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Theme #2: Enabling Smart Cities

As highlighted in my most recent posts, the lack of suitable, conveniently located and reliable charging infrastructure is now the key barrier to people switching from ICE, to EV ownership. Responsibility for overcoming this/developing adequate charging infrastructure has largely fallen to government. This is a complex challenge, with no clear best practice to follow and many interested parties seeking to influence decisions - often with vested interests to select certain products or charging methods. There is no clear or perfect answer here, the same as there is no single version of an EV user.

What is clear though is that more can be done to deliver the network we need, as efficiently as possible and in a way that is both more profitable and less damaging to the environment. We have researched this topic in detail and have identified 5 macro themes that those seeking to invest in charging infrastructure, whether public or private should consider; 1. Convenience & Network Confidence, 2. Enabling Smart Cities, 3. Environmental Impact, 4. Speed of Technological Development, 5. Sustainable Investment.

I covered the first, Convenience and Network Confidence in my last post, so here let’s explore the role EV infrastructure can play in enabling smart cities. EVs are a fundamental component of almost all smart cities plans/agenda’s, but rarely if ever is the smart cities agenda a component of EVCP operating networks or planned deployments. This is a huge missed opportunity, for network operators, city authorities and ultimately for the people living and working in urban areas:

Enabling Infrastructure - Smart cities and IoT technologies have been around for some time, but have struggled to take hold at scale due (in many instances) to a lack of supporting infrastructure. In lamp columns (the infra most commonly proposed to support smart cities plans) there is often sufficient power to power IoT systems, but rarely the connectivity required to link them effectively. However, in deploying EV charging points (EVCPs) there’s an opportunity to correct this. Government mandates mean that soon, all new charging points will have to be smart (and connected, either through a hard fibre or mobile networks) and this offers significant potential for the deployment of EVCPs to enable smart cities tech.

EVCP deployments, if thoughtfully planned, have the potential to have a positive impact that is far more wide reaching than purely EV charging - potentially increasing access to, and the quality of, internet connectivity across cities and enabling the scaled application of IoT sensors (traffic monitoring, air quality, parking sensors etc.) that can help local authorities better manage the places we live and work. Additionally, where deployed effectively, these technologies have the potential to not only be beneficial to local authorities and residents, but also to create a positive feedback loop to EVCP operators, reinforcing the need for EV adoption (in the case of air quality monitors) and opening up additional data revenue streams.

Paired Deployment - The adoption of EVs brings together a diverse set of industries - Govt, Insurance, Auto, Utilities, Telecoms, Energy along with many others. But still, the majority of EVCP deployments are delivered by single organisations, operating with their own interests at heart - sense and economics says it really shouldn’t be like this.

Increasingly city authorities (and others, such as Innovate UK) are seeking to engage consortiums of providers that are able to utilise pooled infrastructure, or deploy technologies (for example EV charging and high speed fibre) in parallel. One of today’s buzzwords is collaboration and I can think of few better examples for this to be demonstrated than in EVCP deployments, where there is great potential for power utilities, telecoms, EVCP operators (and IoT sensor providers) to work together - To minimise disruption to residents (who’ve seen their streets repeatedly dug up by different utilities), minimise construction costs (‘sharing the trench’) and amplify the positive benefits, beyond just EV charging.

Critical National Infra - A cautionary note. Whilst above I enthusiastically argue for increasing the capability of the charge point network and for more opportunities to deploy complimentary technologies in parallel, as connectivity advances, system integrity/security is becoming an increasingly important issue. It seems likely that EVCP networks (especially where they are linked to Smart Cities infra) could soon be considered as a critical national infrastructure and so increased consideration must be given (by investors and operators) to the security of deployed technologies and the suppliers of them.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.