Advantages of Open Source for EV Charging

07.05.2024
 · 
6 min read

The sector of electric vehicle (EV) charging is developing rapidly and requires a robust, efficient and adaptable charging infrastructure in order to keep pace. Open source software (OSS) is emerging as a key solution, offering enhanced security, seamless interoperability between different EV charging components and high reliability.

Open source provides an economically viable foundation, ensuring cost efficiency while accelerating deployment. Its inherent flexibility still allows for tailored solutions to meet region-specific needs, and its collaborative ethos drives innovation specific to EV charging challenges.

In addition, the decentralized, community-driven development model ensures the sustainability and adaptability of EV charging solutions which enables them to evolve with the industry’s needs.

Let’s have a closer look at some of OSS’ main advantages for EV charging.

Security

OSS offers a unique advantage with regards to security. Due to its transparent nature, a diverse pool of developers and security experts can regularly inspect, validate, and fortify the software against potential threats.

Research shows advantages of OSS over Closed Source. In a comparison between Windows and Linux, a difference of 10% vs 38% in critical security patches was found. The 38% was based on Microsoft's own classification that cannot be independently validated.

Closed source advocates note that the use of OSS poses a risk as hackers can review the source code and try to find vulnerabilities. Research has shown that the ability to be able to read code in and of itself offers little additional incentive for hackers. Reverse engineering of binary code can already provide a hacker a version of source code (to various levels of readability or success) that can be researched to find vulnerabilities.

Closed source code can be leaked, making the code available to hackers. The last decades there have been numerous leaks of software. Hackers getting access to source code repositories, either due to human error (misconfiguration) or hacks. On the list of companies hit, we see a lot of big corporations like: Microsoft, Apple, Mercedes, Electronic Arts, Qualcomm and AMD. This demonstrates that relying on obscurity for security is no guarantee hackers won’t get access to source code in the future.

OSS developers know their code is open and act accordingly. Organizations like Linux Foundation Energy do regular security scans of their OSS projects with support from the Open Source Technology Improvement Fund (OSTIF).

Interoperability

In the current landscape, exhaustive testing of all possible variants remains a herculean task, often bordering on the impractical. Unified OSS frameworks can ensure comprehensive testing.

The amount of charger manufacturers is growing. A quick search on the internet found more than 100 EV charging manufacturers. Most of them showcase 3 to 5 models on their website. So we can easily assume there are at least two hundred different EV charging station models on the market. In reality it will be a multiple of that.

Elli, a daughter company of Volkswagen, one of the bigger mobility service providers, has mentioned the amount of charge point operators (CPO) they have in their network: 950.

Not every EV, charging station or CPO will have a unique software stack. The EV manufacturers develop vehicle platforms that are used by a group of modules, even shared between different brands of the same group. Take for example the Volkswagen Group MEB platform is, in 2023, used in 15 EV models under 5 different brands. Vehicles built on the same platform can be expected to have very similar behavior when communicating with charging stations. This greatly reduces the amount of variance in software stacks on the EV side.

A lot of CPO’s are relying on CPMS SaaS (Software as a Service) providers. Smaller charging manufacturers tend to use a commercial charging station controller that contains software from the hardware provider. All of this still leaves a significant amount of different implementations of the versions protocols software stacks in all parts of the EV charging industry.

The amount of variance quickly becomes infeasible to test.

Reliability

Reliability of EV charging infrastructure has been on the front of the EV charging news the last few years.
A study done in California's Bay Area found that only 72.5% of chargers were operational.

Companies like Elvah use crowd reporting to report a charging station reliability number. In 2022, Elvah reported an average reliability number for charging stations in Germany of 6.3, on the Elvah scale from 0 to 10 (where 10 means error-free).

EV Connect has reported common reasons for unsuccessful charging sessions:

  • Connectivity: 55%
  • Internal station faults/errors (38%)
  • The connector/cable (4%)
  • Credit card reader (1%)
  • Screen (1%)

The strength of OSS often lies in its community-driven approach. Solutions are birthed from the collective expertise of a diverse group of contributors. This ensures that the software undergoes rigorous testing, vetting, and refinement from multiple perspectives, culminating in a product that boasts of heightened reliability.

Cost-Efficiency

OSS offers a cost-efficient alternative to proprietary solutions. By minimizing initial expenditures and ensuring economical long-term operation, OSS makes the proposition of widespread EV charging infrastructure more viable. OSS makes it possible for companies in the EV charging industry to focus their investments on the unique features they want to bring to the market.

Not having to invest in implementing standards that are now becoming commodity as they are available open-source. Organizations can reduce costs otherwise needed for testing: interoperability, stability and compliance. Protocols like OCPP 2.0.1 and ISO 15118-2/-20 are seen by the industry as expensive to implement. Organizations lack the resources, knowledge and time to implement and validate all these protocols. By adopting OSS, organizations reduce development costs significantly.

75% companies reported: not using OSS would have cost more.

Faster Time to Market

In the fast evolving EV charging industry, agility is key. Organizations often lack the resources, knowledge and time to implement all the needed features and protocols.

OSS provides an expedited path to deployment. By capitalizing on pre-established frameworks and tools, developers can reduce the development timeline, ensuring that charging solutions can quickly be adapted to the dynamic demands of the market. Keeping the customization possibilities like user interface, payment systems, etc.

By adopting OSS, organizations don’t have to implement, and validate protocols like OCPP and ISO-15118. Freeing up development resources to work on releasing a product faster and focusing on business added value and innovation, not having to spend effort on commodity software.

Software Maintenance

The life cycle of software extends well beyond its initial deployment. Maintenance, often a resource-intensive phase, is simplified with OSS. The community-driven model decentralizes upkeep, ensuring that the software remains current, secure, and in harmony with emerging technological trends.
By adopting OSS, organizations reduce the amount of code they have to maintain.

Typical number used in IT: 15 - 25% of the development cost is yearly spend on maintenance. Complexity of software is one of the key parameters that affects the cost of software maintenance. EV Charging systems are complex: a higher percentage for maintenance can be expected. Reducing the proprietary lines of code (LOC), reduces maintenance costs.

Community Support

The foundation of OSS lies in its vibrant and active community. This collective offers invaluable support, acting as an extended team ready to assist with troubleshooting, best practices, and innovative solutions. For organizations with limited resources, this community becomes an indispensable asset, ensuring smooth operation and continuous improvement.

Vendor Neutrality

The independence from a specific vendor, a hallmark of OSS, provides organizations with the flexibility to make decisions that best align with their objectives, rather than being tethered to the roadmap and business strategies of a third party software supplier.

Switching to a different third party supplier will be a significant effort when a product/service relies on third party software/service.

Changing an existing closed source software stack in an EV charger to a different software stack will require a project to integrate and validate the new stack before being able to roll out the software to chargers in the field.

One of the advantages of OSS is that different vendors can deploy and support an open source solution, where a closed source solution can only be supported by the owner of the product/service. If a vendor supporting OSS does not perform, a company can switch vendors and keep the software.

In closing

To summarize: Standardized protocol implementations and embracing OSS not only strengthens the current EV charging landscape, but also lays the foundation for its sustainable and innovative future.

Tagged: Open Source
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