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How charging points are ringing in an electric vehicle revolution

S.Muralidhar | Updated on May 21, 2021

Image for representational purpose only   -  Scharfsinn86

Here is all you need to know about the newly developed standard for low-cost electric vehicle charging points. It has the potential to charge up the EV revolution

Earlier this week, an official announcement made by the Government regarding standards for electric vehicle charging devices is likely to have a significant impact on the future of electric mobility in India. Unlike the trends witnessed in the US and Europe, the Indian market for electrics is likely to be a ‘bottoms-up’ grassroots movement, which will likely lead to an explosion in battery-operated two-wheelers and three-wheelers first. Mass market cars are expected to be last in the list of EVs that will witness accelerated adoption.

While we have witnessed a sequence of announcements related to new EV manufacturers and their plans to grow the market, in reality the adoption on the ground has been slow. One major obstacle has been the lack of charging infrastructure across our cities and towns. Thanks to a new initiative, cities, towns and villages in India will soon be able to benefit from an innovative low-cost Electric Vehicle (EV) charge point that can accelerate the adoption of electric 2-wheelers and 3-wheelers. A forthcoming standard to be released will allow rapid scaling up of EV charging infrastructure that is much needed in the country.

What is the standard all about?

NITI-Aayog sponsored this initiative working through the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the Government of India along with the Department of Science and Technology (DST). Fast-track development of the standard, backed by close collaboration between industry and government, and diligent testing and validation, will mean that numerous Indian suppliers can become a part of this supply chain supporting the Make-in-India initiative. Focus on cost-innovation means that a target price of less than ₹3,500 (about $50) for a smart AC charge point operated with a smartphone, is achievable, making this a global breakthrough in affordable EV charging infrastructure. The standard will be formally issued through the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).

A committee involving all key stakeholders including EV manufacturers, auto and electronic component suppliers, power utilities, and communication service providers has worked in fast-track mode to develop specifications, prototype products, and undertake testing and validation of the proposed standards. According to Dr V. Sumantran, Chairman, DST_PSAO Committee for Charging Infrastructure, “there were three major objectives for developing this standard. Firstly, to create an affordable EV charging infrastructure across the country. Most global systems for charging stations have trickled down from the 4-wheeler standards. They are complex, usually involving higher power delivery, AC and/or DC supply, multiple voltages, different paddles and a multitude of ways to manage bi-directional data. This is overkill for the majority of applications for two and three wheelers in India. The forthcoming standard offers a highly public-access oriented, smartphone-enabled charge point, supported by e-payment and analytics at a breakthrough price. Secondly, accelerating adoption of EVs will require that we can rapidly scale up charging infrastructure.” Currently many prospective customers anticipate ‘range anxiety’ - the fear that they may get stranded in certain circumstances without a nearby charging opportunity. This is a deterrent from purchasing an EV. Therefore, a highly scalable solution is necessary. “Thirdly, the growth of the EV eco-system in India cannot be sustainable economically unless there is a healthy local industry and significant value addition inside the country. This standard will allow many more local enterprises to achieve scale and thereby better economics”, adds Sumantran.

Even from an EV manufacturer, prices to set up a smart user-linked charge point for a 2-wheeler is typically of the order of Rs 10,000-15,000. The committee had adopted an aggressive target of $50 or less, which translates to about ₹3,500. Yet, this low-cost device still had to offer two key functions. On the one hand, it needed to be an easily accessible system, which means one must be able to walk up to any charge point anywhere and access it. The proposed device, with its environment protection and in-built energy metering system will offer communication to the user’s smart-phone via low-power Bluetooth and connect via the smart-phone to the back end for remote authentication, user identification, billing for energy drawn and linkage to a payment e-wallet. On the other hand, the device may be installed wherever a 15-amp, 220-volt outlet may be supported – so infrastructure demands are minimal. The idea was to demystify the charging infrastructure to serve the anticipated large number of 2-wheelers and 3-wheelers that are most likely to be early adopters.

How does the device work?

To make each of these standardised charging devices be usable for multiple EV users, it has to have smartphone enablement for functions like authentication, identification of user account, connecting to a payment wallet, and electronic metering for calculating the energy count as well as the tariff cost. This device merges three parameters - a sub-₹3,500 price point, universally accessible for anybody with a smartphone and it provides 3kW power, which is enough for most electric 2-wheelers and their plug-in systems.

The users will typically be electric 2-wheeler owners who could even set up this unit in their apartment, where charging from the apartment’s common utilities power socket is a problem for individual resident vehicle owners. This standardised charging socket can help tide over that problem, because it can be metered and charged based on usage. Other public places like malls, offices and parking lots can similarly be set up with these charging units. City Corporations and Smart City initiatives are in the process of setting up parking structures where these can go up. Even Kirana store owners can instal one and use their smartphone to help deliver charge to those that just want a small top-up. If it is an e-scooter with a 1.5kW battery, and this charging station delivers 3kWh, a full charge will only take 30 minutes. So, notionally one could get a 30 per cent top-up (say from 30 percent charge to 60 percent charge) in just about ten minutes; that is usually how much most users will need for completing their journey.

For activating the charging device, the user simply opens up the compatible account, walks up to the device and scans a QR code, the charging device then communicates with the phone. After the digital handshake, there is a communication with the back-end using the phone’s GPRS or Wi-Fi to verify the identity of the person, the amount of money in the payment wallet etc. Based on the amount of charge requested and the balance in the account, the device can meter and control the delivery of electrical charge for the EV. A very intelligent way of metering the power has also been patented by the committee. Given how expensive a smart-meter can get, and given the cost targets that had been set, the group had to develop an algorithmic metering chip inside this device. This is said to potentially have a ‘plus-minus’ one and half percent error margin. As part of the collaborative effort, the discoms which were part of the discussions have agreed to the potentially small, certified metering discrepancy. All these needed to be coordinated, to make the user case seamless and simple, being delivered by a low-cost standardised device. It also ensures universal operability, since all a user will need is a standard 15-Amp line. Yet, it also enables the Discom to use the back-end to turn off or turn on the tap anytime if a misuse of the device is detected. Of course, after a large network of these chargers are installed and with the expansion of the user base, it will generate a mountain of data in the back end. Analytics of this kind of data is becoming extremely valuable for users who may want to optimise their charging cycles, and for Discoms who may want to capitalise on usage patterns and rationalise peak loads etc.

Sumantran added, “Demystifying and democratising the EV ecosystem and bringing prices down were the primary objectives of developing this standard. When industry and government entities come together to work on national goals, remarkable progress can be achieved with speed. Furthermore, this effort brought out the talent in India for intelligent cost-innovation. Affordability constraints in India demand that we address problems keeping in mind both cost and scalability.”

Published on May 20, 2021

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