Integration between DISCOMs and Charging Infra to become crucial with rising EV penetration: Maxson Lewis

Magenta is an EV charging technology company backed by HPCL, Shell, and Microsoft. They provide ‘socket-to-software’ solutions for EV charging and have been the first-timers to bring in product and technology innovation including a streetlamp integrated EV charger and a charger series for private and public use. Lately, Magenta also signed an MoU with Mumbai based eMatrixmile to develop 10,000 EV charging stations across India.

We talked to Magenta MD – Mr Maxson Lewis to gather his thoughts on the current state of EV charging in India. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

EVR: For an office or shopping complex, what are the pre-requisites to consider before EV charging facilities can be installed on-premises?

ML: Setting up EV charging does not require any license as of now and hence the process is simple and open to all. However, as a company very conscious of the safety aspects, we believe that the first and foremost prerequisite is following Electrical Safety guidelines. A small mishap and the entire industry would be questioned, especially because the only point of mishap in EV is during charging. Otherwise, it is a very safe ecosystem.

The EV charging system comes under the State Electricity guidelines since is a power dispensing system. DISCOM intervention is required for load sanction and EV tariff billing meter.

As far as space availability is concerned, the charger footprint is very small. Typical wall mount chargers required just a wall face. Larger DC chargers require a footprint area of 3 feet by 4 feet for actual charger installation. The rest of the area include the vehicle footprint plus the ingress, egress area.

We, at Magenta, have installed close to 125 chargers across India for a lot of organisations and we have a team which specialises in helping with the site survey, site design and installation services and will be happy to support anyone who needs help in this area.

EVR: What role does software play in optimising EV charging? Does this present a good opportunity for India’s vast software industry to contribute?

ML: EV is a technology change and the entire EV format is based on electronics and information technology. The moment you start to think of EVs as a smartphone with wheels, you realise the amount of technology that the EV ecosystem can lend itself to – both inside the EV, and outside the EV be it charging or telematics. As more and more EVs will be on road, technology will play a key role in charging optimisation. While there is a huge play here and the Indian software ecosystem can play a large role, it will require a mind shift in the Indian IT sector from a pure-play software code writing to embedded systems and AI. But the opportunity is immense.

EVR: How does Magenta plan to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in its EV charging operations? What benefits will it bring?

ML: We have a full-fledged Magenta Infomatics team lead by Sanjeev Tripathi who has more than 16 years of experience in complex systems design and build. He is also a Post Graduate in Blockchain Management and Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. Our Infomatics team is focused on developing the charging software closely integrated with the vehicle Telematics.

We have not yet started on Machine Learning in this phase but AI is already integral to our charging software architecture. The charging software platform of the future will decide the roads and the journey one will take as EVs proliferate.

Also Read: Primary Interests and Challenges of EV Charging Stakeholders

EVR: There are advanced software applications in other countries that enable utilities and charging stations communicate for price signalling, peak load allocation as well as understanding the carbon intensity of power, reduce carbon footprint and cost of EV charging by aligning charging schedules with renewable energy availability. India is also increasing its production of renewable energy rapidly.

What is the current state of communication between DISCOMs and Charging stations in India and how do you see this evolve going forward?

ML: EV and EV charging is an evolving ecosystem. It is amazing to see the amount of development happening in this space internationally. Unfortunately, India is taking the same approach to EV charging as it did with smart metering – the attitude of ‘we will solve the problem when we hit the wall’. At this time, the integration between charging and DISCOMs does not exist.

The software solution, which we built, allows for this seamless integration including with the billing systems – be it SAP-ISU (SAP’s solution for the utility industry) or others. However, we found a lukewarm response from the various DISCOMs who have other bigger challenges to solve now. The fact that EV charging is going to be a big revenue spinner for them and they need to be ready for it is somewhat unanticipated except a few DISCOMs. Also at this point, the various state-owned DISCOMs are taking the cheapest APP approach for some of the charging stations they are installing. This has the potential to bring in a suboptimal solution, which India will have to live with for the next couple of years.

I urge them to think ahead and not think of charging software as just another App. A tight-knit charging software has the ability to forecast, modulate and plan loads, which is soon going to be the need of the hour. Without an integrated software approach, our state DISCOMs are bound to push a sub-optimal solution.  

EVR: What opportunities do you see for budding entrepreneurs in the Indian EV charging space?

ML: EV is the sunrise industry and there is huge scope for entrepreneurs to enter. But, EV charging is assumed to be the only thing every entrepreneur is clawing to and that is missing out a much larger ecosystem view. Unfortunately, EV charging is a long term, infrastructure intensive game and the business models are still to fall in place. We took the plunge way back in 2017 full knowing the timelines and being prepared for it.

At this time, one word of counsel to fellow entrepreneurs is to think beyond charging, because there are a lot of other challenges in this space which require solutions. But at the end of it, more the merrier.

EVR: What are the charging industry’s expectations from the government and regulatory authorities?

ML: One simple expectation from the government is to keep it simple and to allow the industry to define the technology and the standards. For example, the existing government standard for AC charging are ridiculous at best – One has to install a 3 point charger even if you have only one vehicle just to abide by the AC001 standard. My humble request to the government and its various agencies is to include us in the dialogue for standard. Globally the EV industry has taken a lot of strides and even with the best interest, the government agencies cannot keep pace with those. Now this lack of clarity and pace means that companies who want to invest in this space have to wait and hold for the next government regulation.

Second and very importantly is the imbalance, which the government has created for setting up charging infra. The FAME 2 subsidies have been restricted to a few government institutions. While this was well-meant, it also means that private agencies who already have to bear the cots of high real estate are now competing against government-subsidized EV chargers which by the way are redundant technology. The least the government should have done is to provide a level playing field by either providing subsidy to all or to none.

In a single line, the EV and EV charging industry if heavily regulated like the Power and Electricity industry will kill the industry before it is hatched. What is required from the government is a listening ear, guidance and support.

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