Electric vehicle networks need to be open, smart, clean and equitable

Electrify America chargers by BTC Power.
Electrify America
Electrify America chargers by BTC Power.

A group of major automakers, utilities, tech companies, environmental firms and industry groups have come together to outline best practices to help build electric vehicle charging networks that are open, smart, clean and equitable.

The agreement, called the Transportation Electrification Accord, seeks to build on lessons learned from building out power and information network infrastructure — like the importance of open standards — and to use these tenants to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicle charging networks. The union is one of the largest of its kind, and gathers a diverse group of stakeholders together, to work on this early stage sector.

“The goal is to show policy makers that there is consensus in the industry around how to do some of this stuff,” Chris King, chief policy officer for Siemens Digital Grid, said. King noted that the group is looking to inform both future legislation as well as regulation from national public utility commissions, with the ultimate aim of accelerating the market for electric vehicles around the U.S.

Automakers including GM, BYD, Honda and Proterra signed onto the agreement as did power gear company Siemens and utilities including National Grid, Exelon and PG&E. Industry groups include Forth and Plug In America, while environmental groups like NRDC and Sierra Club participated.

The organizations made the announcement at the electric vehicle-focused Roadmap conference, which kicks off this week in Portland, Oregon.

The new agreement highlights how the market for electric vehicles is at an early stage, but is starting to grow significantly. It also shows how building out electric vehicle networks is a uniquely collaborative effort requiring participation from energy, auto, tech and environmental firms.

Nissan Leaf image by Stefan Ataman via Shutterstock.com.

The Transportation Electrification Accord specifically points to the importance of an EV charging network that uses open standards and open payment systems. The guidelines developed by the Open Charge Alliance (OCA) should be used as a baseline for these standards, says the group.

The ideal EV charging network would also contribute to clean energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions, the group said. At the same time, EV charging networks should be able to take advantage of data and enable charging during the most efficient times of day.

Finally, charging networks and electric vehicles should be accessible by all, emphasizes the agreement. EV charging needs to scale, but to do so it has to grow beyond the early adopter market into the mainstream like lower income communities and multi-family dwellings. 

“It’s important to set the key principles to drive the electrification of transportation to the next level,” Zach Kahn, director of government relations for Chinese electric vehicle and battery maker BYD, said. Open standards for charging networks can help scale up the electrification of heavy duty vehicles for the commercial sector, Kahn said. 

At a basic level, to both drive and support the adoption of electric vehicles there needs to be more public and workplace charging networks deployed. In the U.S. there are between 50,000 and 70,000 public and workplace electric vehicle chargers available. Including home chargers there are almost 475,000 EV chargers in the U.S.

But researchers like at the Edison Electric Institute, the Institute for Electric Innovation and Rocky Mountain Institute say there need to be many more. Between 4.5 million and 5.5 million chargers need to be installed by 2025 say EEI and IEI. RMI has called building out EV charging infrastructure “an urgent priority.”

Most utilities have taken a rather conservative approach when it comes  deploying electric vehicle infrastructure. The industry group, the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) — which has its own EV network working group — released a report this year that found that the vast majority of utilities are in the early stages of getting involved with EV charging. 

But that’s also beginning to change. Earlier this month the California Public Utilities Commission approved a portfolio of EV charging projects worth a massive $738 million for California’s investor-owned utilities.

The programs — for utilities PG&E, SDG&E and SCE — will build chargers for both passenger and commercial vehicles, and is one of the largest uses of public funding for utility EV charging infrastructure to date. Siemen’s King noted that the CPUC approvals were important in that they took many of these best practices into account when defining the regulation.

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