For those new to OpConnect, one of the things you should know about us is that we have been advocates for networked charging stations since the summer of 2008 when we started developing our first EV charging stations.
Our background had been in networked communications and security software that our parent company, Optimization Technologies, had been developing for the aviation industry. We began exploring other industries for our networking tech skills and – since a handful of our employees were already driving hybrids – we began looking into the re-emerging electric vehicle industry.
Back then only OpConnect and one or two other companies saw the benefits of networked charging stations. Fast forward to today, as we still are big proponents for networked EV charging stations. Only nowadays, I suppose we would call it the Internet of Things.
What hasn’t changed are the basic reasons why someone would choose a networked charging station over a non-networked station.
I should also mention that OpConnect was one of three EVSE manufacturers of networked charging stations to be recently selected by the California Department of General Services (DGS) for its “Statewide Contract for Smart Electric Vehicle Support Equipment (EVSE).” OpConnect was selected for both its hardware and networking services.
Actually, before I go listing all the benefits to networked charging stations, I should mention the only reason for not having a networked station is that you are looking for something cheap. Remember, you get what you pay for, a non-networked charging station will have more limitations than benefits. While cost is always a consideration, depending on your application for the station, you would be better off making it the second or even third criteria for selecting your charging station.
OK, back to some of the benefits of networked charging stations:
#1 Data Collection
Back in graduate school, I often heard the quote, “You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure,” and that couldn’t be more true with EV charging. For site owners, whether they are public governments or private businesses, you want to have some proof other than the eyeball test that the stations are being used.
With the OpConnect Network, a number of data points are collected and made available to the station owner, as well as EV drivers that are members of the OpConnect network, this includes the location of the charging event, time stamp of the event, energy provided, and vehicles charged (charging events), greenhouse gases avoided, and any associated billing/revenue. Site owners also can track a number of data points for the station or stations they own including: charge time, connect time, average power, total power supplied per event, rolling average and peak power.
#2 Energy Management and Demand Response
Electric utilities are worried about the impacts of millions of EVs charging at the same time. Building owners, whose electric bills are formulated on their peak energy usage, also are concerned about a bunch of EVs charging at once. With a networked charging station like OpConnect, they can rest easy knowing they have demand response and building energy management tools available to help shift EV charging to off-peak times, or throttle down the charging output during a particular event. And all of that is done with the real-time awareness and buy-in from drivers, who want to be assured their vehicles will be charged and ready to make the trip home or to the next location safely.
OK, I know that everyone wants free charging for their EVs, but should station owner decide to require a fee for using the station, the only way they can do that is with a networked station.
Unlike most other charging stations, the OpConnect charging stations include an integrated credit card reader, which means we do not require drivers to be a part of any network to use the stations, nor are we pushing a hassle-filled payment approach such as subscription plans or having someone call a call center. Using OpConnect, any driver can simply swipe a credit or debit card for payment at the station, as opposed to contacting someone at a remote call center by phone or some other means to provide the card data and wait for a station to be remotely authorized.
In addition to the convenience of using your credit or debit cards, driver can also use an OpConnect card, the OpConnect smartphone app, a QR-code reader on their smartphones, or their email or phone number to quickly authorize a charging session.
#4 Open Access
OpConnect is the only vendor in the industry to offer Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) industry standards at both the station (hardware) and network levels (software). OpConnect is also a working member of the Open Charge Alliance, which is a global consortium of public and private electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure leaders that actively promotes and develops OCPP standards, which we believe are good for the industry and EV drivers worldwide. This includes being part of the team developing the next generation of open standards, including the Open Smart Charging Protocol. Having an networked charging station built on OCPP protocols is good for station owners, and for EV drivers.
#5 Remote Troubleshooting
OpConnect strives to prevent errors and discrepancies by building a better product. That said, in the rare instances that errors do occur, being a networked charging station allows OpConnect to use a rich set of tools for polling the network to determine network status, individual EVSE status, as well as tools for troubleshooting and resolving most common issues. We should also note that if the network is down for any reason – what we often blamed on “sun spots” when I was a Navy submariner – the stations will collect the usage information locally at the station, allowing someone to charge, and then update the network operation center when the network comes back online.
Using a networked station, like OpConnect’s, also allows drivers to use their smartphone apps or the Internet to find the nearest available OpConnect charging station. And OpConnect network members can also use the OpConnect website or smartphone app to reserve any available public charging station.
#7 Advertising & Other Applications
A networked charging station also allows the station owners other opportunities to recoup the cost of purchasing, installing and operating a charging station. This could include running digital advertising on the stations – OpConnect stations have a 15-inch HD touchscreen and optional 32-inch screen that can display advertising and other sponsorship messaging.
Also, with the OpConnect stations at least, a networked charging station allows other applications to run on the machine. This could include paperless parking meters, bike rental programs, information kiosks, and centers for community messaging, including Amber Alerts.
To summarize, the biggest benefit of having a networked charging station is that it will give you the most options – for recouping costs, for added driver benefits, for your community – moving forward.