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Building the plane while flying it: the complexity of EV infrastructure

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Irdeto’s Niels Haverkorn evaluates the challenges and current state of electric vehicle infrastructure development in Canada and around the world

Without a doubt, electric vehicles can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases and a healthier planet. Across the world, governments are implementing regulations that are accelerating the transition to passenger EVs. But without the infrastructure to support it, without consumer confidence in its convenience and security, and without clear and independent oversight, ambitions to get more EVs on the road risk falling short.

The same holds for electric commercial vehicles. Currently, commercial EVs are popular for short-haul freight because of their ability to reduce both emissions and noise pollution in cities. But for long-haul freight, EVs risk being eclipsed by alternative fuels like hydrogen and fuel cells. Alternative fuels are still great for our emissions goals but won’t help the EV industry take off. For that, much more infrastructure is needed.

More stakeholders, more challenges

Perhaps the most important aspect of the EV infrastructure challenge is that there isn’t a single stakeholder who holds the key. Consumers won’t buy EVs until they’re convinced that they can charge their new vehicles as easily as they gas up their current ones. It won’t be possible for long-haul freight fleets to travel across multiple countries until the infrastructure needed for freight transport is addressed. But it is difficult for charging point operators (CPOs) to invest more money in charging capabilities until the required grid infrastructure is in place. They also need more EVs on the road in order to reduce their costs and earn more money per transaction.

We’ve also got a new player in the ecosystem: mobility service providers (MSPs), who are creating new business propositions that, for example, bundle home electricity, internet and electric mobility services into convenient packages for eco-conscious consumers. But their market share will only increase when EVs truly penetrate the market.

At the same time, vehicle manufacturers are struggling to create a business model that places them firmly in the EV ecosystem — both horizontally and vertically. Take ridesharing, for example: nearly every OEM ridesharing initiative has died out. Investment in fully autonomous vehicles has also sharply declined. Embracing the new EV reality requires OEMs to either invest in vertical integration — building their own, sufficient network coverage similar to what Tesla has done — or to choose horizontal integration, partnering with CPOs, MSPs, mapping providers and charging data providers to create a seamless experience. Creating an entirely new business model, new partners and a new proposition is a challenging endeavour.

The recent moves by most OEMs to adopt Tesla’s vertical infrastructure offers a third option: join forces with another company that has already done the work. But this poses its own set of challenging questions: is one system the best, simply because it’s the first or most prolific? And what will that do to competition?

The late arm of the law

Government support is another factor to consider. Initiatives like the EU’s Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation and U.S. regulations and incentives related to EV production and infrastructure are certainly a necessary part of the picture, but many questions remain about how they can be effectively rolled out. For example: EV technology will likely evolve rapidly in the coming years. How can we ensure that any infrastructure we put in place now will still be relevant in the years to come?

Last but not least, cybersecurity is an essential component that is currently under-addressed. Every link in the EV chain — from the components of the vehicle to the charging stations to the exchange between drivers and the grid to the billing and distribution — must be protected. As is often the case with new technological developments, end-to-end solutions for cybersecurity seem to be low on the priority list for most players. Without a robust and adaptive cybersecurity framework that protects every connection, hackers lurk around every corner to take advantage of every weakness.

Despite these complex challenges, there is reason to believe that solutions are within reach. What is certainly clear is that collaboration will be essential. Initiatives like CharIN and organizations like SAE bring together stakeholders from the entire EV value chain to collaborate on solutions that lead to interoperability and advancement. From charging standards to security and technological advancement, initiatives like these bring the vision for effective EV infrastructure to life. They are encouraging stakeholders to address the major issues like longer lifecycles for assets, managing high transaction volumes and maintaining assets in hostile environments.

Come together for change

Still, a key question remains: who can manage and regulate the EV ecosystem to ensure a fair, competitive and trusted system? In the same way credit card companies guarantee safe and trustworthy interactions between consumers and suppliers, more independent parties and open standards must emerge to avoid monopolies, encourage competition, manage the multiple EV stakeholders and ensure that every link in the chain remains secure, accountable and reliable. Who these independent third parties are, and how they will establish these frameworks, remains to be seen.

The truth is, no single company can carry the load. It is only through collaboration, shared knowledge, coordination and oversight that we can tackle this complex and multi-faceted concern — an outcome we’re helping to foster by providing managed services that enable seamless and secure EV charging.

The EV transition requires the right minds around the table, working together to address the concerns; the flexibility to test and refine potential solutions in the interest of every stakeholder; and, of course, the foresight to embed the highest levels of security into the system from the very start. At the moment, the only wrong decision is a decision not to engage in the conversation.

Niels Haverkorn is General Manager, Connected Transport, at Irdeto, a global root certification authority and a world leader in cybersecurity. Haverkorn is an expert on the business of connected platforms and services who joined Irdeto in 2018 to accelerate the development of its connected transport security business.

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