On the heels of a cumulative $10 billion in federal funding to build electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, the Biden administration is pouring an additional $3.5 billion into upgrading the grid chargers run on. The October 18 announcement of the largest-ever investment in the U.S. electric grid is essential to the success of the country’s transition from gas to electric vehicles. Aging grid infrastructure and fragmented, outdated software threaten to short-circuit the adoption of EVs — which Biden hopes will make up 50% of car sales by 2030. To meet this aggressive goal, the administration requires new and existing chargers be compliant with strict standards by February 28, 2024. Although the funds are there, companies are struggling to qualify, threatening the nation’s ability to modernize. Why? Most software doesn’t meet the government mandate.
America runs on outdated software
More than 70% of the U.S. electrical transmission lines are over 25 years old, and aging technology has people concerned about reliability. Even the U.S. Department of Energy said the grid’s age creates “vulnerability.” It’s clear that existing technology must be updated to power the nation, but needs don’t stop there — we must also consider the new infrastructure the country plans to build. The planned rise in EVs will require 1.2 million chargers to make powering them as accessible as filling up at a gas station.
But transitioning from gas to electric vehicles takes more than just scaling the grid to support the surge in power, it also requires robust software. EV charge management software communicates between the charger and the back end, which is essential because most EV chargers don’t have a human attendant like gas stations do. At a gas station, if a pump’s card reader is down, an attendant will simply process the payment at the cash register. If a card reader is down at an EV charger, the company operating it may not even be alerted that there’s an issue. For the driver, this charger will appear to be working but won’t be able to process their payment or start a charge. Unfortunately, this is an all too common experience — even in U.S. cities with above-average EV adoption, only 72% of fast charging stations work.
One of the reasons for pervasive downtime is that the majority of charge management software is built to an outdated standard that doesn’t require real-time monitoring. Without monitoring, the companies operating those chargers don’t know if a charger’s down and, if they do, it takes a long time to pinpoint the cause. An updated standard called OCPP 2.0.1 is in place and mandated for government funding, but it requires a major overhaul of existing software that most operators are struggling to deploy. And if they can’t modernize their software by February, they’ll miss out on their share of the $10 billion.
Tech strategies for modernizing critical infrastructure
The tech industry knows a thing or two about scaling — Gmail alone has more than 1.5 billion active users. Now companies are implementing some of the same strategies to update and grow America’s critical infrastructure.
The first is open source, which is software that’s freely available for use and modification by the public. It’s been widely deployed in the tech industry and is used by startups and tech giants alike. Now, open source is gaining traction in infrastructure as utility companies embrace it for digital transformation and grid modernization. Unlike proprietary solutions, open source software gives everyone a standard platform to adopt and build on top of. It can be used, tested and improved by the entire industry, and contributions ensure that software is kept up to date. And because developers aren’t starting from scratch, it helps stand up EV chargers faster, providing a path to meet the February deadline for government funding.
The second is making systems interoperable across charging equipment, vehicles and networks. Today, proprietary solutions prevent EVs from being able to charge at any station because they have different plugs and different charge management software. The industry is moving to standardize this — and the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program requires it — to create a charging network that can power any EV.
The U.S. has lofty goals for modernizing critical infrastructure and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. The government has laid the foundation to reach them — from legislation that sets standards for hardware and software to the funds required to build it. But it’s going to take more than money to put this plan in motion. It requires ingenuity, teamwork and knowledge sharing from companies that are likely competing against one another. With upgraded software systems, the nation’s EV charging goals are within reach, but outdated proprietary solutions threaten progress.
As the deadline looms, partnership is key. The federal government has demonstrated commitment through funding and forward-looking standards. Now the tech industry must deliver open, interoperable solutions to democratize the critical software needed to operate reliable infrastructure. With this collaboration, America’s transportation system and grid will drive us into the future.