Electric vehicles (EVs) have never been more popular than they are today. Last year, electric car sales increased by 70 percent in the UK, and as the market matures, more drivers are discovering the benefits of electric mobility and the convenience of charging at home.
Many homeowners are already using smart devices to optimise their homes energy efficiency, and electric car chargers have a lot to offer in that regard. This is where smart charging comes in. Smart charging is an umbrella term surrounded by technical jargon and unfamiliar concepts that may sound complex and confusing. In this article, we explain what smart charging is, and what homeowners should be aware of.
What is smart charging?
Smart charging is a system in which an EV, charging station, and a charging app communicate together and share data. Compared to traditional EV chargers that aren’t connected to the internet, smart charging enables users to remotely monitor, manage, and control the charging process and energy usage.
By automatically monitoring changes in load on the electrical circuit, smart charging helps optimise the use of available energy and allows the charging station to operate in a cost-effective and energy efficient manner.
What makes an EV charger smart?
There are two key aspects that set a smart charger aside from a traditional, non-smart charger: hardware and software.
Smart charging hardware
While a smart charger still shares the same fundamental design as a regular EV charger, an essential distinguishing feature is the ability to connect to the internet to send and receive data. This requires a modem and a link to a network, which needs to be physically built into the charger. Some (often cheaper or smaller) chargers may not be equipped to establish a network and thus can’t leverage smart charging.
Smart charging software
Beyond hardware enabling connectivity, a smart charger also needs software to collect, aggregate, and make sense of usage data. EV drivers use a charging app to manage their charger. This way, the driver can control charging sessions remotely and get accurate energy-usage insights to help optimise performance and reduce costs.
Why is smart charging beneficial?
Smart charging helps optimise the charging process and manages charging loads safely. This is possible as a smart charger monitors your electrical consumption and intelligently adjusts charging based on the available energy. In layman’s terms, this ensures an electric car never draws more power from the grid than is available, preventing overloads and ensuring optimal charging speeds.
Smart charging can additionally unlock insights about charging behaviour and energy use, which can help shift charging demand to times when electricity prices are lower, and there is less strain on the grid (and your wallet).
How does smart charging work?
Fundamentally, smart charging enables two-way data flows and communication between an electric car and a charging station in a way that allows users to remotely control the charging process. In practice, smart charging refers to a set of features, including dynamic load balancing, vehicle-to-grid (V2G), and hub-satellite configurations, each of which work differently.
What are the different smart charging solutions?
Smart charging is a term that refers to a set of different features. Below, we’ve listed the available smart charging solutions for electric car charging stations.
What is dynamic load balancing?
Dynamic load balancing protects your home by monitoring power use and ensuring it never goes above a safe maximum. As energy use approaches maximum capacity, this technology will automatically reduce a charging station's power output or pause the session entirely until enough capacity becomes available.
Dynamic load balancing works by balancing the energy usage on your electrical circuit by intelligently allocating capacity to appliances that need it most. It ensures that power drawn by an electric car charger is reactive to changes in conditions at your location. For example, if you turn on a washing machine whilst your electric car is charging, dynamic load balancing can temporarily reduce the charging output to free up some electrical capacity for your wash.
Charging an electric car is a power-intensive process. A standard 3-pin charging cable can only draw up to 2.3 kW, whilst a dedicated electric car charging station can deliver upwards of 7.4 or 11 kW (by comparison, a washing machine uses between 1.3 and 3 kW). Thus, charging an electric car can quickly put an electrical circuit under strain, especially if other appliances, such as an oven or dishwasher, are in use at the same time.
What is vehicle to grid (V2G)?
Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) is a technology that allows two-way power delivery between an electric car’s battery and the power grid. Compared to regular charging, which flows in one direction—from the grid to the car’s battery—V2G allows electric cars to momentarily push power back into the grid to balance variations in energy supply and demand.
V2G’s two-way power flow makes it a valuable source of backup power in the case of outages, bypassing the need for diesel generators. But V2G is also a key catalyst for renewable energy. Excess energy production, for example, from solar panels during a sunny day, can be stored in an electric car’s battery and released later when renewable production doesn’t meet demand (such as during the night). Whilst powerful on an individual basis, V2G can become truly game-changing when applied at the scale of an entire power grid.
Another commercial application of smart charging technology is hub-satellite configurations, where multiple charging stations (satellites) are connected to a single modem that acts as a hub. While less applicable for homes with individual chargers, the hub-satellite configuration can be an interesting option for apartment buildings and multiplexes which share power sources for multiple chargers, helping streamline data flows and optimising charger management.
Smart charging is a priority in EV adoption
Smart charging is a new, unfamiliar topic for many, encompassing a range of different concepts. At its core, smart charging leverages technology to improve charging efficiency and optimise capacity use at a given location. As EV adoption grows, smart charging will be a crucial asset for managing the increased energy demand, preventing the grid from overloading, and streamlining the charging process.