Networking: The big question for your next EV charging project

Learn about the primary benefits plus six questions to help you decide if networking is right for your project.

Have you heard of a growing movement popularized in some Gen Z circles embracing a new wave of “dumbphone” adoption? They’re ditching their iPhones for simpler, less advanced tech that focuses on text and calling.  

That’s right, cell phones that lack internet connectivity. Hello, 2002! They argue that the simplicity helps them focus while freeing them from the distracting allure of social media. 

Now, just like the phone world, every EV charging project owner will have to decide between connecting their chargers to the Internet. In the biz, we call it “networking”.   

What’s the right answer for your project? The answer depends on your specific needs and goals. In this article, I’ll break down the benefits of networking, discuss the different flavors, and offer examples of both cases to help you confidently conclude if networking makes sense for your project.  

Spoiler alert: Just like those young tech types ditching the smartphone for a simpler alternative, networking isn’t always the best choice for every EV charging project.   

The Social Network  

Let’s start with the differences.   

Non-networked charging stations, or “dumb” chargers, operate in isolation. They’re not connected to a central network and can’t communicate with other devices. Plug an electric vehicle into a non-networked charger, and the vehicle will charge at full power until it’s either unplugged or fully juiced up.  

On the flip side, networked charging stations can communicate with each other and relay data to and from a cloud. At the company I work for, our chargers can link up through WiFi, cell towers, or a hardwired local area network (LAN). Why is this connectivity important?  

Here are the primary benefits networking offers for EV charging.  

  1. Collecting Driver Fees: Just like getting a rideshare, being connected allows you to collect fees from drivers through an app.
  2. Data Collection: Networking opens up a world of possibilities for data collection, allowing owners to see who’s using the charges, track driver trends, and restrict access to certain populations (i.e. tenants)  
  3. Remote Monitoring and Troubleshooting: Networking allows for remote monitoring and troubleshooting, reducing costly and time-consuming trips to your site by a technician.  
  4. Load Management: Networking enables load management, allowing an algorithm to intelligently charge vehicles at the most cost-effective times of the day.  

Zoom Service  

Think of non-networked chargers as basic appliances – like a hotel room coffee maker. It’s either on or off, doing its one simple job. But EV charging is a whole different beast. Property owners might want to pass on the cost of electricity to drivers, or at least track performance metrics for reporting purposes. Networking is the key.  

Networking also enables the deployment of adaptive power strategies, letting you intelligently charge vehicles during the most cost-effective times. And let’s not forget customer support and remote troubleshooting – networked chargers make it possible for our team to fix issues from anywhere with an internet connection, saving time and money.  

An internal audit at the company I work for found we resolved over 93% of all charging session issues over the previous 90 days remotely, reducing service request windows from a few days to mere hours. Remote monitoring also prevents a technician a trip to the site, saving everyone time and money.  

Note that networking comes with annual software subscription fees, so you’ve got to make sure your project reaps the benefits.  

Networking or Not working? 

So, should your project embrace networking? Here’s a quick checklist to help you determine the right fit for your project:  

  1. Do you want to charge a driver fee to recoup electricity costs?  
  1. Do you want drivers to monitor charging sessions remotely and pay for sessions through an app?  
  1. Do you crave a real-time performance dashboard?  
  1. Do you want to collect historical performance data on EV charging sessions?  
  1. Do you want to minimize utility bills by using load management strategies?  
  1. Do you want remote troubleshooting and customer support?  

If you’re nodding along, networking is your answer. But make sure you’re getting value from the service to justify those annual subscription fees.  

On the other hand, if you’re shaking your head at all the questions, consider skipping networking altogether. For instance, a non-networked setup might suit an employer charging 2-3 fleet vehicles overnight.  

Remember, not all networking is equal, so dive into the features offered by different providers. When considering networking for your EV charging project, be sure to grill potential providers about the features mentioned in the checklist above and pricing packages. It’s all about setting up your project for success.  

About the Author 

My name is Alex. I make it easy for organizations to add electric vehicle charging stations to their properties and portfolios. 

I live in San Diego and enjoy hiking, bicycling, traveling, spending time with my family, and pondering the clean energy transition. You can reach me directly on LinkedIn

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