Boosting EVs with cloud power

Electric vehicle sales are soaring globally, but a lack of convenient charging infrastructure is holding the sector back from reaching its full potential. Swiss power giant ABB is using cloud computing to make chargers more attractive to businesses and users alike.

Tax rebates, premium parking spots, and priority lanes: These are some ways that governments around the world are luring people to switch from typical cars to electric vehicles.

EVs, as they are called, have been growing in popularity worldwide and are seen as the transport sector’s path away from fossil fuels, due to their zero tailpipe emissions and potential to be charged using renewable energy. 

But despite policy incentives and moves by luxury and mass-market brands such as Nissan, BMW, and Tesla to increase EV production, these clean cars still make up a relatively small percentage of the car market today. One key obstacle to widespread adoption is the lack of supporting infrastructure for EVs, say experts.

Market research firm Navigant Research estimates that 2.7 million EVs were sold last year and this is expected to shoot up to 6.4 million by 2023. But even then, it will still only make up 2.4 per cent of the worldwide market for smaller vehicles such as passenger cars.

The firm also finds that although millions of EVs are sold each year, there are only 106,000 publicly accessible EV chargers - not counting homes - worldwide.

Jeremy Michalek, professor of engineering and public policy, Carnegie Mellon University in the US, says that increasing charger availability will help EV adoption and gasoline savings, though he notes that in markets such as the US where most users can charge EVs at home, this may not be so cost effective.

Tobias Massier, principal investigator at the Singapore-based transport research institute TUM Create, agrees, but notes that for longer trips, or in densely-packed cities like Singapore where high-rise apartments are the norm, public charging infrastructure is a must.

Swiss power and automation giant ABB believes that public charging infrastructure is key to scaling up EV adoption globally, and in recent years has invested heavily in developing fast-charging technology that can power cars in just fifteen minutes, in contrast to the 20 hours a conventional charger requires.

ABB’s chargers have been installed in some of the world’s leading EV markets such as Norway, which has the highest uptake of EVs globally, and Estonia, which launched the world’s first nationwide fast charging network in 2013. 

But it’s not just speed that makes ABB chargers a popular choice.

Urs Waelchli, vice president of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, ABB, tells Eco-Business that the company’s chargers stand out from the competition because of its cloud computing power - which enable the chargers to come equipped with internet connectivity and access to online services such as remote maintenance and payment systems, among others. 

Supercharging success 

Waelchli notes that public charging infrastructure doesn’t just need to be fast, it also needs to be accessible and easy for customers to log-in and use.

In addition to boosting the functionality of individual chargers, companies also need to maintain a network of multiple chargers so that EV drivers can access them even when travelling long distances, he adds.

ABB has integrated cloud connectivity and services into its chargers since it began making them in the early 2010s to address these challenges.

For example, to allow users to quickly access and pay for charging services, ABB allows network operators to install mobile and web applications for drivers to be authorised to use the device.

Each terminal also links to web-based payment platforms, and some are even fitted with credit card terminals to facilitate quick, cashless transactions.

In addition to seamless payments, there are numerous ways that cloud services can make EV charging more attractive, say experts. 

Carnegie Mellon’s Michalek suggests that a mobile application which lets users reserve chargers in advance would assure them that they will have access to a charger when they need it. 

Vaisagh Viswanathan, research fellow, TUM Create, adds that mobile applications could also show users nearby charging stations and routes to reach them.

He notes that researchers worldwide are exploring cloud-based solutions called ‘vehicle-to-grid’ that help to distribute unused energy from EV batteries back to the grid and pay car owners for it.

(Making EV chargers cloud-enabled) will be a main driver to make life for EV users simpler, and get them to choose electric cars not only for the positive environmental impact, but also because it is a good and efficient transport solution.

Urs Waelchli, vice president of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, ABB

By enabling cars and grids to exchange power, cloud solutions can also help ensure that power demand from chargers does not overwhelm the grid.

Waelchli notes that power management will be an increasingly important aspect of charging infrastructure as the number of chargers grows worldwide, along with big charging parks where many cars can charge simultaneously.

“All this is only possible with advanced, cloud-based solutions for EV infrastructure,” he adds. 

Happy clients, good business

Apart from helping consumers, cloud services also make it easier for businesses to own and operate a network of fast chargers - thus helping lower barriers of entry to the market, says Waelchli. 

For one thing, any operator which uses ABB’s chargers can easily adopt their energy management solutions, payment platforms, and monitoring services because they are hosted on the cloud and built to open internet standards. This makes them easy to customise and integrate into each client’s IT processes. 

Furthermore, the chargers also receive continual software upgrades through the cloud, which improves their functionality and extends their lifespan with minimal expensive hardware upgrades.

Having real-time data access to chargers also makes it easy for companies to identify problems and fix them immediately.

Such services have been a part of ABB’s offering from the beginning, and the company continues to develop new solutions, Waelchli shares.  

Increasing the global network of chargers and ensuring that they serve as many customers as possible “is only possible with cloud connectivity,” he adds.

The next level cloud

Even while ABB has enjoyed much success in the EV market, new market opportunities in China, Russia, and South America and other countries has spurred the company to strengthen its cloud capabilities and seek new partnerships.

In October, ABB announced a partnership with American software giant Microsoft to roll out new EV fast-charging services powered by the latter’s cloud computing platform, known as Azure. 

Under this collaboration, all ABB chargers will be connected to the Microsoft Azure cloud, which will support the development of new services to benefit manufacturers, network operators, and users. 

Microsoft’s software experts will also help ABB develop innovative features for their chargers.

Thanks to the partnership, ABB expects more “stability, global scaleability, and faster time to market for new cloud based applications for EV charging,” says Waelchli. 

This will ultimately make it easier for users to own EVs and integrate charging into their busy schedules, he adds. 

“This will be a main driver to make life for EV users simpler, and get them to choose electric cars not only for the positive environmental impact, but also because it is a good and efficient transport solution”. 

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