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Local vs Cloud Smart EV Chargers

16 October 2022

 

Local vs Cloud Smart EV Charger

Local vs Cloud Smart EV chargers

Following the sad demise of Andersen EV, I think it’s a good time to discuss smart EV charger cloud architecture and its long-term implications for EV charger users.

The end of the road for Andersen EV

Andersen EV customers are now potentially left with their chargers having no cloud connection and no smart charging support. This renders the chargers ‘dumb’ ie: able to charge a vehicle but an app that is useless.

I co-founded Andersen EV and designed its charging architecture back in 2016. When I left in 2020, (to be transparent, I was kicked out of the business which was pretty upsetting at the time), the Andersen A2 charger smart charging and app architecture was the same as most EV chargers on the market today; with the smart functionality residing on a cloud server. I was fully aware of the technical architectural disadvantages of being dependant on the cloud. In the months prior to my departure, I fought hard against the bean counters to evolve the Gen1 architecture to be less dependent on it.

The disadvantages of using cloud-based architecture

The disadvantages of a smart EV charger that utilises a cloud-based architecture are not limited to companies going bust and leaving customers without support.  Any EV charger that has a hard dependency on being connected to the internet via Wi-Fi, Ethernet or GSM is vulnerable to interrupted smart functions should a home internet failure occur, or if there are any server side issues.

The other disadvantage is about where and who stores customer charging data and charger preferences. Indeed, this problem affects the many EV charger manufacturers who source their OEM products from China and rebadge them. This means that they use the same off the shelf IOT provider which is under the control and view of the authorities in China. They then, in turn, store customer data preferences within a server somewhere in China rather than storing locally on the charger.

The advantages of a smart EV charger cloud-based architecture

There are of course advantages of a smart EV charger which utilises a cloud-based architecture:

  • All user and smart settings are stored in a cloud server making it easier for customers to sync settings across different devices.
  • The firmware running on the EV charger is much simpler. It only requires to run the EVSE (electric vehicle charge control functions) and some safety functions and LED status lights.
  • It’s easier for the manufacturer to add new functions. New features are simply deployed to the cloud server meaning no EV charger firmware over the air updates are required.
  • The development of a cloud-based architecture is much cheaper to develop and requires less skilled technical resources.

For the most part, I feel that these advantages are heavily weighted to the manufacturer making it simple, quick, easy and more cost-effective for manufacturers to develop thus representing a quicker route for them to get to market. Perhaps it is only when you bring functional lifespan into the equation it’s clear that without support, EV chargers with heavy reliance on the cloud will always be vulnerable to becoming dumb.

Simpson & Partners

I started my rival EV charger company Simpson & Partners in 2021. Here I’ll explain our difference -specifically in our charger based architecture. Simpson & Partner EV chargers essential features do not rely on cloud connections and we don’t save your details on the cloud stored on a random external server.

Let’s not rely on cloud connections

The Simpson & Partners EV charger design is what I call charger-based architecture or (thick client) in old IT speak.
What it means is that all Home Series 7kw and 22kW smart charging functions including the scheduler, load balancing, solar charging, locking etc reside in the charger firmware with no dependency on a cloud internet connection.  Achieving this fully fledged intelligent software system locally has taken us 18-months to develop. Furthermore, we have written over 105,000 lines of code and in addition it has cost in excess of £300,000.

Being completely transparent, there are a minority of non-essential features which do depend on a cloud connection. These are the charge reports (the charger needs somewhere to store and index your charging history) and the agile tariff integration (which requires access to the energy providers web API).

Let’s evolve the user experience

In my humble opinion, the control screens on EV chargers are not particularly nice to look at. The UI and user experience reminds me of a consumer electronics device from the year 2000. At Simpson & Partners we have evolved the old-fashioned screen and limited UI with a local control interface. This runs on your iPhone or Android device using the smartphone Bluetooth capabilities. Assuming you’re within 20 meters from the charger, a customer using the app will get the full cloud architecture experience without the charger being dependent on the manufacturers cloud server or needing local internet connection.

How do we do it?

Starting with the firmware

Our in house-built electronics utilise a proper embedded architecture using a fully-fledged embedded processor rather than a hobbyist Raspberry Pi.
The firmware is written in C and all the FreeRTOS libraries are built from the ground up rather than inheriting libraries from random unknown quality sources from the internet.

The Open API

The firmware API design is agnostic to its connection. Commands work seamlessly over both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Server-Side infrastructure

Our server-side cloud architecture for reporting and agile tariff control is based on AWS IOT. This is the modern reference IOT architecture used by large car companies and large consumer electronics manufacturers. In addition, we use Google Big Query to ensure your charge reports appear lightening quick.

Technical transparency

I’m massively proud of what my team at Simpson and Partners have achieved in the last 18 months. If you have any questions, I’m always happy to discuss them.

David Simpson (co-founder Simpson & Partners)