Frugal Smart EV chargers will power the first wave of ubiquitous charging networks

‘Range anxiety’ is often the first concern for any prospective EV buyer.

The ability to seamlessly charge the vehicle in a simple and convenient way at easily accessible locations is expected to alleviate this fear. Ravikiran Annaswamy and Siddharth S, Co-founders of Numocity Technologies discuss affordable EV charging solutions being deployed in India.

As the debate of whether the ‘Charger’ or the ‘Vehicle’ must come first continues, India is moving forward with investments in both slow and fast chargers. While new charging infrastructure is being created across the country, the utilisation rates for existing chargers remains low. This can be partially attributed to the limited number of electric cars on the roads.

While India takes steps to electrify its transport, one realises that mass adoption of EVs has started with the Light electric vehicle (LEV) segment. Electric scooters, bikes, auto rickshaws and mini commercial vehicles are leading India’s EV revolution. To deliver energy to LEVs, we need different and frugal charging solutions.

What kind of charging solutions are needed for LEV charging?

The LEV segment usually has a battery of capacity ranging from 2-8 kWh and can be charged using compact chargers connected to a regular AC socket or industrial socket with 16/32 A capacity. This is an ideal solution as most of these LEVs are slow charged at the destination, typically house or workplace.

However, the early adopters of LEVs are Fleets for hyperlocal delivery and last-mile commute. They need charging at hubs like warehouses, delivery points and public places. Ubiquitous charging will be made possible by enabling all spaces where vehicles are parked e.g. Homes, Offices, Malls and public spaces with EV charging facilities. This is seen as an opportunity by both large and small businesses alike to install infrastructure and systems to create new sources of revenue. There are also emerging requirements for shared EV Charging services in residential apartments and workplaces.

Also Read: BIS working on new EV charging standards

Smart and Frugal Charging Solutions for Light Electric Vehicles

India is a hotbed of innovation and has excelled at creating frugal and smart solutions in IoT and software. Startups and innovators have created a new class of products for the emerging requirements of EV Charging for LEVs. Let us look at some of the solutions which are being deployed:

1. Ultra Low-cost Smart Switches piggybacking on the IoT based home automation switches (16A) – The devices are connected through a Bluetooth interface and most of the control and billing is managed through mobile app and the cloud interface. There is work ongoing to standardize the Bluetooth communication interface and the charging hardware capabilities to create a category of interoperable solutions. These chargers can be installed at Kirana Shops, Local Paan shops and places where the bikes will be parkedBIS is currently reviewing low-cost chargers which could be made available at as low as INR 3,500 a piece once the standard is released.

However, even with such ubiquitous chargers, the problem of connector standardization remains unresolved. As different electric scooters have different connector configurations, the EV users will either need to carry the chargers along or the Kirana shopkeeper can lend the chargers for popular models at a fee. Connector standardisation is being discussed at BIS but is expected to take some more time.

2. Internet-connected smart chargers – These are networked devices that make use of existing IoT sensing and connectivity to provide level 1 charging capability. Connectivity is via WiFi or 4G modems and MQTT based communication interface is used to communicate with the cloud and orchestrate business workflows. This solution offers almost the functionality of existing chargers designed for larger EVs but with lower power ratings and remote management controls. These smart switches can interwork with cloud-based CMS systems. These chargers are being deployed in apartments, malls and by EV Fleets for hub charging.

3. Existing Bharat AC001 chargers with OCPP support – can be used to charge the LEVs (auto-rickshaws and light commercial vehicles). These chargers are also commonly found in many public charging stations.

4. Bulk charging hubs are mainly deployed by logistics and mobility players who want to optimize charging for their fleet vehicles. These hubs will host a combination of the above mentioned frugal smart chargers coupled with an intelligent cloud-based fleet charging platform.

Conclusion

To create a robust and scalable charging infrastructure for LEVs, we need to ensure all products are of good quality while being cost-competitive. There should not be any compromise on safety or core functionality of the systems being rolled out. The Indian EV market will witness prolific growth over the coming years and local innovations for local problems will be the way forward. We expect Frugal Smart Chargers to mushroom across the country and show the world the way forward to bring electric mobility to the masses.

Cover image for representation only. This article was first published in EVreporter September 2021 magazine.

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