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Phil Covington headshot

Greenlots Introduces Open-Standards EV Charging


Though you'll continue to read that electric vehicles have been slow to catch on, the fact is, they are catching on, and they will continue to do so. Whether it be sales of pure electric vehicles, or plug-in hybrid vehicles, the growth of electrified vehicles is necessitating the build-out of public charging infrastructure in cities, workplaces and homes.

We are familiar with the tangible parts of such infrastructure -- the electric vehicles themselves, and the physical charging stations they plug into. But to make the whole system work, you need an information technology network to connect the hardware together and manage things such as payments and connectivity to the grid, and for charging site owners, the ability to manage the infrastructure deployed.

That's where companies like Greenlots come in; a San Francisco-based global provider of open standards-based technology solutions for electric vehicle networks. On Feb. 10, the company introduced its SKY Smart Charging system, which is designed to address the needs of the utilities and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) sectors. It's a pretty esoteric part of the EV world, so I'll attempt to explain how it fits together and why it's significant.

At the outset of the deployment of EV charging infrastructure, particularly in the U.S., manufacturers of the charging station hardware built chargers with proprietary communications systems -- the messaging which allows the chargers to talk to the network platform, or the so-called "back-office." All things being well, this is fine functionally, but there is a risk that if a company goes out of business -- as Ecotality and Better Place did -- perfectly operational charging stations are in danger of becoming "stranded assets." Since the hardware is using a proprietary communications language, if the "host" goes out of business, the chargers don't talk to anybody else and become essentially useless.

Though Greenlots doesn't make chargers, its SKY Smart Charging platform supports the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) -- a popular open-source communication language between the hardware and the managing network system -- allowing any charging stations that use OCPP to be interoperable with the platform. OCPP is popular in Europe already and can benefit charging site operators equally in the U.S. This is because the open-source protocol allows site owners to switch networks, without having to replace the hardware. Plus, any hardware using OCPP is not at risk of becoming stranded as described above. While Greenlots was a founding member of the Open Charge Alliance, which supports OCPP, they are not unique in adopting it.

Where Greenlots is unique, however, is with respect to another important component of SKY Smart Charging -- that of managing "automated demand response" with utilities. Greenlots' system is the first and only EV charging platform provider to receive certification for the OpenADR 2.0b protocol -- again, an open-source protocol, which allows automated demand response (that's what the ADR part means) between the utilities and the charging infrastructure.

What is demand response? Simply put, demand response provides grid stabilization by averting major problems when electricity demand, at any given moment, exceeds supply -- thereby overloading the grid. Such circumstances can occur, for example, when air conditioner usage spikes in hot summer months at certain times of the day, and of course, as sales of EVs continue, clusters of EVs can cause similar demand spikes if everyone comes home from work and plugs in at the same time. Principally, demand response is managed by offering pricing differentials to customers -- that is, higher costs at peak demand times and lower costs at off-peak times.

If site owners opt-in, OpenADR offered via Greenlots' system is able to facilitate an "automatic load curtailment," based on setting parameters such as the amount of energy, the price of energy and the strain on the grid -- thereby minimizing the impact of EV charging on the grid. It also provides the added benefit of allowing site owners to enjoy reduced electricity rates.

As such, SKY Smart Charging principally benefits two entities in particular: Site owners who can avoid stranded assets along with the ability to control costs and utilities that, through OpenADR, are able to manage the grid optimally.

While Greenlots' system brings immediate benefits today, the system is forward-looking, too. Full implementation of V2G technology is a future state where energy transfer between the grid and EVs is "bi-directional." At times, EVs will store energy from the grid, and at other times they will put energy back into the grid. Brett Hauser, Greenlots' president told me: "Our platform is set up to be able to handle the capabilities of V2G, but there are no commercial applications today."

But Greenlots plans to be part of that future. "Logically, V2G follows up after demand response -- from curtailment in one direction...then V2G would be the bi-directional capability after that." In a rapidly evolving industry, "future proofing" is an important part of the game.

Image courtesy Of Greenlots

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Phil Covington headshotPhil Covington

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.

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