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Smart Grids - what interoperability means for e-mobility?

27 JANUARY 2022 • 7 MIN READ

Gabriela Stawiarska



smart grid, interoperability

Knowing the industry complexity, at Solidstudio, we thought it would be a good idea to launch a series of blog entries on e-mobility fundamentals. The articles are to shed light on some of the topics that may not necessarily be clear to everyone.

E-mobility has been deemed the future of transportation and its growth is massively based on smart solutions. This includes not only innovative tech solutions for vehicles / chargers but also smart energy distribution across various networks.

In order to ensure the best scalability and efficiency, the concept of smart grids has been introduced and is currently being developed.

What is smart grid?

The smart grid is the central backbone of smart solutions, which enables smart capabilities in several application fields. The smart grid can be seen as a network consisting of energy producers and consumers which are connected together with different smart devices through a large number of communication networks.

Having a smart grid means having a smart solution for many different applications:

  • smart meters for smart electricity, gas and water
  • smart cars as smart consumers
  • smart homes as smart consumers
  • smart public infrastructures as smart producers

The possibilities of applications are nearly endless. However, to enable these various solutions all the devices that work together need to be able to communicate with each other.

In smart grids this is done via a number of different protocols that define the communication between smart devices. There are two main types of smart grid protocols:

  • Broadband Protocols
  • Low Power Protocols

These smart grid protocols cannot be compared to existing technologies, especially not to data communication networks, as they have a number of smart capabilities.

The focus of smart grids is not on sending large amounts of data from smart devices to the central smart grid network but on sending small packets which convey information about smart consumers or smart producers and their status. In addition to that, smart devices need to exchange more complex information such as signals that command smart devices to do smart things.

This means that smart grids are different to data communication networks, where one would use smart objects as smart end devices which send large amounts of data to the smart network solution.

How are smart grids being introduced?

Europe is looking to upgrade its outdated electricity networks with smart grid technology in order for the Union’s future energy needs. The upgraded metering and monitoring capacities of these new infrastructures will allow consumers access not just any form or type of renewable sources, such as wind power and solar panels; they can also predict when demand might increase due an unexpected event.

The JRC (Joint Research Centre) is currently investigating how electric vehicles and charging stations can work together more seamlessly. The work covers interoperability issues, including both sides - hardware and software (exchange protocols).

Such ameliorations come with their share of challenges. For example, the new smart grids need to be compatible and interoperable with our ever-popular smartphones. This way, users could monitor their energy consumption on a nationwide or even global scale; for example at home or traveling in an electric car, thanks to real time information on the performance of its own or others’ generation units.

As a consequence, the new smart grids need to be interoperable with other digital services and infrastructures, such as transport and transport ticketing systems. In the near future it might happen that on your way from home to work you will recharge your car at some charging station operated by your energy supplier. Big companies like Google, IBM or Siemens are already looking for or at least discussing such an interconnected system.

The European Commission foresees it too and is starting pilot projects in the next years to make sure that all this data will be managed securely, transparently and safely, also by using blockchain technology (a shared database) to keep it up-to-date.

The Commission also believes that the new smart grids can help Europe reach its climate goals by 2050. The limits agreed on in the Paris Agreement will be achieved by increasing renewable energies and making them more efficient, no matter what the source. As a result, all industries need to be aware of what is happening within their own sectors regarding this issue. And new technologies might provide the answer to some of these challenges, without having to rely solely on classic business models.

Why is this relevant for e-mobility?

The answer is simple:

E-mobility stands for smart mobility and smart transportation. For example, public infrastructure can be smart charging stations for electric vehicles that are connected to the smart grid network. In this case a smart car would enter into a smart charging station and connect wirelessly to it via WiFi, LTE/4G or another broadband technology. The charging station would interact with the car via broadband protocol to charge its battery.

With such mutually-dependent, multi-leveled networks interoperability plays a vital role in ensuring it all runs smoothly. It starts with the physical connection of devices to the smart grid, and continues through the operational process and ends in business-to-business transactions.

This is where Open Standards come as a must. Just as with Web-based services, smart grid interoperability is achieved by applying fully supported broad industry standards. These standards allow for the automation of systems and the transfer of data between them.

The main benefits that interoperability and the use of open standards bring offers:

  • The long-term confidentiality and security of all stakeholders within the smart grid network, thanks to Open Standards
  • The ease of connection to the smart grid
  • Open standards are vendor-agnostic. Ease of integration, scalability and lower costs are the direct results of the use of standards by various vendors within the network. As a result, interoperable systems can be built with multiple vendors in order to keep costs down
  • Interoperability promotes collaboration and information-sharing between various stakeholders in the smart grid, including electricity suppliers, data centers, system operators and end users
  • A variety of smart grid devices can be easily integrated within the network with interconnecting standards. This also enables the creation of new business models in the processes of electricity generation, distribution and consumption

In a nutshell, open standards in smart grid systems serve to foster interoperability across domains and business-to-business transactions. This promotes efficiency in the operation of all stakeholders within the network and contributes greatly to a better quality of life for all citizens.