Smart Charging and Cybersecurity in the Mobility Transition

Expert Interview – February 23, 2023

Networking, intelligent assistants, autonomous driving: Automobility is in the midst of a far-reaching digital transformation driven by technologies. For grid operators and consumers, these developments offer many advantages. But new risks are also emerging. Baerte de Brey from ElaadNL gives us an overview of the most important issues.

Interview with Baerte de Brey - Vice President at AVERE and CIO at ElaadNL

Everyone is talking about smart charging. What exactly do you mean by that?

For me smart charging is having a full battery for a low price with clean energy. That´s the consumer perspective. As a grid operator it´s about postponing the load on grids, charging at the proper time, at the proper speed, at the proper voltage.

Do these two different interests collide or is it easy to balance both parties?

This can be balanced by intelligent charging behavior. Supply peaks can be cushioned, for example, by charging the car during long periods of standing during the day – in the best case when the sun is shining. At night, when electricity-powered heat pumps are heating homes and a demand peak is stressing the grid, vehicles can dampen the peak load through bidirectional V2G charging.

It's the whole grid monitoring and billing aspect of the process part of the smart charging as well, isn´t it?

Yes, if the customer is financially rewarded by discharging the car or storing electrical energy, this is also part of smart charging.

As a consumer, you want to charge when it's cheap. That might actually be at night when there's cheap coal power in the grid. But that is contrary to our climate goals and trying to get more renewables into the grid. So is smart charging something else than green charging?

Let's take a look at my home country, the Netherlands. Most Dutch people charge their vehicles at public charging stations and the tender regulations require that they are powered by green electricity. Due to the energy crisis at the moment, there is some demand for coal power. But for charging electric vehicles on public charging stations, we prefer to have green energy.

The number of vehicles charged at home is much higher in other countries, for example in Scandinavia where many people live in their own homes and have their own charging stations. How many charging points will be needed in the Netherlands in 2030?

If we assume that there will be 3 million electric cars driving in the Netherlands in 2030, we will need 1.7 million public and semi-public charging stations in the next 8 years. But not linear per year 200,000 installed, rather broken down to 12 provinces with about 25 municipalities each. The grid operators can align with municipalities in planning, where they have to do the grid reinforcements to install a certain number of charging stations.

Isn´t a smart charging network a major security problem in the current times in terms of cybersecurity and ransomware hacking?

Right, therefore a laboratory has developed software programs with special requirements for safe charging stations, e.g. there has to be no open connetion at the charging stations to which you can connect a device. The administration unit behind the charging station must also be protected.

Is the charging station also protected by plugging in the car´s charging cable? Can´t malware also be transmitted via the vehicle´s on-board system?

It is expected that you plug in a cyber secured vehicle. Nothing else. For this, everything must be operated according to the same standard. The communication interface between the vehicle and the charging station is subject to the ISO 15 118 standard, which contains specifications for bidirectional communication between electric vehicles and charging stations. This standard in combination with open charge point protocoll (OCPP 2.0 .1.) is intended to ensure that the electric charging supply chain is cyber secure. However, there are other benfits for the customer. For example, it prevents bonding to a specific supplier. Cybersecurity is, of course, the most important point why we advocate the combination of ISO 15 118 and OCPP 2.0.1.

So much for the providers' cybersecurity. Are consumers' private data actually protected as well?

Consumer data is not retrieved each time during the charging process, rather it is submitted once during the registration process. The data exchange between the vehicle, the grid and the energy supplier is not that large. Car manufacturers, on the other hand, have a lot of valuable data that they keep for themselves. The first topic of discussion should be the data exchange itself, the second - data security during the exchange.

Considering the current energy crisis, how will the increasing number of electric vehicles affect grid stability if many people switch to electric heating options?

In the Netherlands, the grid is quite robust. But nevertheless, each individual can help to stabilize the power grid with the help of smart charging, with smart charging stations or with smart energy management systems that indicate, for example, when it makes sense to charge or not to charge the car.

This interview is an excerpt from an episode of The smarter E Podcast. You can listen to the full interview here.

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