All the stakeholders I mentioned above need to implement certain industry standards and regulations that often come with a high level of sophistication.
Right now, the EV market is still in a nascent state. EV drivers are faced with a plethora of apps and RFID cards from various MSPs – just to get access to a charging station. Imagine if that was the case for fuelling stations. That’s just madness. Customers are getting confused and even terrified by the thought of having to go down that rabbit hole. If we keep that mentality up, then EV charging in the masses will never work.
No, the solution to this must be a mature roaming market between CPOs and MSPs, the same way as we’re used to roaming across cellular networks within Europe and around the globe. Secondly, we need a charging process that’s as simple as plugging in the charging cable. A simple “plug and play” solution, or as we call it in the e-mobility industry: Plug & Charge, a convenience feature enabled by the international communication standard ISO 15118.
At the moment, Plug & Charge is a bit like teenage sex: everyone is talking about it, but if you dig a little deeper, then you’ll find out that hardly anyone has real hands-on experience. It’s great to see that some manufacturers seem to have already successfully implemented and tested Plug & Charge. The network operators IONITY and Electrify America already offer this convenience feature for the Porsche Taycan, Mercedes EQS, and Ford Mach-E. I’m not 100% sure which charging station manufacturers are just ISO 15118 “ready” (meaning the necessary Homeplug Green PHY modem is installed) and which ones actually do have a fully tested product on the market. But one thing is for sure: we’ll see a lot more Plug & Charge solutions coming to market within the coming two years.
One note on the term “Plug & Charge”, which unfortunately is not trademarked. Some network operators tend to confuse the public by referring to a “Plug & Charge solution” when it’s actually a concept based on Autocharge. Two years ago, I published a whitepaper that explains the difference between Plug & Charge and Autocharge. The short story is: although there might be reasons for some to go with a short-term solution like Autocharge, it’s definitely not the future-proof (or secure) way forward.
Big kudos to Hubject by the way. They have not only established the biggest EV roaming network in Europe, but also put in a lot of effort to enable a smoothly running Plug & Charge ecosystem. They implemented and have been operating what is called a public key infrastructure (PKI), including a so-called V2G Root CA, since 2014 already. This V2G Root CA is the top-level trust anchor that needs to be in place for Plug & Charge to work. I’m sure there’ll be more operators around the globe in the near future who will provide similar services. Yet, we can’t thank Hubject enough for being the early adopter and investing early on in a system that is now bringing Plug & Charge to the masses.
Electric vehicles, once connected to the electricity grid, offer a wide range of functionalities. If equipped with the right hardware and software, an EV is capable of both recharging its battery and acting as a power bank on wheels. This means that it can feed energy back into the grid when needed. We call this feature Vehicle-to-Grid, or V2G. It’s an important facilitator for ‘ancillary grid services’ like primary frequency control. This concept basically allows us to pool together hundreds of EVs so they can act as a virtual power plant (VPP) instead of using nuclear or fossil-fueled power plants. This VPP can then very quickly, and with extremely low costs, ramp energy usage up and down as needed and even feed energy back to the grid to keep us from running into a blackout. Two years ago, I published this article on V2G services, so have a look if you’d like to learn more about this topic.
The terms V2G and smart charging are sometimes used interchangeably. I’d say V2G is a part of smart charging. The “smartness” here is to not instantly start charging an EV with the maximum available power once it gets connected to a charging station. Instead, use the information about the EV’s energy needs, the time available to fully charge the EV battery, the current utilisation of the electricity grid, and the current and forecasted availability of renewable energy sources to come up with a better charging strategy. This also alleviates the need to reinforce the grid with new, costly transformers and saves electricity costs for both private homes and businesses.
In addition to simple smart charging (ramping the charging speed up and down), V2G also helps to make use of excess renewable energy that would otherwise go to waste. Here’s an interesting, recent article telling the story of wind farms getting paid nearly £2m to switch off – even as customers face soaring energy bills.
This can lead to bizarre situations in which energy prices fall below zero, so you even get paid to use electricity – or feed energy back to the grid when needed. Either through your (costly) stationary battery at home or … your mobile battery aka electric vehicle sitting in your garage or your parking lot. This is not science fiction. Big car manufacturers like Volkswagen are committed to make this a reality from 2022 on. Have a look at VW's announcement from December 15, specifically the section on "Thinking beyond the car". Innovative energy providers like Octopus Energy already provide energy tariffs to incentivise a more flexible energy usage through variable tariffs that reflect wholesale prices. Here's a great Fully Charged episode with Claire Miller, Director of Technology & Innovation at Octopus Energy, explaining their Powerloop V2G project with CHAdeMO-based Nissan Leafs and the Quasar wallbox.
CHAdeMO, however, does not have a future at least in Europe and North America. Instead, the industry is focusing on Type 2 (Europe) and SAE J1772 (North America)-based chargers for AC and the Combined Charging System (CCS) for DC charging, powered by ISO 15118. The latest episode of Fully Charged showcases the potentially biggest V2G project with currently 250 EVs, located in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Hyundai, Sono Motors, and Renault enable V2G based on Type 2. Their technology is, hopefully, based on the latest version of the ISO 15118-20 standard, which is the Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) that is yet to be published. The latest news from ISO is that ISO 15118-20 FDIS will be published around April/May 2022. Really good news is that these V2G-enabled EVs will be coming to market in 2023 and 2024!
Actually, V2G is not the only aspect we should focus on when talking about bidirectional energy flow. In the e-mobility industry, we also talk about V2H (vehicle-to-home) or V2B (vehicle-to-building / vehicle-to-business). Remember the rolling blackouts during the blizzard chaos in Texas at the beginning of this year or during the wildfires in California? Both are effects of climate change and left millions of people in a disastrous situation. Imagine if they could have used their EV(s) to power their homes and buildings instead!
The newest version of ISO 15118, called ISO 15118-20, brings these ideas to life. It enables V2G for the Combined Charging System (CCS), which is the dominating charging standard for all kinds of EVs around the globe – be it cars, motorbikes, buses, trucks, ships, or even (small) airplanes.
The electricity grid is a fragile organism, a critical infrastructure which you don’t want anyone to mess around with. Yet, the more EVs that are connected to charging stations, and therefore the grid, the more interesting this infrastructure becomes for hackers.
This means we need to make absolutely sure that the communication between the EV and the charging station as well as between the charger and the management platform in the cloud is cryptographically secure.
Luckily, we already have the tools available, we just need to use them. And once again, ISO 15118 comes to the rescue. It comes with a set of cryptographic algorithms that enable the three pillars of cybersecurity: confidentiality, integrity and authenticity. Confidentiality means that only the intended recipients are able to read the messages exchanged. Integrity is all about detecting whether or not a message has been modified by an unauthorised third party on its way from the sender to the receiver. And authenticity guarantees that the communicating parties are really the ones they claim to be.
If you’re interested to dig deeper into the world of Plug & Charge and cybersecurity, learn about symmetric and asymmetric cryptosystems, digital signatures and certificates as well as public key infrastructures in the realm of ISO 15118, then I have two options for you: you can either purchase a copy of the ISO 15118 Manual or attend one of the upcoming ISO 15118 Advanced Training courses I offer via the CharIN Academy. The next session will be at the end of March 2022.
ISO 15118 alone won’t save us, though. It only defines the communication between the EV and the charger. For a secure communication between the charger and the cloud-based management platform, we need OCPP 2.0.1. Here’s a great walk-through of the new features and benefits that OCPP 2.0.1 brings to the table:
In a nutshell, this graphic summarises the benefits of the power couple ISO 15118 and OCPP 2.0.1. The latter is the first version of OCPP to bring built-in support for ISO 15118 data structures. Again a win for interoperability!
In the first section on seamless charging with Plug & Charge, I explained how fragmented the e-mobility market is. Aside from the EV and charger OEMs, CPOs, and MSPs, we also have the utilities, grid operators, and those that can pool EVs to a virtual power plant to provide ancillary services to the grid. It gets quite complicated relatively quickly. Even more so if some of those stakeholders are operating in silos. What I mean by this is that some industry players are not yet open to the idea of interconnecting their systems to a bigger market.
Let me give you one example: We’re relatively advanced in Europe when it comes to roaming between CPOs and MSPs. However, the situation in the U.S. and the UK is slightly different. Many CPOs still have a “the-customer-is-mine” attitude, although I hear that this mindset is slowly changing. Also, grid operators are still often using IT systems from the 70s. The idea of opening up to an external API is something that doesn’t come natural to an industry in which innovations take decades.
Roaming protocols like OICP (Hubject’s Open Intercharge Protocol) and OCPI (Open Charge Point Interface) are a great enabler to break up silos and facilitate a better customer experience. Ideally, roaming should be as seamless as in the mobile phone world, with customers not having to worry about which MSP to choose for the best network coverage, and no roaming fees.
But roaming is not the only topic of interest when it comes to interconnected services. Let’s look at the communication link between CPOs or VPP aggregators and grid operators: there’s no standardised communication protocol to date. Some are in favor of IEC 61850, another great contender seems to be OpenADR, and I hear in the U.S. the utilities really like IEEE 2030.5, formerly known as SEP (Smart Energy Profile) 2.0. That just to say that we still have a long way to go to reach a consensus on how to best interconnect all systems that influence the charging experience.
Let’s think one step further. Bigger.
A charging station management system (CSMS) is actually the central hub when it comes to interconnecting different actors in the e-mobility market. It controls the EV charger via OCPP, connects to MSPs via roaming protocols, and needs to talk to the grid operator and potentially a load aggregator (the VPP I mentioned before) to perform smart charging. I see this as the basics of what a CSMS should be capable of.
What if we could create a CSMS that is built in a way so it can easily integrate with innovative third parties to plug in value-added services? Remember when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone in 2007 and shortly after the idea of an app store for the iPhone? I’m sure not even Steve anticipated what a success story the AppStore would become, not only in terms of revenue for Apple, but also for the millions of app developers around the world.
So, what if we could bring a similar experience to the world of EV charging? We at Switch are currently working on our own CSMS, which is based on future-proof standards like OCPP 2.0.1 and ISO 15118, and it comes with an excellent user interface thanks to countless hours of user research. But we also don’t have all the answers. We’re (not yet) experts in load management, predictive maintenance, or how to provide ancillary services to the grid. And we don’t have to be.
Our vision is to create an AppStore-like experience for both charge point operators and innovative companies that can build their services on top of an open, API first based platform. And with SARA, our own CSMS, we’ll turn this ambitious goal into reality.
We’re already talking to three different companies that are interested in providing an app (or plug-in) to SARA to enable predictive maintenance, advanced load management, and VPP services to the grid. We’d like to get developers from all over the globe contributing to this platform. Harnessing the creativity of dozens more developers will accelerate innovation in this thriving e-mobility industry.
So if I got you excited and you think you could contribute to SARA, then let’s talk. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the e-mobility industry, we use a lot of jargon and abbreviations that can get your head spinning very quickly. Here’s a little cheat sheet for you:
An e-book for beginners and experts alike. Reduces the steep learning curve of ISO 15118 by providing a comprehensive and easy-to-understand access to the Vehicle-to-Grid communication protocol. Written by our founder, one of the few co-authors of ISO 15118, this e-book has fast become standard literature in the industry.
Get an extract from each chapter to see the quality and in-depth information you’ll get in the full e-book. The ISO 15118 Manual definitely helps you grow your expertise and positioning in the e-mobility market.
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charging system Specialist at Ionity
Director embedded solutions at Nuvve Corporation
business development Manager at ENOvates
eMobility Charging Systems DEVELOPER at SIEMENS AG
Professor at Myongji University
Project Manager Electric Mobility AT Keba AG
With OCPP 2.0.1 and the new device model concept, a station can automatically describe its full layout and capabilities to the cloud-based CSMS. This allows for plug-and-play installation of a charging station. It also lets the CSMS read and control any component remotely.
Sara stands for Station Analytics and Remote Administration
The Open Charge Alliance is the official body that specifies OCPP 2.0.1 and defines a set of certification profiles. Each profile tests a certain set of functionalities. Depending on the functionality of your charger or CSMS, you might want to certify for either a subset or all of these profiles.
Continuous Integration / Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)
Scotti stands for Simple Compliance Testing Tool for Interoperability.
Efficient XML Interchange (EXI) is a very compact representation of XML. All ISO 15118 messages are defined in XML. EXI improves serialisation and parsing speed on embedded devices (like an EV and a charging station controller) and allows more efficient use of memory and battery life, compared to standard (textual) XML.
The Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) is a lightweight, publish-subscribe network protocol that transports messages between devices.
A CSMS is a cloud-based management system operated by the company that is managing the charging stations. A charging station connects to a CSMS using OCPP (Open Charge Point Protocol).
Automated Connection Device (ACD), a conductive charging concept that doesn't require a person to plug in the charging cable. A first implementation is ACD-P, where 'P' stands for 'pantograph' charging of buses.
Power line communication, a communication technology that enables sending data over existing power cables.
Signal Level Attenuation Characterisation (SLAC) is based on power line communication (specifically HomePlug Green PHY) and is a protocol to establish the data link between the EV and the charging station via the charging cable.
Charge Point Operator, the entity monitoring and managing an EV charger network.