Leveraging Smart City Technologies to Create More Efficient Access to EV Charging Infrastructure: Using Traffic Patterns in Smart Cities to Optimize Vehicle Charging
Written by Richard Fioravanti
Today, initiatives focused on incorporating smart city technologies are viewed as an essential goal for cities to help make the lives of their inhabitants easier. Incorporating these technologies leads to improved efficiency of its services, increased equity across its inhabitants, the ability to attract key businesses and high-paying jobs, and, finally, ensuring that a city is positioned to meet future challenges and continually improve its quality of life. Of course, the definition can be broad, and success in achieving smart city goals is not without challenges. However, as transportation electrification continues down its path of acceptance and mass adoption, new “use cases” from smart city technologies will need to be created to help with the seamless integration of the vehicles.
The opportunities are being driven by three factors:
Smart city technologies, when coupled with advancements in vehicle connectivity and continuously developing mobile applications, will allow more efficient access to charging sites by leveraging more accessible real-time traffic data.
Traffic Management for Smart Cities
Smart or connected cities continue to examine how data can be leveraged to address problems facing urban life. A recent report has listed the top five smart city uses cases that are most prominent today1:
- Connected Public Transport.
- Traffic Monitoring and Management.
- Water level/flood monitoring.
- Video surveillance and Analytics.
- Connected streetlights.
“Mature” traffic monitoring and management systems are already designed to adjust signal timing from real-time traffic data and is the basis of “smart city” approaches to traffic management. This real-time data can be leveraged to improve efficiencies and routing vehicles to charging stations.
Connected Vehicles: Vehicle to Everything (V2X)
Vehicles are becoming more connected and opening greater opportunities to capture data and report data. Vehicle to Everything (V2X) will likely be the future of mobility – this state is described by the acronym CASE (Connectivity, Autonomous Driving, Shared Mobility, and Electrification). Connected Vehicles Can Improve Traffic Management and Vehicle Safety and will act as an essential “leg” to improving vehicle charging efficiencies.
Mobile Applications for Charger Locations
Having a city replicate applications that guide drivers to charging sites would seem redundant in lieu of the number of mobile charging station applications available today. These applications are continuing to be created and improved. Examples of leading mobile applications to find vehicle chargers are:
- Open Charge Map
Though these applications can inform on charger types and routes, many rely on user-information to identify and locate potential delays or detours. Thus, the systems are beneficial but do not necessarily create the most efficient pathways to charging sites.
A New Use Case for EV Charging Access
As electric vehicles increase their adoption, challenges are going to be created in gaining access to charging stations at public sites. Though today most light-duty vehicle charging is expected to occur at homes or off-street, as the number of vehicles on the road increase, greater access to day-time/public charging will be required.
For vehicles moving through cities, this can create challenges if charging is required during the day. Although there are continuous efforts to increase charger availability, battery sizes are getting larger, and ranges are increasing. Hence, there are many reasons why easy and efficient access to public charging would be required. In addition, as ride-share and taxi vehicles transition to electric, mid-day public charging will be a necessity to ensure fleets of electric vehicles can successively serve their markets.
Today, factors such as the number, size of charger, connector types, and simple directions are commonly used by 3rd party applications in routing drivers to charging locations. However, smart city technology can be leveraged to make finding and accessing EV chargers throughout a city easier and more efficient. Real-time traffic data can be shared or leveraged to ensure routing is accurate and information being used is not stale.
The ideal use case is where a driver seeking a charging station is routed to the closest location based on current traffic patterns, distance, and current usage and condition of the site. Taking the data further into a specific EV charging use case would not require innovation or new technologies — just leveraging of current technologies and data.
Equity and Resilience
There are additional motivations for smart city initiatives. Resilience, often cited, is ultimately achieved through reducing and mitigating vulnerability. Social, health, and transportation vulnerability are among commonly tracked indicators. The role of public EV charging — when deployed properly — can diminish these vulnerabilities. But without special attention to vulnerable areas, it can widen them and disproportionately impact the most vulnerable.
When looking at equity and resilience, the absence of public charging stations is a long-term barrier to adoption for those who rely on street parking or are otherwise unable to have home charging. The current cost of EVs also has been a barrier to adoption by many, but as prices come down, access to affordable community charging by those most vulnerable will be necessary to ensure equity.
Equitable access to charging infrastructure contributes to resilience by helping to remove heavily polluting vehicles from roads, which reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions. For example, air quality improvements due to less car and diesel truck pollution can lead to better health outcomes, which is an important factor in pre-disaster vulnerability. Economic vulnerability due to disruptions to energy sources can also be a driver of inequality during disasters but mitigated with easily accessible and affordable charging infrastructure available to all.
How Improved Access to EV Charging Stations Can Be Implemented?
The justification for assisting EV owners in gaining the most efficient access to EV chargers throughout a city is straightforward and impactful for a city’s image. However, cities are currently stressed in their ability to invest outside of critical services and may not be able to direct smart city technology investment to a new use case due to funding limitations.
Fortunately, cities do not have to take a full step in this area. They may have the “luxury” of approaching their smart city concepts incrementally and surgically to support efficient public charging. If each of the advancements in vehicles, smart city data, and private initiatives are leveraged, data can be provided that unlocks new approaches, routing, and information essential to creating more efficient access to city charging sites. Applications with maps to nearest charging locations can access real-time traffic monitoring to allow nearest routes to be detoured if traffic patterns suddenly create barriers to routes.
For cities, encouraging electrification is more than just increasing the number of chargers in a city, it is also about making access to charging easy, accessible, and equitable. Electrification will help cities reduce carbon emissions and meet zero-emission goals. More importantly, electrification will reduce pollutants that have harmful effects on people within the city and worldwide. Hence, leveraging smart city technologies, current use cases, and all available data to make accessing charging resources as efficient as possible is essential to increasing the adoption of electric vehicles and making a city able to incorporate the expected surge in EV vehicle ownership. For cities, this effort does not have to replicate current systems on the market today but rather can make the data available from smart city technologies to enhance systems while simultaneously not burdening budgets.
- “The top 10 Smart City use cases that are being prioritized now,” iot-analytics, Philipp Wegner, September 1, 2020
- “Automotive Connectivity is Driving the Future of Mobility,” https://otonomo.io/blog/automotive-connectivity-future-mobility/, March 22, 2021
This article was edited by Emilio Ghiani
For a downloadable copy of the July 2021 eNewsletter which includes this article, please visit the IEEE Smart Cities Resource Center.