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Will Plug & Charge improve the EV experience?

If you’re an earlier adopter of electric vehicles, you probably can’t even imagine driving up to a random station to simply complete charging without signing up for a specific network, paying a subscription and/or pre-funding your account, finding a station that is on the network and supports your connector type, and then getting enough energy to keep-it-moving while paying for the energy you’ve received rather than the time spent at the station. Much of this changes with Plug & Charge (ISO 15118), laying the groundwork for electric vehicle ownership to drop the traditional charging red tape and begin to resemble a streamlined fueling scenario.

The ISO 15118 series focuses on creating a standardized communication interface between the vehicle and the external charging infrastructure (EVSE). This starts with the ability to accurately identify the vehicle and user, fulfill the objectives of the charging session, and carryout payment transactions, all within a secure and automated process. While Tesla has offered this type of feature to its owners on its closed, proprietary charging network for the better part of a decade, this standard looks to address the broader market.

Beyond simple authentication and session management, Plug & Charge (aka PnC) enables the industry to deliver on the buzzword ‘Smart Charging’, including grid balancing during peak or off-peak periods, and the control and/or assurance of renewable energy inputs, including stationary storage integration. The further standardization of communication between the vehicle and infrastructure allows the rapidly increasing EV population to dynamically charge or discharge back to the grid in response to real-time load requirements, electricity rates, and energy sources. Through the PnC standard series, a foundation is set for some intriguing use cases once the charging industry’s adoption of PnC has reached a significant market share. Near term opportunities include two-way communication and energy flow for integrated distributed energy resources (IDER), while future opportunities can be even more creative.

What could this mean for the future? Open-ended expansion for additional 3rd party services.

Along with provisions that support the vehicle as a payment medium, ISO 15118 also paves the way for high bandwidth functionality. Though not the primary focus of the latest revision, the standard preludes future use cases that can be supported by a wired communication channel to the vehicle. From the consumer’s perspective this could include silent data up/downloads that are completed during charging, fixing minor bugs, applying security patches, or leveraging features-as-a-service business models for new and improved functionality. In comparison to today’s over-the-air updates which utilize expensive mobile network bandwidth, wired connections can be operated at a fraction of the cost. The in-vehicle experience can be improved while reducing the OEM’s overhead.

While the industry is hard at work improving charging speeds, the current reality is that stopping for a recharge while on a road-trip may still take 30 minutes to several hours. How can the industry justify (or capitalize on) the time expenditure that comes with modern EV charging while on the go? The data connection specified by ISO 15118 is primarily intended to transfer small data packets related to authentication and charging session control, however the connection uses the same protocols as the internet and there are no limits on the types of data that could be sent over this connection. Can content services entertain customers in this new space? Perhaps curated YouTube video playlists or Netflix shows that are pre-selected to fit within the predicted charging time. Or, drivers could spend their charging time streaming in-vehicle games, earning free charging by watching contextualized ads, or even leveraging the high-speed wired connection to perform data-intensive activities, whether for work or leisure. ​

For an OEM, it will become increasingly valuable to control data costs and reduce over-reliance on cellular connectivity, especially with the amount of data expected to be consumed in the world of increasing autonomy. Whether an OEM chooses to analyze high-bandwidth LiDAR sensor data from the fleet or roll-out high resolution map data updates, ISO 15118 may reduce operating costs and improve the consumer experience at the same time. From real-world driving requirements, to R&D and continual improvement, the increased bandwidth of the wired connection can allow for more pragmatic cellular data usage, as well as opening doors to new data-related opportunities such as improved understanding of consumer behaviors, or monetized entertainment.

Rollout and support

The rollout of charging networks and vehicles that support the standard is still in the very early stages and implementation comes with its share of complexities, creating an uphill battle. The Audi e-tron was the first compatible vehicle followed by Mercedes EQC and Porsche Taycan, while EVgo began providing its Autocharge technology in the US in 2019 for GM’s now defunct Maven carsharing program. In Europe, Fastned has been providing a similar charging network feature (also called Autocharge) for a few years and Tritium recently launched a fully compatible DC fast charger.

The authors of the standard itself admit that that backend processing procedure can be “quite complicated” and there have been growing rumblings in the industry over how security certificates are exchanged between stakeholders, including OEMs, charge point operators (CPOs), mobility operators (MOs) and the role that each entity should play.

A white paper co-authored by ChargePoint (a CPO) and EonTI (a digital security company) touches on these concerns, stating the standard is heavily biased towards specific organizations that provide and control these security certificates. Additionally, it argues that the standard inserts a middleman into the process that is not necessarily needed, and this player could potentially control pricing.

While the basis of the pricing control assertion is questionable, the issue ChargePoint raises also brings security into question as it relates to man-in-the-middle attacks. Ford will soon introduce the Mustang Mach-E, followed by several other electrified models in its lineup, and although Ford supports the technical and communications protocol of ISO 15118, it developed a different method to deliver certificates and private keys. It has been reported that Ford’s cybersecurity team was not happy with the way the standard suggested the process, so they went outside the standard to ensure a higher level of security and remove intermediate parties.

So, while forward-facing opportunities abound, ranging from consumer products and services, complex infrastructure management and optimization, marketing communications, to next-level OEM / supplier data ingestion and analysis, there are several challenges that remain. As ISO 15118 is addressing fledgling, unmandated technology, it will require industry cooperation and consumer education to make this a mainstream solution that does not create more red tape in the process.


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