EVSE: the low-hanging fruit of smart city buildout

How installing a few charging stations is more of a long-term solution than meets the eye.

We often hear about the need for smart cities, smart grids, and sustainability in general, but what does it really mean? How can we ever hope to build a smart and sustainable global ecosystem, considering the energy-consuming path that we’re on?

Charged talked to Mike Calise, Director of Electric Vehicles at Schneider Electric, about the challenge of sustainability and where EVs fit into the short-term and long-term solution.


Charged: How would you sum up the need for sustainable energy consumption? 

Mike Calise: If you look at what’s happening in the world, there is a real energy dilemma that we’re experiencing globally. Analyst data suggests that between now and the end of 2050, our global energy demands are going to double. Think about how short a time that is considering the history of global energy needs to this date. On top of that, we want to reduce our CO2 emissions by half while our global energy demands are growing. It’s a mass-scale grand challenge, but there are strategies that can help get us there.



Charged: So how do we tackle that problem? It’s fairly vast.

Mike Calise: Cities today contain about 50 percent of the world’s population, consume about 75 percent of global energy, and produce about 80 percent of the CO2 emissions. By 2050, with more urbanization, people moving rapidly into cities, cities will contain about 70 percent of the world’s population. So you have a battlefield, and the whole game of an energy dilemma gets won or lost in the major cities.

A “smart city” has to be sustainable, and that’s really all about data and efficiency. An intelligent, efficient system within the city – and intelligent, efficient systems within systems – sharing information. There’s an energy efficiency element in all of it – less energy loss, reduced carbon emissions, and of course, economically there needs to be operational savings, otherwise it’s just a vision. In addition, efficiency in the water/waste water system, efficiency in public services, efficiency and accessibility to information in all these systems play key roles. There’s an energy system, the grid that impacts a smart city in a big way. We need to deliver smart, reliable, efficient energy without any blackouts. And one of the biggest sources of energy loss is in buildings and homes.

Mobility is a huge factor, like improved control over systems for traffic lights, traffic routing relating to congestion, efficient mass transit and drivers/travelers having real-time, accessible information about where to go. Traffic and transportation is a major challenge in any city, one that is particularly visible to people. So more efficient and sustainable transportation is key to any smart city, and it has a significant and visible impact. After all, if you cannot get in and out of a city efficiently, and you waste energy along the way, this is counter to the city’s sustainability initiatives. You want to improve this system of mobility, and that really includes reducing traffic and congestion. That means less carbon emissions, less energy demand and more efficient travel routes. So, it is the integration of intelligent systems around mass transit and the integration of informed drivers and connected vehicles. Electric vehicles and EV charging infrastructure will be paramount for these strategies both short and long term.


Charged: Where does EV charging infrastructure fit in, and what do you expect to see moving forward?

Mike Calise: It is a pretty tough challenge because it requires collaboration among many stakeholders, including policy makers, consumers, technology vendors, city planners, advocacy groups, investors and utilities. But charging infrastructure is one of those paradigms where the technology today is advanced, affordable and intelligent. With collaboration, we have a real strategy to make a significant impact on the future of a city by deploying mass-scale connected EV charging infrastructure now.

We like to frame adoption of EVs and its impact on global sustainability in three phases: EV Ready, EV Willing, and EV Able. It goes beyond the classic “chicken and egg” we speak about.  For simplicity, we’ve called this our “9 inning (year) ballgame.” 

EV Ready is this first phase of the overall EV market. If we assume 2011 is year zero, first production vehicles launched, then the EV Ready years still take about three years during 2012, 2013, 2014. It’s putting the charging infrastructure in ahead of mass EV adoption, and becoming ready for real EV adoption. EVs are doing well, and we’re thrilled with the early adoption growth – growing in orders of magnitude – but they’re still not the car of choice for most. We still have to put in pervasive EV charging infrastructure within cities that allows people to identify that the infrastructure exists out there. By doing so, we extend the “effective” range of all EVs. We have infrastructure that can be put in place and deployed in mass scale today, so the technology is here with few technology barriers. The price is quite inexpensive on a relative scale, and there are intelligent stations that talk to the cloud and manage session, energy, and carbon data, while delivering an excellent driver and host experience.

When the masses see that infrastructure in place, then we transfer into the EV Willing period during 2015, 2016 and 2017. People see them and are willing to make an EV decision. “Oh, my work has chargers and I’ve been waiting for this. I’m not one to take risks, and now the risk looks relatively low so now I’m going to buy an EV.” The same applies to their favorite hotel chain, retail store, university, ballpark, etc. There are a lot of great examples of this and it will continue to unleash strong demand for EVs.

Workplaces install some stations for early drivers who ask to charge at work. In some cases, the workplace might pay for the energy, but even if they don’t, employees don’t have to go to the gas station anymore so everyone gets excited about it. As soon as a building has the first few working stations, they immediately see more drivers than stations. So they say “OK, we’ll put in some more chargers in.” and so on. We are already seeing examples of this in EV adoption hotbeds, but it will take a few years before it is common throughout North America and other major global EV markets.

What we see is that by taking the first step and becoming EV Ready, you make a significant impact, because you get people to become willing to make an EV buying decision. And these new vehicles are technology enriched; they intelligently interact with other intelligent devices and systems within the city. So, now you’re starting to really make a difference in creating a smart transportation strategy by rolling over these highly inefficient fossil-fuel-based vehicles to a new highly-connected, highly-efficient way to get to work and back, and typically in and out of a city. You’re now starting to challenge the energy dilemma in an impactful way, because we’re talking about transportation, which is 40 percent of carbon emissions using fossil fuel. By just installing your first charging station, you have this tremendous ripple effect. And then by installing more, you have an exponential effect. 

Eventually we’ll get to the point where you’re able to charge everywhere, and you’re able to do that without ever thinking about it, and we transfer into the EV Able period – 2018, 2019, and 2020 inclusive. At that time you will see a tipping point for EV adoption, and a significant disruption to gas powered vehicles. Beyond those years you may you even start to hear a small impact in noise pollution and incrementally better air quality, key platforms for measuring smart cities.


Charged: Has it been difficult to convince workplaces and retail to install EVSE?

Mike Calise: We’re seeing that early adopter EV owners are starting to demand charging at work from their employers. We are also seeing that they are requesting chargers at places they frequent including their favorite travel destinations and where they tend to park the most outside of the home. So we have a decent start from the LEAF, Volt and Tesla growth, and that will expand with new models from Toyota, Ford, BMW and others. You’ve got a pretty vocal contingent who are saying, “Hey, I want to charge at work, what are you going to do for me?” The demographic of EVers happens to be technically savvy and usually well educated. Their demands are well received, and the leaders of great companies deliver, and we are seeing this at small-medium businesses and office parks as well. You do see some “chicken and egg” here, but on a tiny scale relatively speaking.

Today we’re seeing an emphasis on the importance of sustainability being driven by innovative companies. A recent example is Caesar’s Entertainment, the leading gaming company with resorts everywhere. Their number three mission now as an organization is based around social responsibility. They’ve created a sustainability initiative within the organization called CodeGreen. To deliver on that they can do things like recycle, put renewable power generation on the roof, reduce energy consumption with intelligent building energy managements systems and retrofitted LEDs, and they are making that happen. But if they were remiss and didn’t put in available and accessible charging stations, then the public would not see the real impact of that mission. So now they’re doing that, and it’s a great way to create public and employee visibility, literally right at the front of the building. 

In many ways on a small scale, it’s not that challenging to get workplaces and retail onboard, but it’s just the beginning. We are only in the bottom of the second inning, so it is still early days. The innovative and more sustainability-oriented companies recognize that when surveyed, people say they would actually spend more money on goods and services with a company that they know is socially responsible. This is well-known data, so they have a dual benefit from these initiatives when they are realized.

There may still be a small challenge to be overcome at the facility manager’s level, since chargers may not be an obvious benefit because it is infrastructure buildout and more building energy usage. They own the installation project, so some may be more hesitant to deploy. However, after further discussions, facility managers begin to understand the automated charging solutions and begin to see the beneficial impact and the power of cloud-connected chargers that require little maintenance. This hurdle is being addressed with more education and testimonials.

Those who understand the short-term importance of EV Ready will prove that Workplace and Retail charging is inevitable, and will spiral up at unprecedented rates between now and the end of the decade. And by doing so, they’re doing their fair share to mitigate carbon emissions and promote efficient travel within their city. They can also manage that energy at work with building energy management integration. So, now you can see this mass-scale potential of that relatively small decision. When somebody puts in an EV charger, it means a heck of a lot more than they might think it does, and goes well beyond supplying electricity to a car.


Charged: What is the importance of “smart” chargers at home in this equation? 

Mike Calise: Most of the home charging today is still basic or “dumb” charging, with no connectivity to the cloud. We sell basic chargers, and our competitors sell basic chargers because frankly, there is not a lot of grid anxiety yet. In my area, the public utility PG&E offers a special EV rate for electricity. In order to get this rate you have to give them the serial number of your car. And that’s great because residents get cheaper charging rates and the utility they can see whether the car is a Tesla or a Volt and what power it could demand. They’re doing their homework to keep the grid reliable for Northern California residents. So far, it’s all working with no big headaches, and basic chargers are fine to keep costs down during the EV Ready period. In the not-too-distant future we will see connected home chargers become pervasive, but the feature sets and networks are still being ironed out.

However, in the commercial domain, basic chargers have a limited market. They are great to keep costs down, and as starter kits, but cannot scale and easily integrate into building energy management systems. 


Charged: Then commercial charging is all about smart charging? 

Mike Calise: We’re delivering what we call EVlink cloud-connected chargers with a robust secure connection to a network. They offer the ability to manage station sessions and set rates on the fly, mitigate energy use, report carbon usage and alert data, and process payments.  We refer to this as “involved intelligence.” The amount of energy that’s distributed to these chargers is integrated into intelligent building automation and management systems, which Schneider is a leader in. A building can be programmed to pick and choose how much energy it wants to allocate to vehicle charging vs HVAC and other loads depending on the time of day, temperature, season, etc. You can see that this is sort of a holistic integration of intelligent charging as part of building management. This is the state of the technology today, and it’s not that expensive. So now we are establishing a footprint of highly intelligent EVSE to start the ball rolling. 

Eventually, EVs will have a pretty significant impact on the grid – you don’t get something for nothing. Right now, during the EV Ready period, driver anxiety is relatively high but grid anxiety is relatively low. Utilities are not panicking just because people are buying EVs. But as driver anxiety goes down with pervasive charging, and we transfer to the EV Willing and EV Able periods, then we’ll be taxing the grid during peak, and utility anxiety is going to be up and play a pretty significant role. 


Charged: Will a smart grid be able to meet the demand of exponential growth? 

Mike Calise: Utility anxiety will be mitigated through integrated smart charging – the connection of demand response systems and charge scheduling schemes, etc. At the workplace, where cars sit most of the time during peak, does everyone need to be charging at once? At home you can charge at night while you sleep – not a big grid impact. 

But it will be critical to deploy more and more demand response and energy management systems that tie the vehicle to the building’s or campus’s energy management system. 


Charged: What role will vehicle-to-building and vehicle-to-grid play?

Mike Calise: As the grid and buildings continue to get smarter, EVs continue to become more advanced, and battery cycles improve, the grid peak load problem of the future will be solved by the very same technology that will put the most demands on the grid during peak charging. The “solution lies in the problem.” So we’ll do vehicle-to-building and vehicle-to-grid, sourcing energy through a mobile battery storage device called a car. This is why EVs will invariably see an adoption tipping point within the decade. The stakes are high for this, both as a transportation paradigm shift and a smart grid paradigm shift.

Almost every battery that demands energy from the grid will also be an energy storage device for the grid, what we envision as swarming energy storage in the future. You can see a massive impact, really massive when millions of energy storage devices are mobilized everywhere. 

During that EV Able period, the problems are actually the solutions that will manage the grid in a smart city. We’re not quite there yet, but the technology is within our grasp today with pilots everywhere. It is likely within in our 9 inning (year) ballgame, but we may have to go into extra innings…

But, to bring us back from the future, the real message is: Simply deploy some charging stations now, and you will see how big of a difference you can really make between now and the end of the decade. This simple action is the start of solving a mass-scale grand challenge.


This article originally appeared in Charged Issue 10 – OCT 2013

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