Learnings from the creation of the Internet for a decentralized EV charging messaging service

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How the EV charging community can achieve what it wanted long ago // by Micha Roon and Christopher Burgahn

Driving an Electric Vehicle is fun, cost-efficient and has an enormous potential to improve life quality on planet earth. We are close to widespread adoption, however, to rise above the necessary tipping point there is one evident task to accomplish (besides building more EVs faster): Drivers should not have to think about where and how they charge their vehicle — including not worrying about getting a service for their special edge case. A user journey that we call “the seamless charging experience”.

In this article, we will discuss how far we are in achieving this charging experience, what we as developers of the EV charging network can learn from the creation of the Internet and how we are contributing to it: with a decentralized messaging service.

Current status of the digital infrastructure of EV Charging is comparable to the beginning of the Internet

Imagine yourself wanting to reach your favorite social network online. In 99% of the cases you can be quite sure that the underlying Internet infrastructure allows you to do so, wherever you want to access it from. You do not have to worry about finding the right website (search engines), connecting to the right IP address (TCP/IP and DNS) or communicating with the service effectively (HTTP, SMTP, etc.). All in all you might say, that the Internet infrastructure is built in such a way that any service can easily be built on top of it, leading to manifold innovation and thus serving all imaginable end-customers needs — like your need for an online social network.

Comparing these achievements to the EV charging infrastructure of today, clearly shows that EV charging has not yet reached its full potential. Finding a charge point including all necessary information for a charging session can be challenging, as “charge station search engines” do not have full access to reliable data compared to their Internet counterparts. Easily connecting to any charging infrastructure is also not possible as there are operators building so-called “walled gardens” of charging infrastructure, which requires signing up to their charging service scheme. To draw the comparison to the Internet: Imagine you have to sign up to each Internet Service Provider, only because your preferred online social network uses servers that are connected to other Internet Service Providers than your preferred search engine. On the other hand, if operators are willing to share their charging infrastructure and EV drivers get access to charging infrastructure of many operators, current sharing solutions (eRoaming hubs) are centralizing and controlling a majority of the communication. This would be similar to a situation where your favorite social network is required to pass one single gateway, for example servers of the National Security Agency, giving them the power to decide whether you can use the online social network or not. In this way a single point-of-failure gets created and innovation potential mostly lies in the hand of these central entities.

Innovation potential of different network structures

Learning from the creation of the Internet: An open network leads to higher security, resilient infrastructure and more innovation

We see huge advantages to build an EV charging network similar to how the Internet infrastructure is today: open protocols lead to high security standards and the network is resilient as well as openly accessible. Not depending on centralized platform providers, its openness encourages the development of innovative solutions, leading to an abundance of end-customer facing services. Fortunately, there are already many endeavors in this direction and we dare to predict that in a couple of years the whole EV charging ecosystem can proudly compare its achievements with that of the Internet community. Following this vision we contribute to this community work with a decentralized messaging service based on existing open source standards. The history of Internet protocols help us to describe why and how we are building it.

Today we are using quite a few open standards without which the Internet could not exist:

  • DNS — Domain Name System
  • SMTP — Simple Mail Transfer Protocol
  • TCP/IP — Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol
  • HTTP — Hypertext Transmission Protocol
  • FTP — File Transfer Protocol
  • SSH — Secure Shell
  • And many more
  • And many more

These technologies were developed for a common good by an entire industry which recognized that only by making their systems interoperable, would the users find it useful. Furthermore, these protocols are at the very core of the Internet infrastructure, making it an open network with high security standards, a resilient underlying server infrastructure and a place for diverse innovation on top of it. But these achievements have not come about peacefully and without pain. There have been many attempts to control the early Internet and its protocols as the history of the TCP/IP protocol shows. After the early Internet community developed the open TCP/IP protocol to standardize Internet communication, it became widely adopted throughout the 80s and early 90s. Whilst early Internet access providers like CompuServe or AOL were building closed networks (with them as gatekeepers), the TCP/IP protocol allowed open access to a global digital network. Over the years this lead to more innovation happening outside these walled gardens and their decline in the 2000s due to declining attractiveness of their networks. It was just not worth it any longer to pay extra to access their walled gardens.

Similar developments can be observed in these early days of EV charging networks. Whilst more and more open standards are developed, there are still several players in the market trying to build similar walled gardens and charging for access to their network. Today, these closed networks can be considered highly attractive as they have the first mover advantage building solutions for messaging in EV charging networks. However, it is from a technical and business perspective not only highly insecure to concentrate all EV charging communication on very few if not only one player; it furthermore does not allow for open innovation projects happening as this opportunity solely relies on these players in control of the data and the gateway infrastructure. We are convinced that, similar to the development of the Internet, open source and open access allows for more innovation and ultimately will lead to the decline of these proprietary networks. Institutions like the Open Charging Alliance with the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP)protocol or the Netherlands Knowledge Platform for Charging Infrastructure (NKL) with the Open Charge Point Interface (OCPI) protocol are perfect examples of community driven development which make open networks feasible.

Our contribution: Decentralized message bus based on OCPI, Smart Contracts and distributed messaging technology

However, to truly achieve an Internet-like network, we are sure that another step is required. We need a messaging service that is enabled by an efficient and decentralized routing service. A message about starting or stopping a charging session for example should find its best way to its recipients by itself, not depending on a single server or a direct Peer2Peer server connection. It should function similar to what the SMTP protocol achieved for e-mail services in the Internet, as most of us do not really care about which server route an e-mail takes, as long as it arrives at the intended recipient’s inbox.

That is why we are building the first open and decentralized network for EV charging based on a messaging paradigm. Messages around openly sharing charging infrastructure and managing charging session are sent in an e-mail like fashion from sender to recipient. These messages do not rely on centralized server infrastructure or Peer2Peer connections, but find their best route due to an efficient and secure routing service. Blockchain technology allows us to create a network in which there is no need for trust and pre-negotiated contracts as it is built around rules enforced by smart-contracts. Everybody can easily connect with their OCPI API and if wanted, run their own message broker, contributing to the decentralized message bus by themselves.

Start & stop signals are sent from sender to recipient in a decentralized network — enabled by routing services based on smart-contracts

Open Testing will start this summer: Join now!

This summer we will release our first version in an “Open Testing” format, allowing everybody to easily play with it. If you are interested in trying it out by yourself, feel free to drop us a message for getting notified early: [email protected]. The more tech-savvy people can already find our open source repositories here.

The success of E-Mobility is very much reliant on our ability, as a community, to build and operate an open EV charging network. As we have seen with the development of the Internet, open source and openly accessible communication networks are the necessary groundwork for a successful ecosystem. We would love if you join our journey to do so.

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