November 15, 2019 10:39 CET

Smart Charging Solutions for Electric Vehicles

Smooth payments, optimized energy, changed behaviors

Electric Vehicle (EV) global sales are predicted to grow more than 18% annually through 2025, with experts estimating that more than 120 million vehicles will be on the roads of Europe alone by 2030. Tightening of CO2 emission regulations and increasingly expensive and unsustainable fossil fuel are bit factors in this market shift, along with growing consumer awareness, economic advantages, and technological advancements. As the market grows the need for charging stations is growing as well – and GreenFlux is helping to meet that demand by offering a connected solution that makes charging station transactions simple, easy, and streamlined.

When Holland’s GreenFlux first started out in 2011, the Electric Vehicle market was still in its infancy, but the company’s founders could see that the market was poised to explode and that would fuel the need for available and convenient charging stations. GreenFlux’s first foray into the market was installing charging stations in Amsterdam on a fairly small scale while gaining knowledge of this new and growing market. They soon saw an obvious problem: you want people to use energy efficient vehicles but how do you get them to pay for ‘fuel’ – and how do you handle those payments?

The case at a glance

Company: GreenFlux

Region: The Netherlands/Global

Sector: Electric charging stations

Challenge: Connect EV charging station payment platform globally; optimize energy usage

Solution: Tele2 IoT connectivity; Roaming

Result: Connected charging stations across globe allow seamless payments; optimize how energy is used and delivered

“Our solution was to build a platform capable of smoothly and easily handling charging station payment transactions,” says Mathieu Sanichar, Service Delivery Manager, GreenFlux. “And our solution not only handles transactions, it also optimizes how energy is used and delivered, a key factor going forward.”

The EV Charging Station Payment Solution

The GreenFlux platform was so successful the company stopped building and installing charging stations, choosing to instead focus purely on the platform – a classic IoT move from products to services. Today, the GreenFlux platform manages charging stations across the globe, acting as a partner and providing a service for other companies who want to sell EV charging station charge cards.

“We offer a solution to a complicated piece of the charging station solution,” explains Sanichar. “We install the chargers, hook the providers up to the power grid, connect them with the GreenFlux system, and then every time someone uses a charging station, they swipe their card or use an app to start and complete a charging session. On the Greenflux end, we keep track of how many kilowatt hours are used and bill the customer.”

Even more importantly, the GreenFlux solution optimizes energy usage.

Managing Capacity & Changing Behaviors

Several years ago, in the UK, GreenFlux did the largest smart charging test that had ever been done at that point. The project, set up by the Western Power District (WPD) in partnership with pioneering UK EV leasing company DriveElectric, was called Electric Nation. DriveElectric provided an electric car and charging station connected to the GreenFlux platform to more than 700 households.

During the project, WPD would send GreenFlux the available capacity for the neighborhood where the car was and GreenFlux would manage that capacity in the charging stations so that they would never go over a certain threshold. This was important because while countries like the Netherlands and Germany have plenty of clean energy – in fact, they occasionally have a surplus due to things like wind farms and solar panels – in countries like the UK this isn’t always the case.

But even when you have surplus energy it doesn’t mean you can use energy whenever and however you like. The network has to be capable of handling that energy.

“Typically, at home in the Netherlands, you would have a 25 amps connection and if you want to charge a car like a Tesla or a Jaguar, that would take more than your entire house. There aren’t enough amps so in order to meet that demand you typically would have to upgrade the entire connection to your home, which would be prohibitively expensive.”

This is where the GreenFlux solution made all the difference: the company looked at the available capacity and gave everything left over to the car, doing away with the need to upgrade the home’s connection.  But how did this optimize and manage available energy from the provider’s side while putting less strain on the infrastructure grid?

“At night, when people are usually sleeping, energy consumption is obviously lower,” explains Sanichar.  “WPD wanted to see if people were charging more at night or during the day, and also test how we could influence changes in behavior. So, we put an incentive in our app: a ‘priority’ button. If people pressed the priority button, they could charge their car whenever they wanted. If they didn’t press the priority button their car would be charged using managed available capacity at night and they wouldn’t be charged any extra fee.  In fact, if they didn’t press the priority button at all during the span of a month, they would be given a voucher.  After two or three months, people caught on and we ended up giving everyone vouchers!”

What GreenFlux and WPD learned is that when people first buy an EV they worry the car won’t be charged when they need it but once they get used to the system, they realize that paying for priority was not necessary.

This knowledge also applies to companies who operate large parking facilities. During the day, most company cars are sitting unused in a parking space for up to eight hours. Upgrading outlets to a higher amperage isn’t optimal, so the GreenFlux solution – allocating available capacity between the cars during those eight hours – means the cars all get charged while the company doesn’t need to invest in new connections – and capacity thresholds aren’t exceeded.

Cities and municipalities face a different challenge: people often park their cars all day long in connected parking spaces, tying up that space, and preventing others from using the charging stations.  To combat this, GreenFlux is able to charge different rates for different times of day, so that it’s more expensive to use the space during the daytime, which helps streamline the spaces and free them up for more usage.

“This is all part of changing behaviors,” says Sanichar. “People are so used to fossil fuel-powered cars and the habits that go along with it, such as pulling into a petrol station, filling up, and knowing more or less how long that fuel would last. When it comes to EVs people are still learning, so we provide incentives to help them understand how long a charge will last and that yes, they will make it home!”

How Connectivity & IoT Make it Work

Like everything else in the EV market, the role of IoT is changing. When GreenFlux first started out, they equipped all the charging stations with SIM cards over GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and they really didn’t care if the charging point was offline for an hour or even a day or two – the charger was working locally so if someone swiped their card the information was stored locally and as soon as things were back online Greenflux got the data and were able to invoice the customer.  GPRS wasn’t super stable but they didn’t need super stable at that time.

“Today, things are different, and the most important difference is that charging stations need to be online 24/7, because people charge with their app, and they need to see in their app how much they’re charging, the cost, etc.,” says Sanichar. “This means the moment a charging station goes offline, there needs to be an immediate alert that something is going on. We need to check the network and the charger and fix it quickly.  In the early days, it was just about connecting the stations and getting data once a day or in some cases, even once a week. Now, it’s all about real time connectivity. We need to have direct access to the charging stations so we can tell them what to do, how fast to charge, and to ensure we don’t go outside capacity thresholds.”

GreenFlux chose Tele2 IoT for several reasons: price was one factor but more importantly, roaming was key.

“Tele2 IoT has excellent roaming solutions. We have customers all over the world – Europe, South America, North America, Asia – so we need coverage wherever we have a connected charging station.  Tele2 IoT has us covered, literally. The network agreements Tele2 IoT has allows us to get the coverage we need, no matter where we are. Additionally, Tele2 IoT’s customer service has really stepped up and is really professional when we need help. So, it’s been great growing with Tele2 IoT and knowing we are getting what we need.”

As GreenFlux continues to expand throughout the world, Tele2 IoT will be right there with them, offering the roaming solutions and support that keep them online and charging into the future.